Funmi Iyanda on Sunday discussed the long-standing issue of child witches on Public Eye which is prevalent in Akwa Ibom and Cross River states wherein parents are tricked into believing their children have witchcraft.
Funmi spoke with the principal counsel Basic Rights Counsel Initiative (BRCI) James Ibor; lawyer, activist and writer Leo Igwe; a representative of National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) Amaka Omo; and a survivor David Otu.
The episode kicked off with a survivor’s tale. A young girl who was kept anonymous recounted her experience which began when her father suspected that she and her sisters were witches.
This suspicion escalated into an attempt on her life when her stepmother held a knife to her throat and asked her to “untie her womb”.
The girl said her father kept her and her sisters in a “chicken house” until they were rescued.
Another survivor, Otu, told Public Eye that he was accused of being a wizard and forced to live on the streets at the tender age of 12.
Mr Ibor found and rescued Otu at age 15.
“He was very articulate. He was in charge of all the other street children. We had organised the first event for the International Day of Street Children,” Ibor said.
“On the day of the event, he told me that if I did not seat him at the high table, he would tell all the children to leave the hall. He sat with pastors and government officials. When we gave him the floor, he exploded.
“After the program, we asked which of them wanted to stay in a proper home. He accepted and was placed with a family. Today, he is a second-year engineering student at the University of Calabar.”
When asked by Funmi how a parent gets convinced that their child is a witch, Ibor answered: “Money is the motivation. The victims are children who can not defend themselves, can not talk, children with autism, or children with incredibly high IQ. If you are seen as an extraordinary child, you must be a witch. And pastors and native healers are ready to sell this fear to parents and manipulate them for money.”
NHRC representative Mrs Omo spoke on what the commission was doing to curb the societal problem.
“What the NHRC does are community town halls. Everything starts with the community. If the community believes in these things, we have to root it out. Also, with the Child Rights Act, we have the mandate to free children from the custody of abusive parents and take them to a safer environment,” she said.
On the way forward, Mr Igwe said: “First, we must admit that we have failed as a society. We can try to push the blame to pastors and healers, but they are part of society. Why can’t we confront them?
“They say ‘Touch not my anointed’. We have to touch the anointed! We must confront the narratives of witchcraft and the narrative that says that someone can harm others magically.”
Public Eye is supported by the MacArthur Foundation.