SOS Children's Villages - January 1, 2011
Commission on Child Witchcraft Begins in Nigeria
A commission looking into allegations of child witchcraft in the Nigerian state of Akwa Ibom has commenced today in the city of Uyo in the country’s southeast.
The commission was set up last month by the National Agency for the Prohibition of Traffic in Persons and Other related Matters. As part of the commission’s regular proceedings, concerned members of the public are invited to make their own submissions.
Some evidence detailing child abuse was submitted by a coalition of national and international child rights advocacy organizations. Reports were submitted by the Child's Rights and Rehabilitation Network as well as Stepping Stones Nigeria, organizations working to rehabilitate and care for abandoned children who have been accused of witchcraft.
The number of such allegations in Africa is on the rise. Boys and girls so accused face extremely severe physical violence and psychological abuse as a result of these accusations.
Children Accused of Witchcraft, a report released in the summer of 2010 by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), highlights that this issue is a very complex and sensitive one that must be handled with care.
According to UNICEF’s Regional Office for West and Central Africa, which co-authored the report, the jump in child witchcraft accusations comes from the convergence of a variety of factors including pressures from religion, poverty, unemployment, urbanization, HIV/AIDS and more.
Children who have been orphaned or are being raised by a step-parent are more likely to be named witches. But even familial protection isn’t always enough. Sons and daughters have suffered horrifying abuses by members of their own family who denounce them as witches and the causes of household woes. Children with aggression, hyper-activity, physical disabilities or conditions such as autism are also targeted. Surprisingly, boys have been accused of witchcraft more than girls have.
Children are often cast as the scapegoats when things go badly for individuals or communities. Vulnerable and not easily able to defend themselves against such verbal and psychologically manipulative attacks, children make easy targets. They often wind up exiled from their communities, left to live alone.
Belief in witchcraft among children is not restricted to Nigeria. It persists in several other countries across Africa – whether in the east, west, central or south of the continent.
Better understanding the cultural and religious traditions underlying witchcraft is an important first step for those interested in ending violence against children in Nigeria. UNICEF also recommends a de-criminalization of witchcraft, which would limit the extent to which local and state authorities can prosecute children. Working with communities to change behaviour can be a means of bringing about lasting social protection for children as well as building trust among community-members.
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Nigerian Tribune - January 5, 2011
Akpabio and the child-witch commission
Written by Leo Igwe | Opinion
IN what appears to be another move to combat the allegations of witchcraft and child abuse, the governor of Akwa Ibom State, Chief Godswill Akpabio, has inaugurated a six-member Commission to inquire into witchcraft accusations and child rights abuses in the state. He charged it to recommend appropriate actions to be taken to protect children from being branded witches and wizards, in order to guard against future occurence. The governor asked the Commission to determine the veracity of all the allegations of witchcraft against children and infliction of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment upon such children, and to examine the role and culpability of all the allegations and abuses or practices and make recommendations.
He urged the people of Akwa Ibom to cooperate with the Commission, in order to 'obliterate this blot from the pages of our history'. The Commission is chaired by Justice Godwin Abraham and has Barrister Theresa Obot, Dr Okon Edet Akaiso, Dr Essien Edward Essien, Rt Rev John Koko-Bassey, Barrister Uduak Victor Ekwere, as members. The Commission was given six weeks to submit its report.
Anyone who has been following the 'child witch saga' in Akwa Ibom State would regard this as a welcome development.
Surely it is, particularly when looked at on the surface. But taking a critical look at this development, one wonders why the state government decided to set up this Commission after passing into law the child rights Act, which prohibits witchcraft acusations and child abuse. If the government was yet to determine the veracity of the allegations of witchcraft against children and inf!iction of degrading treatment on them, why did it sign into law the child rights bill, with sections that prohibit child witch stigmatisation?
That there is already an existing law enacted by the state implies that the government is not in doubt as to the veracity of the claims of witchcraft accusations and child abuse. So, what is the rationale behind setting up this body? Does it mean that the allegations of witchcraft and child abuse were not verified before the government enacted the child rights law? If there is one thing any intelligent observer of the situation in Akwa Ibom is expecting from the government, it is not to setting up a body to inquire into the allegations of witchcraft, but to facilitate the enforcement and implementation of the child rights law, which was enacted in 2008.
Since this law came to be two years ago, Akwa Ibom has not recorded any successful prosecution. Not even one offender had been convicted or punished under the child rights law in the state. And this has nothing to do with the veracity of the allegations of witchcraft, but has everything to do with the gaps in the political will, in the policing and justice system in Akwa Ibom State. And if this Commission could at the end of the day succeed in closing these gaps, and ensure the full implementation of the child rights Act, then, the whole idea of setting it up would have been worthwhile.
But that seems unlikely, going by the pronouncement of the government of Akwa Ibom, particularly its reactions to the international media coverage of the problem of witchraft accusations and child abuse. Some people think the government might at the end of the day have some hidden agenda for setting up the Commission. In August, the CNN broadcast a report on child witch stigmatisation in Akwa Ibom state. It highlighted the role of churches in fueling the problem, and what governemental, including the United Nations agencies were doing to address this menace. That report by the CNN angered the government of Akwa Ibom State for reasons I am yet to understand, for the government was given the opportunity by the CNN to state its case and present its own side of the story, but it blew it. The CNN reporter interviewed the Commissioner of Information to know what the government was doing to tackle the problem of witchcraft accusations and child abuse, but the Commissioner used the time to attack individuals and NGOs, whom he accused of exaggerating the problem and using it to raise money for themselves. The governor, in his own reaction, was visibly upset. He also blamed the NGOs for using the same images to generate international sympathy and funds.
However, he outlined the efforts his government had made to tackle the problem, including enacting the child rights law, providing free education to all children from primary to secondary level, and making some donations to stigmatised children in Eket. The governor admitted that, after two years of enacting the law, not a single offender had been successfully prosecuted. It was not long after this broadcast on the CNN, which rattled the Akwa Ibom State government, that the governor inaugurated this Commission.
The world is watching, and many are wondering what could be the real motive behind setting up this august body. It is only time that will tell what the actual mission of this Commission is. I hope at the end of the day, this Commission would not be used to witchhunt individuals and groups, particularly those whom the government accuses of using the witchcraft problem to dent the image of the state internationally.
I hope the Commission will not be used to undermine the work of NGOs, who are complimenting the efforts of the government in the fight against child witch stigmatisation. The Commission should be used to recognise the selfless efforts and humanitarian gestures of individuals and groups, which have worked over the years under very dangerous circumstances, to tackle this social scourge with little or no assistance from the government. The Commission should work to fill in the gaps in the response by the state to this embarrassing phenomena and facilitate the total eradication of child witch stigmatisation in Akwa Ibom State.
Igwe, IHEU Representative in West Africa, wrote in from Ibadan.
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