How do you know if a child is a witch? Beat him or her with a broom and if they cry, well then they are surely possessed by daemons, everyone knows that witches are terrified of brooms.
Crazy logic I know, but what is scary is that in Nigeria this is fast becoming common folk law and the abuse of children as witches is on the rise. They are blamed for causing all manner of things from illness, poor crops, a family member loosing their job and even death. Once a child is identified as a witch they are more often than not tortured (put through a cleansing ritual as it is know) in horrific ways in order to cast out the demons and if this fails they are then ostracized by their community, in some cases they have died as a result of their “cleansing’ rituals.
Ironically much of this horrific treatment is done under the guise of ‘doing gods work” and children accused of witchcraft can be incarcerated in churches for weeks on end where they are beaten, starved and tortured in order to extract a confession.
The states of Akwa Ibom and Cross River have about 15,000 children branded as witches, the vast majority of them end up abandoned and abused on the streets. There is some light in this dark story. Stepping Stones Nigeria is a charity which is doing a great job in very trying circumstances. The charity was set-up in 2003 when Gary Foxcroft, spent 3 months in Akwa Ibom State carrying out research in community perceptions of the oil industry. During his time there he came across groups of young children, some as young as four or five, sleeping rough on the streets. It started off by setting up a school and from there has branched out into caring for the many kids that are tortured and abandoned for being witches. They work with other community organisations in the region to protect, save and transform the lives of these vulnerable children.
To find out more about them and to support the good work they are doing please visit their website for more information: http://www.steppingstonesnigeria.org/