Questions

Frequently Asked Questions

— RESPONSES in depth

FAQ 1: What is meant by a ‘child witch’, or a child witchcraft accusation?

The definition of a ‘witch’ varies from culture to culture, but it generally refers to a person who is believed to act in secret, typically at night, and to have an innate and malevolent ability and power to harm others supernaturally. This definition does not involve external spirits or demons which ‘possess’ the person, but it can be perceived as a physical element within the ‘witch’, often believed to be located in the belly, which is why many ‘deliverance’ rituals seek to remove it physically.

Belief in witchcraft is influenced primarily by an individual’s worldview, be this the traditional belief system prevalent in many African nations, or a belief in Wicca, which has hundreds of thousands of adherents in the USA alone according to the American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) in 2001.

In many parts of the African continent, belief in and fear of witches and witchcraft is a prevailing worldview. Not all African cultures and languages distinguish between witches, sorcerers and diviners. Where they do, a ‘sorcerer’ is often closer to what we would call a ‘magician’ with learnt ‘powers’; and a diviner’s role is ambiguous: he or she may do harm, or may practise traditional medicine as a ‘healer’, sometimes by invoking spirits. The role of a diviner in a community can be an inherited one. In Europe and North America, the word ‘witch’ can be used to define a person who defines him or herself as a pagan or a devotee of Wicca, particularly revering nature and with a pantheistic worldview. This has resulted in a northern hemisphere perception that witches can be ‘good’. In Africa, however a ‘witch’ can by definition only be bad and is greatly feared.

A ‘child witch’ is a child who is believed to have caused harm to someone through the secret use of occult powers. Sometimes, the child is believed to have done this deliberately and maliciously; sometimes, the child is believed to have acted unknowingly, through a second persona, usually at night, with the evidence being a dream that suggests occultism, such as flying.

Accusations of witchcraft are a consequence of this worldview combined with the belief which prevails in many cultures that all misfortune must have been caused by someone. When something goes wrong (typically such things as sickness, death, infertility, loss of a job, financial difficulties, failure of a crop, an so on), the response is not “What has caused this?” but rather “Who did this?”. In looking for the person responsible, suspicion tends to fall on the most vulnerable members of the community, that is, those least able to defend themselves. Historically, that has generally been elderly people, particularly old women (and in some places such as Ghana and Tanzania, that is still the case), but increasingly, there is a shift towards accusing children. The ‘witch’ responsible for the misfortune, can be identified in various ways: sometimes there is an accusation from within the accused person’s family (typically, a step–parent), or from a diviner or a ‘pastor’ (who will acquire status and may receive financial benefits from identifying ‘witches’). Sometimes, the person will ‘confess’, generally under direct or indirect pressure.

FAQ 2: Where is this happening?

This is a global Issue. Witchcraft accusations against children have been reported from Angola, Belgium, Bolivia, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, France, Gabon, Ghana, Guatemala, Guinea, Haiti, India, Indonesia, Islamic Republic of Iran, Liberia, Malawi, Mexico, Nepal, the Netherlands, Nigeria, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, the Republic of the Congo, Saudi Arabia, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Syria, Thailand, Togo and the United Kingdom.

In some areas witchcraft accusations are made against a range of vulnerable groups, including children, women and the elderly. In other areas children are the specific focus of accusations.

SCWA currently focuses on witchcraft accusations against children in Africa as this is where our Member agencies have the greatest experience, expertise and local connections.

FAQ 3: How many children are accused of witchcraft?

Child witchcraft accusations remain an extremely hidden problem. Most accusations go unreported and undocumented. There is also a significant lack of robust research into the scale of the problem. In consequence, there are no reliable statistics on the number of children affected.

However in 2010 UNICEF estimated that there were over 20,000 children are on the streets of Kinshasa as a result of witchcraft accusations and that there are thousands more across West Africa alone. The situation does not appear to have improved. Anecdotal reports also indicate child witchcraft accusations are on the increase across the globe.

In 2014, SCWA helped to fund a key piece of research among 1000 church leaders in Kinshasa, DR Congo, by Dr Robert J. Priest, Dr Timothy Stabell and Rev’d Abel Ngolo. The survey had a response rate in excess of 70% (713 pastors) and the results were telling. Almost 70% of the pastors who responded said they personally knew at least one child who had been accused of witchcraft, with 178 knowing at least one child aged five years old or under who had been accused. The consequences for the children are severe. Over 60% of the pastors who responded reported that the accused children they know personally suffered physical harm as a result of the accusation, and 85% said the children were ostracised or shunned. Although some 80% affirmed that they know that Congolese Law prohibits accusations of witchcraft against children, the overwhelming majority, (some 70%) acknowledged that sermons in their churches preach that child witches do harm by their supernatural powers. The full report on the survey will be published in the autumn of 2016.

