Stakeholders meet to save ‘child-witches’

It’s a matter of great concern, says government Experts urge religious bodies to be child-friendly
AS Nigeria joined the rest of the world to mark the International Day of the African Child last week, stakeholders met in Abuja to discuss ways of curbing stigmatisation against children labeled witches and wizards.
Although witchcraft is recognised as an offence by Nigerian law in Section 210 of the Criminal Code, participants at the Technical Meeting of Stakeholders on Community-Based Sensitisation against Stigmatisation of Nigerian Children as Witches or Wizards have indicated their preparedness to ensure that children are not abused or exploited in the guise of delivering them from witchcraft.
At the opening of the meeting convened by the Federal Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development in Abuja, the participants agreed that tagging children as witches subjects them to the worst form of abuse, rejection, dehumanisation, neglect and abandonment.
The Permanent Secretary in the Ministry, Mr. Idris Kuta, said although the belief in witchcraft is widespread across sub-Saharan Africa and in Nigeria, the Federal Government takes the phenomenon of child witchcraft and its tortuous consequences as matters of great concern.
He pointed out that the country had already domesticated relevant international instruments to outlaw all forms of violence and abuse against children in addition to the passage of Child Rights Act, 2003.
Kuta, however, stated that: “It is impossible to eradicate the acts of violence carried out against children accused of witchcraft without first having detailed study on them.”
Continuing, he said: “Only a thorough understanding of the systems of representations of specific beliefs, the actions and social mechanisms related to the anti-witch movement (mob justice, churches and traditional healers) and the political, economic and social situations of contemporary African societies will enable development of effective actions for child protection.”
He added that every society, no matter its cultural, economic or social background, can and must stop violence and abuse against children, as freedom from violence will only be possible if the rights of children are respected.
Pointing out the difficult situations the victims are exposed to, Kuta said they are subjected to all manner of abuse ranging from stigmatisation, discrimination, ostracism, severe beating, cutting and starving.
Sometimes, he said, they are burnt, poisoned, raped; abandoned, brutally tattooed, murdered or buried alive, even as he added that some of the ignominious acts are unreported.

In his keynote address, the Executive Secretary, National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons and other Related Offences (NAPTIP), Mr. Simon Egede, said the Child Rights Act (CRA) prohibits all abuses to which the alleged child-witches are subjected which include incision of tattoo or skin marks.
The NAPTIP boss, who was represented by Mrs. Elizabeth Ekaette, regretted that even the institutions that have the primary mandate to care for the children, such as schools, parents and the community are the ones victimising them the most.
He, therefore, called on the participants to come up with innovative and humanly practicable strategies that would help in stamping out the crime, while imploring states and local governments not to shy away from their constitutional role of protecting the rights of children within their domains.
Egede also expressed fears that the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) would not be achieved if the rate of flagrant abuse of children continues to escalate in the country, adding that the Federal Government frowns at any practice that exposes children to abuse and exploitation as the children become more vulnerable to trafficking.

He said: “It is unfortunate to note, regrettably that the institutions that have the primary responsibility of caring for children have closed ranks against them and are the ones that are victimising them most.”
The NAPTIP boss alleged that the escalation of the problem is closely tied to the proliferation of religious or spiritual organisations, which are independent of Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) and Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria (PFN).
He however regretted that the institutions that have primary responsibility for the care of children are actually instrumental to their abuse and exploitation, thereby leaving them with no escape route, no hope and nowhere to turn to.
Egede noted that when the various human rights conventions concerning the child’s rights are considered, they correctly appear applicable to human beings but not necessarily child specific and therefore fail to address the peculiar needs of children in their entirety.
“Every child,” he said, “is entitled to respect for the dignity of his person. No child should be subjected to physical, mental or emotional injury; abuse, neglect or maltreatment including sexual abuse.
“Also, no child should be subjected to torture, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment as well as to be subjected to attacks upon his/her honour or reception.
The experts at the workshop however called on religious leaders to adopt child-friendly and protective doctrines in their places of worship.
The churches/mosques, they said, are very powerful agent of change and since they are in control of large number of congregation, they have the advantage of directing the thought processes of members of their congregation on child witch stigmatization.

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One comment on “Stakeholders meet to save ‘child-witches’

  1. Pingback: Parent Place | What’s behind children being cast as witches in Nigeria

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