The deeply held belief in and fear of child witchcraft cuts across all tiers of society. This fear stems from the belief that a spiritual spell can be given to a person through food and drink. The soul of the person who eats this spell will then leave the body to be initiated in a gathering of ‘witches’ and ‘wizards’. The initiated person will then have the power to wreak havoc, such as causing diseases like HIV/AIDS, malaria, hepatitis, typhoid, cancer. All problems in life are seen to be the handiwork of these ‘witches’. In recent times, it is thought children have become the target for initiation by the elderly 'witches' as it is believed that they are more susceptible to their spells and are quicker in action.
The following have being identified as the major causes of child witchcraft, abandonment and killing:
- Religious profiteering
- Extreme poverty
- Disintegration of the extended family structure
- Ignorance and superstitious beliefs
- Broken marriages
Stepping Stones Nigeria wishes to engage with all faith organisations who believe that children should be protected from harm and cared for. We do not wish to denounce any faith organisation. However, the role of the church, especially some of the new Pentecostals, in spreading the belief in child ‘witches’ cannot be underestimated. There are numerous so-called pastors in the region who are wrongly branding children as 'witches' mainly for economic self gain and personal recognition. We therefore call for all people of all faiths to stand up and support the fight to protect innocent children from the abuse that is caused due to the belief in child witchcraft.
The Role of the Church
Stepping Stones Nigeria's research has shown that the belief in child ‘witches’ in the Niger Delta is linked to the widespread viewing of Nigerian or Nollywood 'home movies'. These movies are widely available in markets and are watched by the vast majority of people in this region. Many of these films promote superstitious beliefs, such as that of child witchcraft. By far the most provocative and influential film in this genre is 'End of the Wicked'.
The Role of 'Home Movies'
How Suspected Witches are Treated
- Abandoned, isolated, discriminated, ostracised from the community
- Taken to the forest and slaughtered
- Disgraced publicly and murdered
- Bathed in acid
- Poisoned to death, often with a poisonous local berry (asire)
- Buried alive
- Chained and tortured in churches in order to extract confession
1. Steppingstonesnigeria.org, (2012) Stepping Stones Nigeria’s Stance on the Belief in Child ‘Witches’ Retrieved from http://www.steppingstonesnigeria.org/witchcraft.html