FAQ 4: Why are children accused of witchcraft?

Accusations of witchcraft are typically levelled against the most vulnerable members of society. In some cultures, that is elderly people, but increasingly, children are being accused. Documented cases and our research suggests that boys and girls are both victims of this phenomenon, at least in some nations, and children can be accused at any stage from birth to adulthood.

The reasons behind this are complex. It is not helpful to perceive the issue as an ‘African’ one. It is a global phenomenon, and it does not exist in all African nations. In some West African and sub–Saharan nations, however, the belief in witchcraft is a philosophical response to the problem of suffering in the world. There is a prevailing belief is that all misfortune has been caused by someone. ‘Who did this to me?’ is the immediate response. Sometimes it is a question of an adult seeking a scapegoat, rather than accepting responsibility for the consequences of a poor decision or wrong action. Sometimes, it is rooted in lack of knowledge about the causes of disease or other medical issues, which leads to a reliance on alternative, supernatural explanations.

Poverty and socio–economic inequality are often common threads, especially where there is a struggle to support an extended or blended family. (However accusations against children are also seen in wealthier families.) Polygamous marriages and family breakdown exacerbate insecurity and jealousy, with accusations by a stepmother being particularly common, often motivated by a desire to remove ‘competition’ from another woman’s child and to promote the interests of her own children. Traditional views of childhood and the sense that children are the responsibility of the whole community (as used to be said, “It takes a whole village to raise a child”) have been undermined by urbanisation, by conflict and the use of child soldiers, which has changed perceptions of children, as has the fear of large gangs of street–living children. Whereas children might once have inspired protection, they can now be perceived as threatening.

Other factors which put children at risk of accusations of witchcraft include disability, bed–wetting, dreams, night–terrors, precocious intelligence, disobedience and other behaviours or characteristics that make a child ‘stand out’, even though many of these are part of normal childhood development and some are characteristic reactions to trauma, such as conflict, and are common in areas affected by civil unrest or war.

It has also been strongly suggested that some popular cultural media plays a major role in promoting and legitimising both the belief in child witchcraft and the resultant abuse of children. ‘Nollywood’ — the Nigerian film industry — has been identified as particularly influential. Nollywood is the second largest film industry in the world. In 2014, the Nigerian government released data showing Nollywood is a $3.3 billion sector, with 1844 movies produced in 2013 alone. Nollywood films are extremely popular all over Africa and among the diaspora communities overseas. Many Nollywood films feature ‘witches’ and ‘witchcraft’ and there is strong anecdotal evidence to suggest that they are spreading the notion that children can be ‘witches’ to nations where accusations against children were previously unknown.

Although SCWA focus on accusations against children, we work closely with others who are responding to the issue of accusations against adults. We share resources, information and expertise with the common desire to see all accusations stop.

FAQ 5: Who accuses children of witchcraft?

Any member of a community or family may accuse a child of witchcraft in nations where this phenomenon is an issue. Typically, suspicions are raised by extended family members, sometimes with an ulterior motive that is usually economic. Adults and children both accuse other children and children also sometimes ‘confess’, although this is often under physical or emotional duress. Children may be beaten or forced to fast for long periods in order to extract a confession from them. They also grow up hearing that dreaming of flying or of harming another, or of eating food in a dream are all indications that the dreamer is a witch, so many children who have had these dreams genuinely believe this ‘proof’ and confess.

Diviners and some ‘church’ leaders are also involved in the phenomenon, although it is contrary to Biblical teaching. Families are often charged a fee for ‘deliverance’ rituals, so those who carry them out profit financially, as well as acquiring status in their communities. Furthermore, many church leaders have little or no theological training and syncretism is very common, where Christianity is blended with traditional beliefs, including the strong belief in and fear of witchcraft.

It must also be acknowledged that some suspicions that a child is a ‘witch’ are sincerely believed, especially where they involve parents’ suspicions of their own children. As the fear of witchcraft is so ingrained and so strongly felt, some parents genuinely believe that it is in the best interests of the child to go through an elaborate, sometimes violent ritual to remove ‘witchcraft’ from them. In their desire to ‘rescue’ their child, they become blind to the fact that these rituals are traumatic and abusive for the child.

