Nigeria’s Witch Children
By IslamOnline.net & News Agencies
Aid workers and experts affirm that the belief in witchcraft is not new in Nigeria, but it’s all new that children now become victims. (Google)
EKET, Nigeria — Jeremiah, 10, can’t stop tears from rolling down his face as he recalls how he was tortured, burned and nearly killed by his own parents for being branded by their local church as a wicked witch.
"We were having a revival at church one night when from nowhere, the pastor's wife stood up to say I was a witch," the Nigerian child told Agence France Presse (AFP) on Sunday, March 1.
It has been more than a year since Jeremiah fled from his home and took refuge at an emergency shelter in the town of Eket in Nigeria’s south-east state of Akwa Ibom.
But his escape came after he suffered months of abuse at the hands of his parents after he was accused of sorcery.
After the church incident, Jeremiah was immediately locked up at the pastor's house, starved and assaulted with clubs as part of the exorcism exercise.
When he moved back home, he suffered another episode of torture by his parents, who over several weeks, locked him up in a room, starved and flogged him and then set him ablaze.
"One day my father came in with a jerrycan and poured petrol on my face and my clothes and lit matches.
“I was burnt and for several days I could not open my eyes and my mouth," he recalled, before slipping into a long silence, and then sudden gush of tears.
Despite the seriousness of the burns which left him permanently scarred, he was not allowed to seek medical care. Days later, he sighted another jerrycan of fuel in the house and knew it was time to flee.
Aid workers affirm that despite all his sufferings, Jeremiah is counted of the lucky children haunted by witchcraft.
At a centre sheltering Jeremiah, there are over 170 other children -- aged between 18 months and 16 years – who have sought or been brought to emergency shelter.
Many bear scars of torture -- machete cuts, burns or a nail drilled into the head.
"Some die, they are thrown into the sea,” Sam Ikpe-Itauma, head of the local charity organization Children's Rights and Rehabilitation Network (CRARN), says.
“Many are forced to eat a poisonous wild berry, in the belief that if you eat and don't die, you are not a witch, if you die then you are a witch. But there are hardly any survivors.”
Aid workers and experts affirm that as in many other parts of Africa, the belief in witchcraft is not new in Nigeria, but it’s all new that children now become victims.
Experts blame this trend for the self-proclaimed pastors who make fortune from children exorcising rites.
"There is an explosion of fake evangelists," Herbert Batta, a university lecturer in the state capital Uyo, told AFP.
He added that the self-made pastors know very well there is nothing wrong with the children they brand.
Ikpe-Itauma, of the Eket local charity CRARN, agrees.
"You have to be seen to spiritually powerful to draw the crowds and in the process collect lots of money in offerings."
Around a dozen phony pastors have been arrested recently.
One of them is facing murder charges after he confessed in a documentary film to having killed 110 child witches.
He now says he killed only the witches inside the children, not the children themselves.
The phony pastors also get paid in cash or kind for deliverance and counseling sessions.
Chigbo Ekwealo, a university of Lagos philosopher and witchcraft specialist believe that people ignorance and poverty have made them an easy prey for those phony pastors.
"Some people are making brisk business out of defenseless children," Akwa Ibom State spokesman Aniekan Umanah, concurrs.
"It's greed, targeting gullible and susceptible rural people."