Witchcraft and the tragedy of street kids in Nigeria

A matter of great concern that rarely takes the centre stage in Nigeria’s public discourse is the tragedy of homeless children – ‘street kids’ as they are called as if it makes sense for a child to wallow in the streets with no social safety nets to catch them before they fall into the cracks and are forever lost.

It is what often happens. After all, Nigeria has never been popular for being shy about eating its own. When it does gets glossed over, this tragedy is framed only in two contexts.

That of Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) – about 2 million people 60% of which is children, and the Almajiri. The former are victims of a protracted war on terrorism whereas the latter are victims of parental neglect and a dated kind of religiousity that is a handicap to any society in the 21st century. There is a 3rd group however whose erasure makes the plight of the children caught in the teeth of desperation doubly tragic – the child witch.

The rise of the posterity gospel of the Pentecostal church in the 1970’s birthed new problems for Nigerian families in the predominantly Christian South. Witchcraft itself is not new in Africa, it was an integral part of many African Spiritual traditions. Until the sustained attacks of Christian missionaries forced traditional spirituality to the fringes in Southern Nigeria a visit to a witch doctors for solutions ranging from divine interventions to healing from a debilitating illness was commonplace. Now the solution provider has become the problem.

Everything from a sickness, loss of job to mood instability is blamed on witchcraft by pastors who turn around to provide a ‘solution’ in the form of exorcisms and deliverance sessions they charge to perform.

Akwa Ibom state alone is home to 1000s of homeless children branded witches and thrown out by family, they are shunned by society and are forced to fend for themselves. These are the survivors who lived to try again, many victims are not so lucky and end up dead.

The media is filled with stories of children accused of witchcraft and abandoned by family who end up dead, some are tortured to death, and others yet are tortured and left scarred for life.

Legal protection …

Hard as it is to believe there is legal backing for the persecution of witches in the Nigeria Constitution (1999 – as amended.) Section 210 of the criminal code prescribes a two-year sentence for a wide range of related offences around witchcraft and ‘Juju.’ It is a colonial relic that persists notwithstanding the harm attitudes around witchcraft continues to cause for many – especially children.

Children receive sweeping protection under the Child Rights Act (2003) signed into law and awaiting adoption by 11 of 36 states in the country, 24 mostly southern states have already domesticated the law. Akwa Ibom went one step further to include protection around the subject of witchcraft accusations, but years after the law came into effect no one has been prosecuted through its application.

What laws do is give every citizen a fighting chance within the fold of civil society. More southern states incorporating protection of children from witchcraft accusation in the Child Rights Act, and actually pursuing cases of this violation will go a long way in curbing this menace

Children shouldn’t have to need the law shielding them from their own parents and/or guardians, but if that’s what it comes to then we may as well earnestly rise up to the occasion and do the needful.

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