FAQ 6: What is the role of religion or religious beliefs in child witch accusations?

Accusations of witchcraft can be found in those claiming adherence to Christianity, traditional beliefs, Islam and Hinduism. We believe that it is important to respect the beliefs held by others, but we do not believe that these can ever be used to justify abuse of children or, indeed, of adults.

SCWA’s current experience is within the context of the Christian church.

It is true that the Bible is sometimes used to justify accusations of witchcraft. However, in the original language texts (Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek), there is no instance of witchcraft as understood in the African context, (namely referring to a person who is believed to act in secret, typically at night, and to have an innate and malevolent ability and power to harm others supernaturally). There are references to sorcerers and diviners, who are essentially magicians with learnt or occult powers, who seek to assume God’s role in knowing the future and in controlling nature (for example the magicians who imitated the plagues in Egypt in the book of Exodus).  

Some verses in the Bible have been mistranslated,* usually to fit into a particular cultural context, with the unintended consequence that these verses are sometimes taken out of context and misapplied to justify witchcraft beliefs. It is clear that this is not what the Bible teaches or promotes. On the contrary, many verses in Scripture make clear to us that God cherishes and nurtures all children and requires us to reflect that care in our attitude and actions towards children. Children are valued throughout Scripture. In the Old Testament they are a blessing to be cherished, and the vulnerable are a priority in God’s eyes, and He condemns the practices of nations which abused and killed their own children. In the New Testament family life is spoken of as a place where children are nurtured and encouraged with kindness, and provision is made for their needs. Most particularly, in Jesus ministry we see someone who always treats children with the utmost dignity and respect, seeking every aspect of their wellbeing (physically, emotionally, and socially). Even on occasions where a child is said to be demon possessed, Jesus lovingly restores the child (to health and to their family) without stigmatising the child in any way or causing them any harm.

Scripture also makes clear to us that demonic powers are disarmed by Christ, and do not have the excessive supernatural powers often attributed to them. Though still at work in a limited sense in the world, they need not be a source of terror for us. With the help of the Holy Spirit, we can overcome these influences without drama, but with care for all affected. In every culture we are called under the new covenant of Christ to live a life that reflects his character and attitude. We may celebrate the good in our cultures, but must live distinctively wherever there are cultural practices that contravene God’s values and purposes for human life. Most especially, churches must reflect God’s Kingdom in being safe places for children.

Traditional diviners play a role in identifying ‘witches’ in countries including Tanzania. In others, such as DR Congo and Nigeria, this role has been partially assumed by some church leaders, particularly where those churches are independent ‘revivalist’ churches and there is no accountability. These churches are often led by untrained ‘pastors’ with little theological knowledge. Syncretism of Christianity with traditional beliefs distorts Biblical teaching and promotes non–Biblical practices in the name of Christianity. As Dr Opoku Onyinah, Chairman of the Church of Pentecost in Ghana and a leading expert on witchcraft accusations points out, ‘There is no linking in the New Testament of the idea of witches who harm others with demon possession. The traditional idea of witchcraft has become syncretised with the Christian concept of demon possession to create a Witch Demonology.’ This syncretism has led pastors and others to refer to the ‘demon of witchcraft’, when in fact ‘witches’ and demons are completely different entities.

This is why it is so crucial to engage with the Church and to provide proper, Biblically–underpinned training and teaching to bring about change, both within the Church and in communities.

[ * Key points regarding the mistranslations are that in the Bible: Jesus Christ never accused anyone of being a witch; and that in its original languages, the Bible contains absolutely no reference to witchcraft as it is generally understood in the African context (namely people who use inherent evil powers in secret, often under cover of night, to deliberately harm others). There are references to diviners, magicians and magi, which are public roles using learnt powers in a way which bring status to the person exercising these roles, sometimes seeking to take on the role of God (such as by knowing the future). Examples are the Pharaoh’s magicians in the story of the Exodus (Exodus 7:8–12) and the magi who visited Jesus during the nativity narrative (Matthew 2:1). In some mistranslations of these terms into African languages, the word for a witch or witchcraft (in the sense that this is understood in the local context, but which appears nowhere in the Bible) is used. Thus, in the Lingala Bible, for example, the word ‘ndoki’ is found.

