UNICEF Report Highlights African Child Witchcraft Stigmatisation

 “Pastors are important opinion leaders and have considerable influence over child witchcraft accusations.”

UNICEF has published a new report by anthropologist Aleksandra Cimpric on the problem of children being stigmatised as witches in Africa. The report is nuanced and balanced, and it surveys the reasons for the increasing number of accusations in various contexts. A range of socio-economic factors and religious factors are considered, in particular the transformation of traditional beliefs in new and often dysfunctional circumstances.

The significance of localised forms of Christianity is noted:

Churches, especially those belonging to the Pentecostal and prophetic movement (charismatic, revivalist, etc.), play an important role in the diffusion and legitimization of fears related to witchcraft, and in particular, child witches. The pastor?prophet is an important figure in the process of accusing children of witchcraft, by effectively validating the presence of a “witchcraft spirit”. Pentecostalists, for example, present their faith as a form of divine armour against witchcraft, and they participate actively in the fight against Evil that is incarnated through witchcraft.

Helen Ukpabio (who has targeted this blog, as I previously wrote about here) gets a mention:

…a number of pastor?prophets, including women, have found their calling in the anti?witch hunt, as is the case with Prophet Helen Ukpabio in Nigeria. She founded the Liberty Foundation Gospel Ministries, whose primary goal has become the detection and deliverance of child witches. For these pastor?prophets, “detecting” child witches brings not only money, but also a certain social status and popularity that draws new members and “clients”, and leads to yet more income. Accusations against children therefore form part of this vicious circle of the prophets’ “business” and their status.

There is also a discussion of the efforts of Stepping Stones Nigeria and of CRARN:

SSN and CRARN’s projects have a two?pronged approach: to improve understanding of witchcraft through awareness?raising, and to protect, support and reintegrate children accused of witchcraft. Despite failing to bring down the number of accusations against children – a long?term effort – prevention efforts within families and communities, and setting up education facilities will no doubt help to reduce accusations. Aware of the harmful influence of certain churches, they also lobby to regulate the activities of certain pastors.

These organisations have come under sustained attack from Ukpabio’s followers, and she has sought to have their hostel for stigmatised children shut down.

However, the report also hightlights that pastors could be a positive force:

Negotiation and mediation consists of a dialogue between pastors, families, children accused of witchcraft and organizations defending children’s rights. Pastors are important opinion leaders and have considerable influence over child witchcraft accusations. In situations where legal and rights arguments are largely ignored, religious arguments could prove to be more effective.

Interestingly, the report also notes that traditional healers are also responsible for making accusations against children:

A number of traditional healers, or traditional doctors, called nganga in Central Africa, or inyanga or sangoma in South Africa, also claim to be able to combat the occult forces of the invisible world. In the same way as the pastors and prophets, traditional healers take advantage of the ever?present witchcraft discourse. In addition to healing “natural” illnesses with medicinal plants (hence the title, médecin traditionnel), they also offer to heal “witchcraft?related” illnesses. Moreover, they also have the gift of clairvoyance, which enables them to detect witches.

Muslim areas, by contrast, are less affected:

Certain writers believe the difference stems from the ability to translate their religious message. The translation of the Bible into the local language was a priority for early ministers and priests… In contrast with Christian practice, Islam considers Arabic to be a sacred language and has rejected any attempt at translating religious texts into local languages. “Whoever wants to praise God,” comment Christine Henry and Emmanuelle Kadya Tall, “must do it in Arabic, and submit to learning verses at a Koranic school”… In contrast, by putting sacred texts within everyone’s reach, Christianity has facilitated the successful localization of its message and led to the creation of authentic African movements and churches.

Another possible reason is the difference in the perception of Evil in each of the religions. Witchcraft is able to integrate itself so well within Christian discourse because it has been personified and associated with the Devil or Satan…. While it should be acknowledged that in Islam there is reference to a satanic force, it is not attributed to a single figure who personifies Evil.

12 Responses

  1. “Traditional healers” often turn out to be Christians. The practice of “Sangoma” is so widespread within Christianity that the Catholic Church has had to promulgate specific rules prohibiting Priests from practicing Sangoma. Also, Zionist and Kimbaguist Churches are often treated as if they were truly “indigenous” traditional African religions, when they are merely superficially indigenized forms of Evangelical Protestantism.

    In fact, the official logo of the so-called “Traditional African Healers Organization” depicts the African continent with a cross inside it, and a crown sitting on top of it — classic Christian symbolism!
    http://www.traditionalhealth.org.za/t/aboutus.html

    So one must be very skeptical when “evidence” is presented that claims that “traditional healers are also responsible” for the crimes of the Evangelicals.

  2. Thanks very much for keeping us up to date on the witchhunts in Africa.

  3. Bartholomew, you are an evil man any day, a liar that shouldn’t be believed. UNICEF is writing according to your stupid reports,they will soon find out the truth. They are very stupid to believe all the trash you posted on your blog.Very soon they are going to prove all that they have written against Helen Ukpabio. Rotten Richard Bartholomew.

    • Funny, you don’t sound like a Christian who wishes me to understand that I’ve misjudged a spiritual woman.

      So much hate against those who want to protect children from being falsely accused of witchcraft. Just what is your motivation? And why are you too ashamed to give your real name?

  4. Bartholomew, is there no article on Helen Ukpabio today? i hope every thing is okay, i thought your blog is meant for lies and trash publications, please write some thing, this site is not complete without you writing any thing on Helen Ukpabio, just try and write some thing please don’t get tired. And don’t forget, two girls are missing, leave Amanda alone i know you are going to kill her. Shameless idiot like you.

    • I see you have no answer. You’re not afraid of lying, so that must mean you don’t believe in a God who punishes liars. And that must mean you don’t believe in “child witches” either – so I have to conclude that you’re motivated by something else. What could that be, now?

  5. A fool at forty is a fool forever, an idiot at fifty remains an idiot to the grave. Bartholomew why are you now God conscious and trying to decamp your Atheism members, How would they view you? A double edged sword.

    • Not scared of God, but a coward before men: why don’t you give your real name, rather than hiding your identity? Or are you just ashamed?

  6. While Helen is occupied doing the Lord’s work, Bartholomew is busy doing the work of his master- Satan. So here we have two drivers, God and the Holy Spirit driving Helen Ukpabio. Lucifer and Satan driving Richard Bartholomew.

  7. “A range of socio-economic factors and religious factors are considered, in particular the transformation of traditional beliefs in new and often dysfunctional circumstances”

    This is the crux of the matter. Accusing children of being witches is a new phenomenon and a shocking one to most Africans. While traditional beliefs may sometimes refer to hidden forces this has never involved children, who are unable to defend themselves against accusations.

    It is good to see the UNICEF report, though they seem to have been quite slow in responding to this issue.

  8. […] that the “evidence is pretty clear, and pretty overwhelming”. I wrote about the report here. He also called for leaders to mobilise on the issue, and to work with religious […]

  9. Thanks Bartholomew, am a christian who is deeply confuse with christianity itself because my bible tells me to love one another. My bible says we should cast out demons in the name of Jesus, Bible did not say we should abuse innocent children who are already truamatise with the abuse of this world, imagine your own child being subjected to this nonsense, fair enough our background and our religion alert us about the devil and its devices but still we are ask not to judge one another because God is the judge who will judge the whole world. children should be loved and cared for and l strongly believe that things can change if we raise enough awareness. l am currently researching on child witchcraft to raise awareness that this nonsense should stop.

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