Channel 4 Revisits Nigerian “Child-Witches”

Channel 4 television in the UK has just broadcast a new documentary about children accused of being witches in Akwa Ibom State in Nigeria, as a follow-up to the programme on the subject that went out a year ago (which I blogged here). There’s some good news: it is now a crime to accuse a child of witchcraft in the state, punishable by ten years in prison, and arrests have been made – the documentary in particular noted the arrest of Bishop Sunday Ulup-Aya, who had boasted in the original programme of having killed 110 supposed “witches” (blogged here).  Some children have been successfully reintegrated into their families, and the Child Rights and Rehabilitation Network, which runs a home and school for accused children, has received some generous donations. Posters have appeared on the streets urging people not to make witchcraft accusations.

On the other hand, though, the documentary showed that horrific abuse is still occuring – including the case of Edet Nwanakwo, the boy who recently died after his father doused him in acid (blogged here). Gary Foxcroft, the British charity worker who has devoted himself to the cause of ending child-witchcraft accusations, hopes the problem will be overcome within five to ten years, but it’s clear that local attitudes remain quite entrenched.

The documentary also covered attempts by the evangelist Helen Ukpabio to hamper the work of CRARN and other groups opposed to the stigmatization of children. Ukpabio has published a number of books on how to diagnose children as witches, and she is famous for a lurid horror film on the subject, End of the Wicked. When the original documentary was aired last year, Ukpabio became the focus for considerable public anger and disgust – she claims that on a trip to London soon after, she was nearly killed by a mob. However, Ukpabio has many supporters, some of whom have left abusive comments on this blog from my previous postings on the subject. The new Channel 4 documentary shows how her followers disrupted a conference organised by the Nigerian sceptic Leo Igwe in August, and how the CRARN home was raided by police, with her lawyer in attendance (blogged here, and Leo provided this blog with a guest post that I was proud to host here). One child interviewed by Channel 4 said that the police hit her on the ear so hard that pus came out, and Elizabeth Ikpe-Ituama, who runs the CRARN home with her husband Sam, claims that she was threatened with a gun. Ukpabio is now suing the state government, those involved with CRARN, and the makers of the original Channel 4 documentary, claiming that she is the victim of fraud, that her religious freedom has been infringed, that her film was “pirated” because a clip was shown, and that Foxcroft and others sent “assassins” after her. She believes that she should receive – wait for it – eight hundred million British pounds (I actually recorded the programme and played that bit back to make sure I’d heard that correctly). She also, of course, wants CRARN to be shut down.

Unfortunately, the problem of child stigmatization is not just confined to Nigeria; back in February I blogged on a pastor promoting the belief in Cameroon, and the situation remains alarming in  Angola and Congo. There have also been cases reported in the UK, although these have been unfortunately conflated with other issues.

16 Responses

  1. also in nominally islamic Gambia: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/africa/7949173.stm … here the state place a major role

  2. There is a video clip of last nights broadcast of C4’s Dispatches available to view here: http://www.channel4.com/programmes/dispatches/video/series-43/episode-1/return-to-africas-witch-children

  3. We’ve got some 1st class witches here in the States, like HRM Hilary, Michelle Malakin, Ann Coulter…

    Or maybe I misspelled ‘witches.’ Maybe that word starts with a B.

  4. Paul Gifford has written about the impact that C. Peter Wagner, and the “Apostolic and Prophetic” movement is having on demon deliverance ideology in some African countries, and the impact of the late Derek Prince and others prior to the current prophetic wave. Books from the “prophets” are flooding into Africa and I have had first hand reports that you can easily find Rick Joyner’s books at airports and other locations.

    I have just posted an article at Talk2action.org on some of the spiritual warfare terminology of the movement, and the increasing obsession with demons in this country.

  5. The website of http://helen-ukpabio.com/ is actually hosted by fasthosts.co.uk

  6. Is Belief in God Hurting America?

    In a paper posted recently on the online journal Evolutionary Psychology, independent researcher Gregory S. Paul reports a strong correlation within First World democracies between socioeconomic well-being and secularity. In short, prosperity is highest in societies where religion is practiced least.