The most devastating example of this is the mistranslations around Exodus 22:18. In the original Hebrew, this verse is talking about diviners who seek to usurp the role and omniscient nature of God. The King James version of the Bible, written in a cultural context of witch hunts, rendered the verse: ‘Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.’ In the French, it is rendered ‘magicienne’ in the feminine form, and this has then been doubly corrupted in Swahili to use a term which means ‘female witch’, with devastating consequences for elderly women in parts of Tanzania, for example, who have been targeted as a result.

These errors have been corrected in some more recent translations, in Ghana, for example, but it will take time to resolve this issue, which is why it is imperative that corrective teaching is given in churches, theological colleges and communities. ]

FAQ 7: What are the consequences of a child being accused of witchcraft?

An accusation of witchcraft against a child results in severe violations of their human rights and has a lasting impact on their lives and development. Documented consequences of witchcraft accusations include:

Physical abuse, including: severe beatings; burns caused by fire or acid; poisoning; attempts to bury the child alive; having nails driven into their heads, cutting and imprisonment. In some cases, the extreme nature of this abuse means that it amounts to torture.

Psychological and emotional abuse, due to the exclusion and isolation of the child from their family and community and the labelling of them as ‘evil’ and ‘destructive’, and the lack of respect and the lack of dignity experienced by the child.

Discrimination, including denial of access to medical treatment, education, social welfare services, religious participation and family or social life. Children who are accused of witchcraft are also denied access to justice as the police and judicial services will usually refuse to investigate such cases due to their own beliefs that the child is a witch.

Neglect, including withholding of food, water, sanitation facilities and clothing.

Increased vulnerability — many children who are accused of witchcraft end up on the streets, as they are either abandoned by their parents or other caregiver, or run away from home in order to escape the abuse. Once on the streets they are vulnerable to sexual abuse and rape, involvement in gangs, trafficking, drugs and child labour.

Murder — there are a number of documented cases where a child has died as the result of the abuse stemming from an accusation of witchcraft. The UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions has identified that “being classified as a witch is tantamount to receiving a death sentence”.

Even if a child is perceived to have been ‘cured’ of witchcraft, they are often still subject to stigmatization, discrimination and suspicion, as long as they remain in the community which is aware of the accusations.

FAQ 8: What is being done about this?

Current initiatives to end the abuse of children believed to be witches includes:

Direct support to the children: There are several small, local civil society organisations, some faith–based, some secular, which provide support to children who have been affected by accusations of witchcraft. These organisations are often, but not always, supported by overseas partners. They provide a range of support including food, clothing, medical care, legal services, counselling, education and accommodation to children who have been accused of witchcraft. Examples of such organisations include the Basic Rights Counsel Initiative and the Society for Youth Development and Rescue Initiative in Nigeria (supported by Safe Child Africa) and EPED in DR Congo (supported by the The Bethany Children’s Trust). There are also a number of concerned individuals who take it upon themselves to provide help and care for children affected by witchcraft accusations. However, the capacity of these organisations and individuals is nowhere near sufficient to meet the needs of all the children who require their support. Very little such support is provided by government, particularly in African countries.

Prevention: There have been a number of community engagement initiatives aimed at reducing and preventing the abuse of children believed to be witches. These include raising awareness of the issue in local and international media, child rights workshops with affected communities, production of films, books and a music album and events focusing on children’s rights and witchcraft accusations.

UK initiatives: Within the UK, there is a National Working Group on child abuse linked to faith or belief, which in 2012 produced an Action Plan to address this issue. The aim of this plan is to provide information on the problem and solutions to anyone who works with children in the UK, as well as to faith groups and communities. Several organisations in the UK provide training for faith groups and statutory agencies on witchcraft accusations in the context of child protection, including AFRUCA and CCPAS. SCWA recognises the expertise of these organisations and refers any cases reported to us concerning children in the UK to them. SCWA member agencies have also raised this issue with the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office and with members of the House of Commons and the House of Lords.

United Nations and the EU: There has been recognition of child witchcraft accusations as a form of human rights abuse by various UN agencies including the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, the UN Special Representative on Violence against Children and the UN Human Rights Council. The UN has strongly recommended that governments take steps to strengthen efforts to combat the belief in and accusation of children of witchcraft. The EU has also recognized the problem in a policy paper and conference in 2013 which recommended that child witchcraft accusations should become a specific thematic objective of their human rights programmes.

