This report has been prepared by the UK-based charity, Stepping Stones Nigeria in collaboration with those of our Nigerian partner organisations who specifically work on the issue of witchcraft accusations against children: Child Rights and Rehabilitation Network (CRARN), Stepping Stones Nigeria Child Empowerment Foundation (SSNCEF) and Centre for Environment, Human Rights and Development (CEHRD).
The report provides detailed evidence on the nature and extent of child witchcraft accusations in Akwa Ibom State in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria. It also provides information on the activities of Stepping Stones Nigeria which has been working in the Niger Delta since 2005.
The report provides evidence drawn from over 250 documented cases to demonstrate that accusations of witchcraft against children are a key child rights challenge within Akwa Ibom State. It also references the widespread national and international media coverage of this issue.
It is important to note that these case files and media coverage are thought to represent only a small fraction of the true number of children who suffer as a result of witchcraft accusations. Based on the patterns, scale and nature of the abuse of children that Stepping Stones Nigeria and our partner organisations have documented, we consider it extremely likely that many more cases exist of accusations of witchcraft against children and abuse of their rights as a result.
Analysis of these cases shows that children who are accused of witchcraft suffer significant abuse of their rights. In the most serious cases the child is killed. In other cases the child suffers serious forms of violence, including severe beatings, being burnt with fire or acid, being poisoned and being buried alive. A great many children - 81% of documented cases - are abandoned as a result of witchcraft accusations, and usually end up living on the streets without access to food, water, shelter, medical care or education. There is also evidence to show that such children face increased vulnerability to other forms of exploitation such as child trafficking.
Witchcraft accusations against and the subsequent abuse of children are criminalised in Akwa Ibom State and there has been some positive action from police. However, Stepping Stones Nigeria is not aware of any successful prosecutions of those responsible for making accusations of witchcraft against children, despite this being a criminal act within Akwa Ibom State. Neither are we aware of any successful prosecution of those who carry out violent, abusive or murderous acts towards children who have been accused of witchcraft. This is a major area of concern.
Contributing factors to accusations of witchcraft against children include the teachings and actions of some Christian leaders, with 31% of children in the documented cases being accused by a pastor; poverty; lack of understanding of disabilities and diseases; and family breakdown, with 70% of cases concerning children from broken homes. Nollywood films which perpetuate the belief in child witches are also a factor.
Stepping Stones Nigeria was established in 2005. Since then, in partnership with local Nigerian organisations, it has: provided financial and capacity-raising resources to support the care of hundreds of children, engaged international agencies with the issue of child witchcraft accusations, conducted large-scale awareness-raising activities within Akwa Ibom State and launched an international campaign against child abuse - Prevent Abuse of Children Today (PACT).
Stepping Stones Nigeria believes passionately that all children in Nigeria deserve to have all of their rights upheld all of the time. No child should ever have their rights abused as a result of witchcraft accusations.
Stepping Stones Nigeria believes that, through all relevant agencies working in partnership, a brighter future for Akwa Ibom State's children is indeed possible. We wish to commend the Akwa Ibom State Government for the very positive steps that have already been taken to fight the menace of child witchcraft accusations and provide compulsory free education to children in the state. We believe that these acts are groundbreaking not only in Nigeria but also in Africa. However, in order to prevent the ongoing abuses of child rights that unfortunately still take place in Akwa Ibom State today, Stepping Stones Nigeria recommends the following urgent actions to the Akwa Ibom State Government. Stepping Stones Nigeria also offers any assistance that we can to the Akwa Ibom State Government to enable the comprehensive implementation of these recommendations.
The Akwa Ibom State Government should:
- Ensure that any accusations of witchcraft against children and/or any abuse of children who have been accused of witchcraft are investigated and punished in a thorough and robust manner. It is essential that the perpetrators of such abuse are brought to justice.
