Commission on Child Witchcraft Begins in Nigeria

1/1/2011 - An investigation into allegations of child abuse and child witchcraft has begin in Uyo, Nigeria today.

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.