National governments: SCWA currently focusses on Nigeria and DRC, and therefore cannot provide information about action taken by governments in other countries where child witchcraft accusations occur. Within Nigeria, the Nigeria government has stated that the abuse of children believed to be witches is illegal under the Child Rights Act. However, we are not aware of any successful prosecutions to date of people who have abused children who have been accused of witchcraft, and government initiatives to provide support to affected children require significant expansion. Within DRC the situation is similar. Despite the fact that Article 160, paragraph 2 of the 2009 Child Protection Code states that those accusing children of witchcraft will be fined or imprisoned, this law is rarely upheld and government initiatives to support affected children is woefully inadequate.

Research and documentation: There have been a number of NGO and academic research papers produced on this issue. The organization WHRIN provides an online database of these, as well as documenting human rights abuses resulting from witchcraft accusations around the world.

SCWA: SCWA’s specific aim is to encourage and support churches to respond positively and in a non–abusive manner to the issue of child witchcraft accusations. We recognize that churches are both the source of much of this abuse but that many also work to end it, and we recognize the importance of engaging with churches as a means to influence the behaviour of communities. Currently, we are working with a group of church leaders in DRC to develop and pilot a training tool for churches. We are working with a group of theologians, including a number of African theologians, to develop theological resources which underpin positive action on child witchcraft accusations. We are developing links with Nigerian and Togolese church leaders and organisations in order to motivate them to tackle the issue of witchcraft accusations against children and to bring about a change in harmful beliefs, attitudes and practices in their churches and communities. We are developing an online toolkit of resources and a training model which church leaders can use to support positive responses to child witchcraft accusations.

FAQ 9: What else needs to be done to end this abuse?

Bringing about changes in deeply entrenched cultural beliefs, attitudes and practices does not happen overnight. There are no ‘quick fixes’ and no single solution. Indeed, responses need to be multi–sectorial, holistic and long–term. But SCWA’s experience with local partners has shown that change is possible and is happening.

The importance of research

In order for responses to be relevant and effective, it is vital to research and understand the roots, realities and responses to these harmful beliefs and practices; to really listen to local communities in which this abuse is prevalent and to learn from them. Beliefs and practices may vary, not only in different nations, but also between different regions within a nation. In order to prevent this abuse and for responses to be relevant, targeted and effective, there is a great need to understand the ‘drivers’ behind it as well as the impact. SCWA is collaborating with others to help promote grassroots research. But far more research is needed. SCWA calls for an intentional investment in research as a key part of helping to end this abuse.

Promoting community–based conversations

Creating well–facilitated opportunities for members of communities to come together to begin to talk openly about this issue is of great benefit. Looking at the roots of accusations and the consequences not only for children but for the whole community can lead to a new way of seeing things and a desire to explore alternative practices.

The starting point for these conversations may be, ‘What good things does this community have to celebrate?’ ‘What problems does this community face?’ ‘What are the roots of these problems?’ Inevitably the issue of witchcraft accusations will surface. Unless interventions include and involve local communities and are led by local people, they are likely to fail. SCWA encourages those it collaborates with to identify and work with those in their communities who are open to bringing about change and who can become influencers of others.

Likewise, there needs to be facilitated discussions and conversations at all levels of society and between agencies. SCWA has helped to create ‘round–tables’ where organisational and church leaders can come together to discuss the issue and to help identify practical action and advocacy. There also needs to be forums at United Nations (UN) and governmental level that promote the same.

The importance of training

Combatting fear and ignorance is key. Those that SCWA is working with in DRC have found that training church and community members in child development and protection, children’s rights, child protection laws, good parenting and the prevention of violence against children — all underpinned with sound theology and Biblical perspectives — has been key in changing understanding and practice and dissipating fear. Other crucial topics are understanding disability; the impact of trauma on a child and their development and the causes of common illnesses and their impact. Addressing witchcraft accusations within the context of these topics is more effective than teaching about it as a stand–lone subject. After such training, there are many cases where those that have previously harmed and abused children have become champions for change and are now fostering children that have been outcast and branded as witches.

Training needs to be participatory in approach, adapted to local realities and to target different sectors of society such as the police, community leaders, teachers, church leaders and parents.

Bible–based training of church leaders is particularly important because of their influence and standing in many societies; because some are implicated in this form of abuse and because of the nature of the issue. Training in child protection should be statutory for all churches everywhere — as indeed it should be for all schools and any institution where there is significant contact with children. As should be the case with schools and other institutions, any church leader or member found to be abusing children should be prosecuted according to the law of the land.