- Ensure that all police, judiciary and child welfare teams receive comprehensive training on the provisions of the Child Rights Act, especially those which relate to accusations of witchcraft against children. The activities of these agencies should be regularly monitored to make sure that they are implementing these provisions in an effective and appropriate manner.
- Re-launch the Child Rights Implementation Committee with a clear mandate to fight against witchcraft accusations. It should be provided with adequate resources and monitored by government and civil society.
- Undertake widespread and vigorous awareness-raising campaigns to educate the public about child rights. There should be a particular focus on informing the public that it is illegal to accuse children of witchcraft and to abuse children who are believed to be witches. Information intended to demystify medical conditions, such as epilepsy and autism, which are often considered to be evidence of witchcraft should also be disseminated.
- Work to address the belief in child witches as it is this belief that, ultimately, leads to the abuse of innocent children. In particular, the Akwa Ibom State Government should regulate churches, and should close any found to be carrying out child witchcraft accusations and abuse. Churches should also be required to adopt child protection policies and church leaders should receive training on child rights.
- Continue to work closely with all other agencies, including NAPTIP, UNICEF and NGOs, to maximise expertise and resources in order to overcome the problem of witchcraft accusations against children, whilst ensuring that all children who have been accused of witchcraft receive appropriate care in line with their best interests.
Background information on Stepping Stones Nigeria
Stepping Stones Nigeria is a UK-based charity, which was established in 2005 by Mr Gary Foxcroft and Ms Naomi Chapple. Stepping Stones Nigeria's mission is to support the rights of vulnerable and disadvantaged children, such as the so-called child 'witches' in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria. Working with local partner organisations, Stepping Stones Nigeria provides education, shelter, healthcare and lasting hope for a brighter future. Through advocacy and research, Stepping Stones Nigeria campaigns at a local, national and international level to put a stop to the abuse of innocent children.
Stepping Stones Nigeria is registered with the Charity Commission of England and Wales (Charity No. 1112476) and as a public limited company with Companies House, UK (Company No. 5413970). Evidence of Charity Commission and public limited company status is provided in Appendix II.
As a registered charity in England and Wales, Stepping Stones Nigeria is required by law to publish details of accounts each year. Full details of Stepping Stones Nigeria's accounts are provided in Appendix II.
Stepping Stones Nigeria receives funding from a number of sources. Some of our major donors include:
- Comic Relief
- Hope Aid Charitable Trust
- Body Shop Foundation
- Virgin Atlantic/ Virgin Trains
Stepping Stones Nigeria also receives individual donations from members of the public. Supporters of the charity also carry out fundraising activities and donate the money to Stepping Stones Nigeria.
Stepping Stones Nigeria works with a number of local Nigerian partner organisations to:
- Provide food, shelter, healthcare and education to children who have been accused of witchcraft
- Document and monitor cases of abuse of child rights across the Niger Delta region, including but not limited to cases where children have been accused of witchcraft
- Provide support to street children, including but not limited to children who have been accused of witchcraft
- Provide education to less privileged children, including but not limited to children who have been accused of witchcraft
Stepping Stones Nigeria also provides funding, training and capacity-raising services to its partners.
In addition, Stepping Stones Nigeria carries out significant advocacy and awareness-raising work at the local, national and international levels. This is primarily concerned with the issue of child witchcraft accusations but has also included work on other child rights issues facing children in the Niger Delta such as child trafficking and lack of access to education. Our advocacy work is centred around the PACT (Prevent Abuse of Children Today) campaign.
There are four full-time staff and three part-time staff employed by Stepping Stones Nigeria in the UK. They are supported by several interns and volunteers who are unpaid.
Information on Stepping Stones Nigeria's Partner Organisations in Akwa Ibom State who are Working to Help Children Accused of Witchcraft
Child Rights and Rehabilitation Network (CRARN)
The Child Rights and Rehabilitation Network (CRARN) is a fully registered NGO with the Corporate Affairs Commission in Nigeria (No. 27195). The organisation evolved from a small group of young volunteers who came together in 2003 to shelter children who had survived a spate of child 'witch' killings in Eket, Akwa Ibom State, Nigeria. They then began working to save, protect and support children who were being abused and abandoned and whose lives were at risk.
