When a child is accused of witchcraft, the accusation often come from either an uncle, grandmother, stepmother/father, neighbours, people from the village or the priest. Actually it´s very rare they are accused by their own parents. But once a child has been accused of being a witch, there is no turning back. Villagers will require the child to either be exorcised from the so-called evil spirits through nightly exorcism rituals by the local priest. Or the parents take the child to a witch doctor, which they believe has magical powers to exorcise the witch from the child. But this cost a lot of money and superstition is most common in the poorest areas. The children are often tortured and killed. The parents can’t stand against the whole village and the local occult groups who all demand that the bewitched child must either be tortured to death or banished from the village. The parents or the family members of the accused child are at risk of being killed, if they let their child stay in their house. The parents will believe that the child is bewitched if it is a priest who appointed the child to be a witch. The child is killed either by being beheaded, buried alive, burned alive or simply beaten/tortured to death.
Belief in witches in Denmark
Keep in mind that this superstition is not an African thing. Back in the 1600´s women were burned alive at the stake in Denmark because we thought that they were witches. The accused woman (often a demented old woman) had to confess her pact with the devil and through torture forced to concede her “conspirators” (husband and children were also burned alive). The last illegal witch mistreatment in Denmark took place in 1897, and the last witch accusation was made in 1934! It is not many years ago that Denmark believed in witches! So instead of pointing fingers, we must together make an effort to help the villagers through advocacy and try to enlighten the communities who are living in ignorance and extreme poverty.
Why Development is behind in Nigeria
Why have we in Denmark moved on? And why does superstition still reign in poor villages in Nigeria as it did in Denmark in the 15th and 16th centuries? There are two main reasons: Ignorance and poverty. Where you find extreme poverty, you will also find extreme ignorance. Poverty means that children can’t afford to attend school. When children can’t attend school, development stops and no progress is being made.
DINNoedhjaelp’s main responsibilities
Nigeria is the African country with the highest number of out-of-school children: DINNoedhjaelp main task in Nigeria is to educate. When the Nigerian government does not use agents to inform and educate, we must through our educational work create an awareness of the situation and try to stop the superstition.
The children at DINNoedhjaelp’s childrens center miss their families. They talk often about their siblings, cousins, grandparents and parents (or parent if one parent is dead). Our biggest responsibility is to ensure that the children maintain contact with their families. Sometimes we take the children to what we call a “home visit, and this is something the children look very much forward to. Home visits are the most important part in our advocacy program.
Children that has been accused for witchcraft often live as outcasts in their village, they’re almost tortured to death, expelled from school, are not allowed to play with their old friends and constantly live in fear for their own life. When those same children come back to their family and village again speaking good English and look healthy, confident and strong, it gives the whole village something to think about. They realize their own ignorance and that the children are not actually witches. We prove to the whole local community that the children are not witches, but that the ones who accused them of being witches have been indoctrinated by either the pastor or other villagers.
At DINNoedhjaelp’s childrens center in Nigeria all the children goes to school. Education creates development and the children´s schooling also helps to process their horrible past of severe torture and abuse. Besides going to school, we also work with the children every day through singing, dancing, playing and by being creative. Drawing and painting are the children’s favorite activities. The children develop their senses and creativity. Drawing and painting is an expression of their spontaneity and imagination. Children express their best thoughts, memories and feelings through play, song and dance.