There is also a need for theological colleges to teach about the theology of children and child protection with an emphasis on this issue of witchcraft accusations in their curricula and to equip church leaders with practical ways to respond to parents who come to them for help with children they perceive to be ‘witches.’ In this scenario, some groups are looking at how to develop responses that will satisfy the parents’ need for reassurance but also protect children from being harmed or branded. Those that SCWA collaborates with in DRC suggest that parents should be listened to separately from their children, and given counselling. The ‘accused’ children should also be given a chance to share their story separately from their parents. If prayer is perceived necessary, it should only affirm the child and God’s love for them and be carried out in a way that is caring, loving, gentle and that does not accuse them of witchcraft. On–going, holistic support should be given to the child and parents alike and the underlying roots of stress, conflict and crisis should be addressed.

 If this abuse is to be stopped from going into the next generation, children too need to receive appropriate teaching. SCWA is putting together a ‘toolkit’ of training and information resources that can be used to bring about change. We are also helping to encourage the development of training resources that are well piloted so that they are proven to be effective. But there is a crying need for the creation of resources to help address the complexities of this issue; for them to be translated into local languages and for training workshops to be funded and facilitated. SCWA calls for relevant agencies to help to meet this urgent need.

Holistic support of families in crisis

Families in crisis may be more vulnerable to branding their children as witches in areas where this abuse is prevalent. Factors such a remarriage, extreme poverty, sickness and conflict may create an environment where accusations of witchcraft flourish. When families are supported with counselling and training and empowered to generate their own income for instance, relationships within the family can improve and accusations of witchcraft cease. The holistic support of vulnerable families can help to prevent accusations of witchcraft and also to enable the reconciliation process where such accusations have been made against a child. Providing children who have been branded as witches with the counselling and holistic support that they need is also crucial.

Upholding national child protection laws and associated legislation

Many nations have signed the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, or, where relevant, the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child. They also have their own child protection laws and legislation. However, the experience of those that SCWA collaborates with indicates that all too often there is a great deal of ignorance about these laws and charters. There is a great need for information to be disseminated and reinforced through a variety of ways and means, whether via community radio, community dramas, leaflets in appropriate languages and bespoke training to targeted populations.

In addition, despite child protection laws being in place, they are rarely upheld. According to those SCWA collaborates with, relatively few prosecutions take place, although there are no statistics available. In both DRC and Nigeria, there is consequently an urgent need for improved child rights training for the police and judiciary and for poor governance, corruption and lack of due process to be addressed, if prosecution rates are to be improved and children are to be fully able to enjoy their right of access to justice. All affected governments need to be strongly encouraged to take significant action to improve the implementation of child rights laws.

Outlaw films that promote the abuse of children

The Nollywood film industry has a lot to answer for in respect of the films that it produces and promotes that portray children as ‘witches’. The fine line between fact and fiction becomes blurred to the point where those watching the films throughout the African continent and the world are often unable to make the distinction. They believe that what they are seeing is real and this reinforces harmful beliefs and practices against children. SCWA believes that the making of films that portray children and adults in this light and that lead to such harm should be banned. Pressure needs to be put on Nollywood to stop producing these harmful movies.

FAQ 10: What can I do to help?

Everyone has a part that they can play to help raise awareness of this form of abuse, increase understanding and to help to bring an end to it.

Become Informed

Accusations of witchcraft against children and adults and associated persecution are complex issues. Because of ignorance there is an understandable tendency to take simplistic views or polarised positions and to stereotype cultures and communities. This is unhelpful and creates increased mistrust and misunderstanding.

That’s why it’s important to be properly informed about the issue. This may mean taking the time and care to do background reading or to talk with others who have experience in dealing with the issue. You can find all sorts of helpful reading materials and links to other organisations tacking abuse related to beliefs and faith on SCWA’s website. SCWA also produces a quarterly News and Prayer Update to help keep you informed, as well as a Facebook Page.

Raise awareness

The more people talk about this issue in an informed way, the less it will remain hidden. Raise awareness of this issue within your sphere of influence. Share our website, Facebook page and information with others. Engage your group of friends, your church, school or organisation with the issue. Use the SCWA Factsheet on our website as a means of engaging others. If you are based in the UK and would like someone from SCWA to come and speak at your church or group or organisation, then let us know. If you are the leader of a church or organisation and would like to explore further about steps you can take to bring about change, then please contact us.

