Leo Igwe, who has done more to expose and publicize the brutal attacks on child “witches” in Africa over the last few years than anyone else, has an article on the James Randi Educational Foundation website about this horrible practice and what fuels it. Speaking first about an orphanage that cares for 32 of the child victims, he writes:
Very little is known about this ‘home’ in Sang where children accused of witchcraft or of being ‘agents’ and instruments of the devil are taken care of. The children are from a day old to sixteen years. They are victims of superstitious beliefs which constitute the basis of the local thought and culture. In many parts of northern Ghana, a child whose mother dies after delivery is often percieved to be an ‘evil child’, a curse to the family or community and an agent of the devil. In a region where many deaths are seen as unnatural, many babies are accused of killing their mothers through witchcraft and magic. And to prevent such an ‘evil child’ from wreaking more havoc, the baby is abandoned or dumped at an anthill to die. Children who are born with disability are also accused of witchcraft. Disability is generally percieved to be abnormal and unnatural. Witchcraft accusation is often a way of reacting to abnormalities in children. Children with disabilities are often thrown into an ‘evil forest’ or are killed in order to remove the ‘curse’ from the family or to disable and get rid of their their evil magic and witchcraft. According to local caregivers, some children were brought to the center by their parents out of fear that they could be murdered by family or community members who regard them as evil.
There is need for an intensive public enlightenment campaign to get people in northern Ghana to abandon the superstitious belief that associates disability with withcraft and magic. People need to be educated to act and react with care and compassion, not irrational fear, to any form of disability or ‘abnormality’ in children or in any other human being. But this much needed awareness program cannot happen due to lack of principled stance on the witchcraft phenomena. Witchcraft is a charged and controversial topic. And many locals do not like tinkering with it. There are too many people; local chiefs, priests, soothsayers, etc. with vested interest in witchcraft belief and practice. Those trying to combat witchcraft related abuse are mainly faith based organisations like the one managing this orphanage or religious individuals who actually believe in witchcraft. They do not openly question or are willing to challenge witch beliefs.
For instance, two NGOs working to address the problem in the region stated in their brochure that they ‘do not challenge the existence or otherwise of witchcraft and its effects on individuals and communities’. It is difficult to understand how these organisations can execute a comprehensive and effective campaign without challenging witchcraft claims. Getting the local population to understand that witchcraft is an imaginary crime, a form of superstition, should be a critical part of any efforts or program to tackle and eradicate witch persecution and killing.
Ignorance and irrationality are sometimes harmless, but they can also result in innocent people being killed and maimed.