Abuse of “Child Witches” in Congo Highlighted

Staying with Human Rights Watch, the organisation has a new report out on Congolese street-children. As I blogged a couple of months ago, many of these children have been thrown out of their homes following accusations of witchcraft, a new trend which is being fed by certain churches (footnotes excluded):

Individuals who work with children in Kinshasa estimate that as many as 70 percent of street children had been accused of sorcery in their homes before coming to live on the streets. One activist who advocates for assistance and protection of street children told us that there is no bigger factor in pushing children on to the streets today than accusations of sorcery.

…In tandem with the increasing number of children accused of sorcery has been the creation of churches that specialize in the exorcism of evil spirits from the “possessed.” These églises de réveil or churches of revival combine prayers, fasting and abuse in “deliverance” ceremonies to rid children of “possession.” Approximately 2,000 churches perform “deliverance” ceremonies in Mbuji-Mayi and an even larger number operate in Kinshasa Some of these churches and their leaders have attracted large followings and have become lucrative businesses. Although the deliverance ceremonies are reportedly performed for free, in reality, parents or guardians are strongly “encouraged” to make a financial donation or give a gift to the church in exchange for deliverance of a child. In addition, deliverance ceremonies are a way to attract new church members who may become regular contributors at Sunday services.

…The ceremonies that pastors perform range from simple prayers and singing to holding the children for several days at the churches, denying them food and water, and whipping or beating confessions out of them. Save the Children/UK has been active in attempting to change the behavior of the worst of these pastors. According to a Save the Children/UK project manager in Mbuji-Mayi, the most abusive pastors withhold food and water from children, whip or burn them to coerce their confessions, or pour salt water in their anuses or down their throats to purge the “evil” from their bodies. An organized group of pastors in Kinshasa which, through peer outreach, tries to change the behavior of abusive pastors confirmed these accusations. They additionally reported that sometimes children are tied up during their confinement at the churches and that in a few cases boys and girls have been sexually assaulted by members affiliated with the churches while in confinement.

In particular, child sorcery is seen as a source of AIDS:

…When questioned about HIV/AIDS, a prophet in Mbuji-Mayi told us, “Child sorcerers have the power to transmit any disease, including AIDS, to their family members. AIDS is a mysterious disease that is used as a weapon by those who practice witchcraft.”

Meanwhile, BBC television just last week broadcasted a documentary on the subject, Witch Child, which followed the efforts of British anthropologist Richard Hoskins as he sought to find a British-Congolese boy who had been sent to Kinshasa for deliverance. The boy’s mother had been advised to send him by her pastor at a London-based Congolese church; this was only a few months after a girl had been tortured and nearly murdered in the city following the same diagnosis. Hoskins interviewed several London pastors who unconvincingly denied that they had ever preached on the subject of witchcraft (or “kindoki”), but he also noted the efforts of some better-educated Congolese pastors to stop the abuse. He also conducted a couple of sad interviews with street children in Kinshasa, and met a pastor who specialises in cutting open children’s stomachs and plunging his hand in (all in filthy conditions, of course).

Alas, the documentary went out at 11.20pm on a weekday, but it got some notice. Christian Today reports:

Britain’s leading Black Church leaders have released a joint statement rebuking a BBC documentary, saying that the programme portrayed inaccurate stereotypical attitudes towards children among black Christians.

…Bishop Dr Joe Aldred, Secretary of MECA (Minority Ethnic Christian Affairs, a part of the ecumenical organization Churches Together in England) and Chair of the Council of Black-led Churches in Birmingham said, ‘We are aware that some cases of child abuse have come to light in the UK, which the police are investigating with our full cooperation. But to imply, as this broadcast seemed to do, that abuse of children is widespread amongst black Christians in the UK is misleading and very unhelpful. The failure of the documentary to make the distinction between legitimate and acceptable practices of faith within the Church as opposed to occult and harmful cultural practices means the Church was again misrepresented.’

I think Aldred is off-base here: Hoskins made it very clear that he was looking at a particular problem which has developed in the specific context of modern-day Congo. It’s sad to see Aldred reacting in such a knee-jerk way, but it should be remembered that he has had to respond to a number of sensationalist reports on the same subject that have appeared in British newspapers. A statement opposing child abuse follows, and is signed by a number of Christian groups.

However, one question that I asked in my previous entry on the subject remains open: to what extent have western neo-Pentecostal ideas about demons and deliverance influenced the situation in Congo? As I noted then, “The Apostolic Council of Prophetic Elders”, which includes US Pentecostal luminaries such as Peter Wagner and Tommy Tenney, also has a certain Gwen Shaw among its members. Shaw has worked in Congo with one church that was highlighted by Hoskins, and she has praised its efforts at delivering people from witchcraft.

3 Responses

  1. […] blogged on the subject several times, such as here – I’ve also followed reports about the same problem in […]

  2. […] However, the UK context also got some attention in a BBC documentary in 2006, which I blogged on here. That programme concentrated on churches with links to […]

  3. […] of Victoria Climbié in 2000. There was also a BBC documentary in 2006, which I blogged here. However, the new programme tells us that “the practice of branding children as witches has […]

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