    Using existing data, Paul combined 25 indicators of societal and economic stability — things like crime, suicide, drug use, incarceration, unemployment, income, abortion and public corruption — to score each country using what he calls the “successful societies scale.” He also scored countries on their degree of religiosity, as determined by such measures as church attendance, belief in a creator deity and acceptance of Bible literalism.

    Comparing the two scores, he found, with little exception, that the least religious countries enjoyed the most prosperity. Of particular note, the U.S. holds the distinction of most religious and least prosperous among the 17 countries included in the study, ranking last in 14 of the 25 socioeconomic measures.

    Scandinavian countries, in particular, have achieved high levels of economic strength and social stability, and yet the influence of religion there is in steep decline, perhaps the lowest in recoded history. Coincidence or not, those countries also rank among the world’s happiest populations. In The Netherlands’ Erasmus University Rotterdam’s annual World Database of Happiness the same Northern European countries that score low in religiosity rank high in reported levels of happiness. (The U.S ranked 27th).

    http://www.alternet.org/belief/144174/is_belief_in_god_hurting_america

    Not to mention that those Scandinavian have some of the hottest lookin’ blonde babes in the world.
    Spending a night with one of those beauties would definitely be like visiting heaven.

    Could it be the USA is the most religious and least prosperous of those 17 nations because certaim elements have perverted the word of their God and use to to further political ambitions, rob the country blind, wage wars and control the world?

    Nahhhhh, God wouldn’t allow that, would he/she/it?

  7. […] A press release from Leo Igwe, who recently featured on the UK Channel 4 documentary Return to Africa’s Witch Children as a supporter of children who have been stigmatized as witches by evangelists in Nigeria: Reason, […]

  8. There is now a petition to bring Helen Ukpabio face justice.
    thepetitionsite.com/1/make-helen-ukpabio-face-justice

  9. […] Liberty Gospel Church is headed by Helen Ukpabio, who can be seen in the video above, standing smugly behind Moses and bobbing up and down with excitement. Ukpabio – as has been widely reported – is just one evangelist who teaches that children can become witches, and will be dangerous to their families unless they are “delivered” through a form of exorcism, but she has been particularly influential due to her horror films and books on the subject. This belief in “child witches” has led to a major hysteria, with children being abandoned by their families and subjected to abuse; there have also been deaths. Channel 4 in the UK has run two documentaries on the subject (see here and here). […]

  10. […] Stones Nigeria before; it is a British charity, and two Channel 4 documentaries (here and here) have highlighted its work and that of its partners – in particular the  Child Rights and […]

  11. I have been disturbed by the way that Gary Foxcroft and Stepping Stones have used this issue to disparage traditional African religions. They consistently insist that the real problem is caused by the “ignorance and superstition” of Africans, and by the mixing together of traditional beliefs with Christianity.

    But as you point out, the “child witch” phenomenon appears to be a new problem in Africa, rather than a some traditional hold-over due to people being incompletely or imperfectly Christianized.

    So what is new in Africa over the last few decades? Certainly there is nothing new about traditional beliefs and practices, by definition. The influx of Pentecostalism (and similar forms of “fundamentalist” Christianity), however, is something quite new, and this is obviously the trigger for this terrible phenomenon (along with the terrible instability and violence that have wracked post-colonial Africa).

  12. […] of Helen Ukpabio as an “Apostle” the previous August. Ukpabio, as I have blogged numerous times, teaches that personal misfortune can be caused by “child witches” who need to undergo […]

  13. […] in the wake of two Dispatches documentaries on child-witch stigmatisation in Nigeria (see here and here; the first was also shown in the USA in May). However, the UK context also got some attention in a […]

  14. […] other reports on the subject (most notably the documentaries for Channel 4 I blogged on here and here), there are depressing and poignant scenes of battered and bewildered homeless children who have […]

  15. […] Benin. While many of the cases of child-witch stigmatisation I’ve blogged about, mainly from Nigeria and Congo (and spilling into the UK), can be traced back to the  teachings of powerful […]

  16. […] Ukpabio, as I’ve blogged a number of times, is internationally notorious as a proponent of the belief  – not found anywhere in the Bible – […]

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