2 Jan 2009

Protecting the Akwa Ibom Children of Nigeria From Ritual Abuse

This Day - Africa January 1, 2009


Horrendous tales are told daily by news media around the world, but recent stories of unspeakable torture and murder of Akwa Ibom children under the guise of religion are depressing. It is a big paradox that 132 years after Mary Slessor stopped the killing of twins, unwanted babies, so-called baby witches and wizards in Calabar, some people in neighbouring Akwa Ibom would today try to eliminate the world's most vulnerable group.

On November 12, 2008, the British Television Station, Channel 4, aired a blood-chilling documentary on its Despatches programme entitled: Saving Africa's Witch children. The documentary was an expose of the cruelty and murder committed against the innocent children of Akwa Ibom State, branded as witches by some pastors. Featuring in the documentary were Garry Foxcroft, a 29 year Englishman and founder of Stepping Stones, a charitable organization based in Niger Delta, and Sam Ikpe-Itauma, founder of the charity, Child's Right and Rehabilitation Network (CRARN). The two activists have been combing the nooks and crannies of Akwa Ibom and rescuing babies (including two - month olds) from being tortured or killed.

The grisly evangelical documentary, which has drawn the ire of the civilized world, is replete with numbing footages: A five-year old orphan called Mary abandoned for allegedly causing the death of a local pastor; pastors exploiting the gullibility of desperate parents by charging exorbitant fees to carry out exorcism; a self-styled Bishop admitting killing 110 people and making a fortune from "deliverance ministries". The documentary ends with placard-carrying children protesting their innocence.

We unreservedly condemn the superstitious torture and murder of the Akwa Ibom children under any guise. Society owes the child the best it can give. Although belief in witches holds sway in African cosmology, using it as a paranoid excuse to brutalise children is unacceptable. A few years ago a prophetess was arraigned before the Ikeja High Court, Lagos for chopping off the fingers of two little girls whom she alleged were witches. Recently the brain of a 17 year old girl, who had been denounced as a witch, got damaged after a three-inch nail was driven into her skull.

This is sad. Our Constitution guarantees the exercise of religious freedom. But no freedom is absolute. Urgent steps must be taken to stop the trend nationwide. Happily the Bishop who confessed that he murdered 110 people has been charged to court. Let other culprits be similarly dragged to court.

We commend the speed with which Governor Godswill Akpabio of Akwa Ibom State signed the Child Rights Bill into law banning abuse of children in the state. The government is also threatening to close down any religious organisation or revoke the certificate of occupancy of the building of any religious house indulging in child abuse or molestation. Although it is difficult to understand why it took the documentary to prompt the State, which has a good share of the police, into action, the action was better late than never.

It must, however, be noted that there are some cases of such barbarous acts in some other states of the federation, no matter how small. The Federal government must move quickly to stop the exercise of religious freedom mixed with idiotic superstition, animism and sorcery which snuffs out the lives of innocent children.

Only a debased generation would wage war against defenseless children. Children are future of the nation.

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