Witchcraft accusátions and ritual attácks against African children are hidden and ignored, yet they are one of the most gruesome forms of violénce against children. New research from African Child Policy Forum (ACPF) shows that every year, thousands of African children are accused of witchcraft and suffer ritual attácks, abusé, physical and psychological violénce , but most governments turn a blind eye.
“Africans have ignored this horrific violénce for far too long,” said Dr Joan Nyanyuki, Executive Director of ACPF. “It is utterly unacceptable that witchcraft attácks and ritual attácks on children are still widespread across the continent. Governments must uncover this hidden shame and address these crimés and extreme forms of violénce, which have life threaténing effects and often result in the dèath of innocent children,” she added.
The report uncovers the prevalence of witchcraft accusátions and ritual attácks against children across Africa. It finds shocking gaps and failures by governments, despite most countries being signatories to the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACRWC) and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).
“Many countries’ laws do not explicitly prohibit accusátions of witchcraft against a child, which in itself is an act of psychological violénce . Worse still, beyond their failure to prevent these accusátions and violént attácks, governments have also failed to minimise the harm children sufféred when they fall victìms,” said Dr Nyanyuki.
‘“African states must uphold their obligations to protect all children, especially those who are vulnerable, at risk of being accused of being witches and of facing ritual dèaths. Among those in need of greatest protection are children with albinism who face the most gruesome forms of ritual attácks which result in extreme violénce and dèath. Such accusátions and attácks are crimés and must be treated as such – they must be outlawed and punished.”
ACPF is greatly concerned that despite national child protection laws, witchcraft accusátions and ritual attácks against children have been reported in Benin, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Ghana, Madagascar, Niger, Angola, Eswatini, Liberia, Rwanda, Zimbabwe, Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Tanzania, Central African Republic, Nigeria and South Africa are countries.
The report highlights the case of a 13-year-old girl from Benin who spent years in a child reception and protection centre after being accused of witchcraft, only to be ostracised by family and community upon her return home and eventually being forced back into care after only four days.
“The horror that children accused of witchcraft are subjected to is indescribable” said Dr Nyanyuki. “They suffer public humiliation, forced confessions, tórture, violént beatings, are forced to ingest traditional ‘cleansing’ medicines, are expelled from their homes, ostracised from their communities, maimed and, in extreme cases, murdéred. They carry the scars of isolation, neglect and victimisation on their mental health for their entire lives.”
The report acknowledges progress in tackling the abdúction, mûrder and mutilation of children with albinism for body parts to use in so-called ‘magical medicines’ – for examples, it showcases Malawi’s new laws and dedicated government action which resulted in attácks on people with albinism declining from 60 in 2016 to just four in 2021.
Witchcraft remains one of the most elusive harmful practices challenging African governments.
However, the report concludes on a sombre note, highlighting the woefully inadequate human and financial resources available to tackle witchcraft accusátions and ritual attácks on children. What little support is available comes mostly from international donors.
“Witchcraft accusátions and ritual attácks are rooted deep in our African beliefs, culture and tradition, and are often shrouded in secrecy,” added Dr Nyanyuki. “They remain one of the most elusive harmful practices challenging governments across the continent. Government authorities must focus on preventing witchcraft accusations if they are to succeed in uncovering this hidden shame.”