As CRARN grew, it began to aid more and more children and by 2006 CRARN was struggling to care for 30 abandoned children, many of whom had serious illnesses and other injuries such as broken bones. Children slept in abandoned market stalls and conditions were incredibly basic. Stepping Stones Nigeria first started working with CRARN in February 2006 and through this partnership rescued numerous children who had been accused of witchcraft from the streets and provided them with shelter, food and medicine.
This led to the establishment of the CRARN Children's centre which was developed with the support of the Akwa Ibom State Government and Stepping Stones Nigeria. Today over 200 children regularly access the services at the CRARN children's centre. This Centre provides security, safety, healthcare, nutrition, counselling, education and skills training to each child.
Key Areas of Work
- Rescuing children accused of witchcraft whose lives are at risk
- Providing vulnerable children with temporary shelter, education, medical care, food, counselling and vocational skills.
- Reuniting children with their families and monitoring their care
- Sensitising local communities about child rights and the need to protect all children through the Prevent Abuse of Children Today (PACT) Campaign. CRARN works with government, police, traditional rulers and community groups to enlighten people about the belief in witchcraft and to pressure key agencies to act to protect innocent children.
Stepping Stones Nigeria Child Empowerment Foundation (SSNCEF)
SSNCEF is an independent sister organisation of Stepping Stones Nigeria. It was formally registered as an NGO with the Corporate Affairs Commission in 2009 (No.272233). SSNCEF envisages a Niger Delta where all children have access to their rights and opportunities for development, and are protected from all forms of abuse and exploitation.
SSNCEF's core objective is to provide support and care to street children in the Niger Delta region through a number of programmes. These include:
- Providing education, nutrition and psycho-social support to street children
- Reuniting street children with their families
- Advocating for the rights of children in the Niger Delta
- Carrying out research into the issues most affecting the lives of children in the Niger Delta region in order to carry out more interventions.
Centre for Human Rights and Development (CEHRD)
CEHRD is a rural-based and rural-focused non-profit organisation founded on August 15, 1999 by conservationists, environmentalists, activists, and health workers in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria. CEHRD was formed to respond to the environmental, human rights, rural health, and under-development problems plaguing the Niger Delta.
CEHRD's goal is to serve as a bridge between the rural communities of Nigeria and their rights by empowering them through education and assistance.
CEHRD's work falls into 4 different programmatic fields:
- Community Development
- Human Rights
- Population and Rural Health
Stepping Stones Nigeria began working in partnership with CEHRD in June 2010. This project falls under the CEHRD Human Rights programme and specifically focuses on documenting and publicising cases of child rights abuses in the Niger Delta.
Witchcraft accusations against children in Akwa Ibom State
Accusations of witchcraft against children are a key child rights challenge within Akwa Ibom State, as is demonstrated by the following evidence. Children who are accused of witchcraft suffer significant physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual harm and are discriminated against in a number of ways. In consequence, children who have been accused of witchcraft suffer numerous abuses of their human rights.
It should be noted that although the work of Stepping Stones Nigeria on witchcraft accusations against children has focussed on Akwa Ibom State as this is where the majority of our partners are located, we are aware that child rights abuse resulting from witchcraft accusations is not limited to Akwa Ibom State or to Nigeria. There have been reports of witchcraft abuse from several other states in Nigeria including Abia, Cross Rivers, Delta, Bauchi, Edo, Nasarawa and Kaduna, and also from various other African countries including the Democratic Republic of Congo, Angola, Sierra Leone, Cameroon, Liberia and the Central African Republic, as well as from the UK. See Appendix III for further details, and see in particular the UNICEF report "Children Accused of Witchcraft: An anthropological study of contemporary practices in Africa", published in April 2010.
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