Promote child protection and put it into practice

All children have a right to be kept safe from harm. Ensuring that children are given the protection they need and deserve means proactively putting child protection measures in place. Every church, or institution that has contact with children should ensure that they have in place rigorous child protection policies that have clear guidelines for the recruitment and screening of their staff and voluntary workers; principles for the safeguarding of children in their care; what to do in cases of suspected or actual abuse and the training of staff in the policy and its implementation.

Ensure that your church or school or organisation has a comprehensive child protection policy if it has contact with children. In the UK, the Church Child Protection Advisory Service (CCPAS) offers training in safeguarding children, information, specialist advice and help with producing child protection policies. (www.ccpas.co.uk). It also has information about how to respond to suspected or actual abuse linked to faith and belief. Africans Unite Against Child Abuse (AFRUCA) also offers training in safeguarding children in the UK and addresses the issue of ‘child witch’ accusations and persecution. (www.afruca.org) SCWA also has information resources in its toolkit related to creating and implementing a child protection policy.

If you suspect or know that a child is being accused of witchcraft or mistreated in any way, don’t hesitate to report it to the police, social services, or (if you are in the UK) to CCPAS.

Share your skills

At times, SCWA needs help with aspects of its work, which may include research and analysis, translation, writing and editing, design and digital services, fundraising.

If you can offer any of the above or have other, specific skills that you feel you can freely offer, then please do contact us.

Pray

SCWA believes that prayer is a vital aspect of helping to bring about change and we hugely appreciate those who are committed to praying for this issue and for our work. Why not organise prayer groups in your church or group to pray regularly for this issue? SCWA produces a quarterly News and Prayer Update to inform and guide prayer. Please let us know if you would like to receive it.

Give

Research, producing training resources, training, organising forums…all these vital things need funds to make them happen. Funds are urgently needed for all these aspects of our work and that of those we collaborate closely with. If you would like to talk more about funding an aspect of our work, please don’t hesitate to get in touch. Alternatively, you can go ahead and donate to SCWA via our website.

If you are not in a position to give financially, you could consider fundraising for SCWA’s work. Or why not get your group of friends, your church, school or organisation to fundraise with you? If you would like advice about how to go about this, please contact us.

FAQ 11: How should we deal with demon possession?

There are examples of people being delivered from demonic influence in the Bible. But there is no example of a witch or those perceived to have inherent, malevolent powers having ‘deliverance rites’ performed on them. There is no linking in the Bible of witches and demon possession. The practicing of witchcraft and demon possession are two different issues. The incidences in the Bible of demonic influence are all of people who are themselves being tormented by malevolent powers, rather than of them harming others. In examples in the gospels for instance, their families do not reject the afflicted person or fear them. Rather, they bring them to Christ for help in an attitude of love and care.

When it comes to dealing with demon possession or oppression, our response must be the same as that of Jesus Christ who always treated the afflicted person with gentleness, love, respect and compassion, and who never harmed them. He did not shout and scream at them. He did not touch the afflicted person or carry out any of the features of the abuse associated with witchcraft accusations — no enforced fasting or imprisonment, no confessions, no beating or burning or cutting or purges. No ostracism or rejection. In fact he carried out no rituals whatsoever. He simply rebuked the demons and commanded them to leave the person, and they did. At all times, the person was treated with love and compassion.

All too often, ‘demon possession’ is ascribed to people who may have mental health issues, physical disabilities or conditions, or behavioural issues. When someone does wrong they may be accused of being ‘demon possessed,’ when in fact the situation is one of human fallibility and wrong–doing. It is therefore vital that a great deal of time and care is taken to listen to the person needing help and to discern the real roots of their problems, in order for appropriate care and support to be given to them and their families. At all times, we should treat others the way we ourselves would wish to be treated and love others the way we love ourselves.

FAQ 12: What is SCWA’s position on children affected by trafficking, FGM etc?

SCWA believes that any action that harms or hurts children is wrong, even if it is consistent with or arising from cultural beliefs, practices and norms. We all have a duty to see that the rights of children, (as described in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child,) are upheld — whether those of children who are trafficked, or affected by FGM and breast–beating; those marginalised because of disability or forced into the sex trade or child labour; or those suffering as child soldiers. We each have a responsibility to help ensure that all children are loved, valued, kept safe, nurtured and are given the care and support that they need to reach their full potential. 

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