Liberia is among the countries where children accused of being witches have been subjected to violence, suffer ritual attacks, abuse, physical and psychological violence, while governments fail to address the menace.
The 65-page report from African Child Policy Forum (ACPF) revealed that thousands of children are accused of being witches every year in the Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania and Liberia.
“Africans have ignored this horrific violence for far too long,” said Dr. Joan Nyanyuki, Executive Director of ACPF. “It is utterly unacceptable that witchcraft accusations and ritual attacks on children are still widespread across the continent. Governments must uncover this hidden shame and address these crimes and extreme forms of violence, which have life threatening effects and often result in the death of innocent children,” she added.
According to the report, despite being one of the most terrible types of abuse against children, witchcraft allegations and ritual attacks against African Children are disguised and overlooked.
The report uncovers the widespread use of witchcraft allegations and ritual attacks on children across Africa. Despite the fact that most countries have signed the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACRWC) and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), it finds gaps and failures by governments.
The report attempts to answer the key question: how can issues of crimes and extreme violence related to accusations of witchcraft and ritual attacks be integrated into strategies to strengthen child protection systems in Africa? In addressing this question, the report uses the child protection systems strengthening approach as a conceptual framework within which to examine the efforts of child protection systems and assess the challenges faced by the key elements of those systems.
“Many countries’ laws do not explicitly prohibit accusations of witchcraft against a child, which in itself is an act of psychological violence. Worse still, beyond their failure to prevent these accusations and violent attacks, governments have also failed to minimize the harm children suffer when they fall victims,” said Dr. Nyanyuki.
Ritual infanticide was documentaed in six countries — Benin, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Ghana, Madagascar, and Niger. But Angola, Benin, Burkina Faso, Eswatini, Ghana, Liberia, Madagascar, Rwanda and Zimbabwe are among the eleven countries that recorded ritual attacks against disabled children.
“African states must uphold their obligations to protect all children, especially those who are vulnerable, at risk of being accused of being witches and of facing ritual killings. Among those in need of greatest protection are children with albinism who face the most gruesome forms of ritual attacks which result in extreme violence and death. Such accusations and attacks are crimes and must be treated as such — they must be outlawed and punished.”
Attacks on albino children have been documented in Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, and Tanzania.
Witchcraft accusations and ritual attacks against children have been reported in Benin, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Ghana, Madagascar, Niger, Angola, Eswatini, Liberia, Rwanda, Zimbabwe, Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Tanzania, Central African Republic, Nigeria, and South Africa.
But the issue of alleged witchcraft at work in children and adults alike is difficult to prove or disprove by any scientific, legal or forensic methods. Thus the fear of uncertainty in discovering the truth about those accused of witchcraft leads an easy path to violence, ostracization and other forms of social punishment. Interestingly, the report does not address the question of how to determine the truth or falsehood of allegations of witchcraft.
The report highlights the case of a 13-year-old girl from Benin who spent years in a child reception and protection center after being accused of witchcraft, only to be ostracized by family and community upon her return home and eventually being forced back into care after only four days.
In 2021, the Liberian Daily Observer published a story of a six-year-old girl who was expelled from the TYNECEPLOH Education Foundation School in Paynesville, Liberia, after it was alleged that she told her classmates that she “would kill her teacher, the school’s principal and soak the children in blood.” The child denied the allegation, claiming that her friends lied on her. But the school's administration, not prepared to take any chances, immediately expelled the child “for fear that she might initiate other children into witchcraft,” school officials told the girl’s mother. Upon hearing the news from the school, families in the community where the child lived stopped their children from associating with her. The family of the child ended up relocating in order to give the child a new start.
“The horror that children accused of witchcraft are subjected to is indescribable,” said Dr Nyanyuki. “They suffer public humiliation, forced confessions, torture, violent beatings, are forced to ingest traditional ‘cleansing’ medicines, are expelled from their homes, ostracised from their communities, maimed and, in extreme cases, murdered. They carry the scars of isolation, neglect and victimization on their mental health for their entire lives.”
The report acknowledges progress in tackling the abduction, murder and mutilation of children with albinism for body parts to use in so-called ‘magical medicines’. For example, it showcases Malawi’s new laws and dedicated government action, which resulted in attacks on people with albinism declining from 60 in 2016 to just four in 2021.
However, the report concludes on a somber note, highlighting the woefully inadequate human and financial resources available to tackle witchcraft accusations and ritual attacks on children. What little support is available comes mostly from international donors.
“Witchcraft accusations and ritual attacks are rooted deep in our African beliefs, culture and tradition, and are often shrouded in secrecy,” added Dr. Nyanyuki. “They remain one of the most elusive harmful practices challenging governments across the continent. Government authorities must focus on preventing witchcraft accusations if they are to succeed in uncovering this hidden shame.”