Happy Halloween for some; a lifetime of stigma and oppression for others.
Halloween may be a good excuse for many children to dress up as witches and spend the evening with their friends and neighbours in the western world, but while parents struggle to contain their children’s enthusiasm as they imitate magic spells, the situation couldn’t be more different in Africa as children live in fear of being accused of witchcraft.
Witchcraft is a phenomenon, deeply rooted into the beliefs and practices of many African communities. Some justify witchcraft as it has been used to provide spiritual reasoning for poverty and misfortunes in many of the most under-developed and deprived parts of the continent. However, this belief has led to the torture and murder of innocent children.
According to UNICEF, the children most at risk of being accused of witchcraft are often the most vulnerable. Orphans, those with a physical disability or illness, children who have a birth deemed ‘unusual’, such as premature babies or those born in a breach position, and twins are most at risk. Another group at high risk are children with albinism due to a belief that they have magic powers in parts of their bodies such as their organs, hair, skin and limbs which can be found used to make potions and lucky charms in Uganda and other countries in East Africa.
A widespread belief in poverty-stricken Uganda is that child sacrifice will bring prosperity. Poverty can lead parents to the sacrifice or selling of their own children to witchdoctors in the hope for protection and money.
Despite official figures showing a slight decrease in ritual murder cases, further evidence suggests that these figures are well underreported. For many children in Uganda and other parts of Africa, the stigma of being accused of witchcraft continues to be a very real threat that can leave them rejected by their parents and the community. Children who are not sold suffer the label of being ‘evil’ and are not only rejected by their families, but the stigma surrounding them also dictates their likelihood of being abused, manipulated and forced to work the streets as sex slaves.
According to MDM’s 2008 survey of street girls in Kinshasa, DRC, 41% of the children said that the reason they lived on the streets was because they had been accused of witchcraft, and 90% of them were working as prostitutes. Many of these girls become pregnant and the cycle of abuse and exploitation continues.
These children usually suffer from psychological trauma and accusations of witchcraft is but one of the many growing problems that we see children face in Uganda and eastern Africa. Protecting children through psychosocial support is one of Jubilee Action’s key interventions, which in addition to securing education and training and a caring family environment, reduces the violations of the rights of vulnerable children affected by poverty and/or living with a disability.