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Child Witches in Congo Highlighted by UN Report

The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has just issued a report on Congo; a couple of paragraphs are devoted to the subject of children who have been accused of witchcraft:

78. While the Committee notes that awareness-raising and rehabilitation activities for children accused of witchcraft have been developed, however remains concerned that a large number of children are labeled as witches and consequently suffer serious stigmatization. The Committee is also concerned that violence against children accused of witchcraft is increasing, and that children are being kept as prisoners in religious buildings where they are exposed to torture and ill-treatment or even killed under the pretext of exorcism.

79. The Committee urges the State party to take effective measures to prevent children from being accused of witchcraft, including through continuing and strengthening public awareness-raising activities, particularly directed at parents and religious leaders and by addressing the root causes inter alia poverty. The Committee further urges the State party to implement legislative and other measures to criminalize making accusations against children of witchcraft and bring to justice persons responsible for violence and ill-treatment of children accused of witchcraft. Finally, the Committee recommends the State party to provide measures recovery and reintegration measures for children who have been victims of such practices.

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

In both countries, it should be noted, the phenomenon is a relatively new one – in the past children were considered too weak and uneducated to be witches. The subject has been tackled by the anthropologist Filip De Boeck, whose analysis is summarised by Diane Chesla here:

The role of the child and his/her power structure have been changing within the family system in Kinshasa. With access to artisanal diamond mining in neighbouring Angola, teens have been able acquire significant wealth, often greater sums than that of either parent. This has given the child the power to defy the parents; and, in fact, a type of role reversal occurs.

The role of child as soldier (notably evident with Laurent Kabila’s march into Kinshasa surrounded by underage armed soldiers) presented the idea of guns as power to impressionable Congolese youth. Again, the child learns he can be liberated from the constraints of family life by turning to the streets, witchcraft and life as a soldier.

Changing maternal roles are also evident in Kinshasa. Women, for example, may engage in activities generated by diamond mining in Angola and are absent from the family. In some cases, the fathers are absent as well, as they take up arms in the ongoing conflict. These examples show how kin relations in the capital are changing and affecting the role and power structure of the Congolese child. The child’s response is to liberate him/herself by turning to the street and the occult. Similarly, witchcraft is a solution to rid the family of a child thought responsible for inexplicable hardships.

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PS: accusing children of witchcraft is not just an African thing; the Independent reported in 2001 that

Just over a year ago, Brandi [Blackbear] was summarily suspended from Union Intermediate High School in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, and told to stay at home for two weeks. The reason had to do with her ceramics teacher, a certain Mr Kemp, who had fallen suddenly ill and had been rushed in to hospital.

According to the assistant principal of the school, Brandi had caused this sudden illness by casting a spell on Mr Kemp.

No proof was offered for this startling assertion other than the evidence of Brandi’s right hand, which was scrawled with a five-pointed star in a circle. Charlie Bushyhead, the assistant principal, insisted it was a witch’s pentagram and badgered her into admitting that she was an adherent of the Wicca, the popular New Age religion that harks back to pagan models of spirituality.

… Mr Kemp was not stricken by some mystery ailment but, rather, underwent a routine emergency operation for appendicitis and has since fully recovered. The ceramics teacher was not himself a party to the accusations against Brandi and appears to have been one of her favourite instructors at the school.

That story was eventually made into a movie.

5 Responses

  1. I’ve followed this issue in the Angola/DRC, so thank for the useful information. However Chesla is writing about teens, while there are a lot of children under 10 who are accused of witchcraft. so her explanation can only be a partial one.

  2. Yes, Nigeria in particular is a different situation.

  3. […] as I’ve blogged previously, such religious teachings have had grim consequences: in Nigeria, Angola, and Congo, hundreds of children have been rejected by their families, tortured, and in some cases most likely […]

  4. […] 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 […]

  5. […] witchcraft in the Nigerian state of Akwa Ibom (punishable up to 10 years in prison) the practice continues in Nigeria, Cameroon, Angola and […]

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