Child Witchcraft and Child Rights in Akwa Ibom State
Child witchcraft stands for the claim that children can be witches and wizards or that infants can or do engage in witchcraft activities like turning themselves into birds or insects – at night – to suck blood or mysteriously inflict harm on someone. It is the belief that children have evil powers which they use or can use to destory people particularly their family or community members. As I have pointed out here, child witchcraft is a claim, a belief – a superstitious belief. Child witchcraft is manifested in different forms: accusation, confession and persecution.
Children are accused of being witches and wizards. Somtimes children who talk in their dreams or sleep walk are said to be witches. They are blamed for whatever goes wrong in their families. And this could be death, diseases, business failure, accidents, childbirth difficulties, etc. Children are accused of witchcraft at home by their parents and family members, at churches by ignorant and unscrupulous pastors, at schools by friends and colleagues, at the shrines by primitive minded traditional medicine men or witch doctors, and on the streets by mobs and gangs. Children are forced to confess to being witches and wizards or to have indulged in witchcraft activities by family members or by mobs, in most cases after physical and mental torture. Children alleged to be witches and wizards are subjected to torture, and inhuman and degrading treatment which sometimes lead to their death. Such children are starved, chained, beaten, matcheted or lynched. At the churches, pastors subject children alleged to be witches and wizards to torture in the name of exorcism. Witchdoctors force such children to drink potions (poison) or concoctions which often kill them or damage their health. In Akwa Ibom State, the phenomenon of child witchcraft is common and widespread. Most people in the state, as in other parts of the country, subscribe to the superstitious idea that children can indeed be witches and wizards or that children can engage in witchcraft activities.
This misconception has caused most people to endorse at least tacitly the witch persecution of children, or to remain indifferent to child rights abuses that are committed in the name of witchcraft. It has caused most members of the public to regard witchcraft accusers, witch persecutors and killers as heroes, not villains or criminals. Recently, the situation in Akwa Ibom has been really bad to the point that it has attracted both local and international outrage. Thousands of children alleged to be witches and wizards were tortured, driven out of their homes or killed. Some of the child victims rescued by some public spirited individuals are kept at a camp, the Child Rights and Rehabiltation Network, in Eket. Many of them bear the scars of their traumatic experience. And it was in response to this very ugly and embarrassing situation that the government of Akwa Ibom State signed into law the child rights act in December, 2008. According to Governor Godswill Akpabio, the child rights act was signed into law “to protect children and posterity.” According to him it would be “futile to make the gains we have made in terms of development and progress without preparing the next generation for sustaining our legacy.”
The child rights law protects the growth of perceptual, emotional, intellectual and behavoural capabilities and functioning during childhood of Akwa Ibom children under 16 years. It empowers them with the capacity to enjoy physical, social and psychological well-being through the enforcement of their physical, mental and emotional freedom from abuse.
The implementation of the Child Rights Act would create a conducive atmosphere for the development of the child.
It would bring to an end child abuse by criminalizing and penalising abusers. The law guarantees comprehensive government protection for Akwa Ibom State children
It strengthens the mechanisms for the defence and protection of children.
Specifically, the law prescribes up to 15 years imprisonment without an option of a fine or both for offenders in child stigmatisation, accusation of witchcraft or torture. It empowers the government to seal off the premises of any organization used to prepetrate child abuse. It is obvious that when it comes to stamping out a complex phenomenon like child witchcraft, the government cannot do it alone. The government needs the cooperation of the people and all the citizens of Akwa Ibom to succeed in fully implementing the Child Rights Act.
The government needs the people’s help in identifying and prosecuting offenders. Child rights abuses in the name of witchcraft have been going on for some time because offenders have not been prosecuted or punished. People need to report to the police all those who stigmatize or label children witches and wizards whether they are our parents or family members, pastors or traditional medicinemen. We need to inform the police of any witch testing, witch screening and witchcraft delivering churches, centers or “clinics” anywhere in the state.
The prosecution of some pastors arrested in connection with child witch stigmatization and persecution in the state is currently stalled because people are not coming forward to testify against them. The child rights law cannot be fully enforced if people are afraid of reporting or testifying against parents, family members, pastors or witch doctors or anyone alleged to have labelled children witches or wizards. Lastly, I want to commend the government of Akwa Ibom for adopting this important legislation and urge all the people of Akwa Ibom should rise up to the challenge of helping the government implement it. The implementation of the child rights act is critical to the eradication of child witchcraft and to the protection of the rights of the child in Akwa Ibom State.