This is a special guest post by George Ongere of CFI–Kenya.
In Africa, children often find themselves in unfortunate situations due to local beliefs, practises and representations, which always lead to mistreatment, exploitation, violence and deaths. In most cases, a great number of children find themselves in circumstances that they do not understand or comprehend; and sadly, they can be hacked to death or chased away from the only families and homes they have known in their entire lives without any explanations given to them.
To start with, in Africa, local belief becomes scapegoat for irresponsible parents who only know how to procreate but do not know the effort it takes to raise a child. With the rising poverty among the lower class, of which a majority are in rural areas, adults who engage in unprotected sex have devised ways of escaping their responsibilities, and this is by hiding behind witchcraft belief. The result is that such societies produce children whose fate is determined by how best they will adapt to the harsh environment they find themselves in to become adults. The harsh reality is that few of these children make it to become successful people in the society.
The plight of children in Africa is a widely known phenomenon and a recognized problem internationally, and international organizations like UNICEF, among others, have addressed the issue. One of the most significant studies in the area by UNICEF is the comprehensive thesis by Aleksandra Cimpric, Children Accused of Witchcraft: An anthropological study of contemporary practises in Africa .
Cimpric (2010) divides children who are accused of witchcraft into three categories. The first group are children who have lost one or both parents, which also includes children who are born out of wedlock. This category also includes children who have a physical disability, have unusual behaviour, and those who have a particular illness (Cimpric 2010, p. 2). The second group is children who were born in what is considered abnormal ways by Africans. In this context, abnormal births include children who were born prematurely, children born in certain positions that are considered abnormal like face-up, and twins, which some Africans consider bad omens (Cimpric 2010, p. 2). Third, are children who are born with albinism and those born with both male and female parts.
The moment these children are accused of being witches, they are hacked to death, fed poison, chased away from their homes, or find themselves in the sex trade. According to Cimpric, these children, once accused, are exposed to sexual and physical violence and abuses by authorities. Moreover, these children start abusing drugs at a younger age to avoid the realities of life (Cimpric 2010, p. 1).
One documentary that highlights the plight of these children is Return to Africa’s Witch Children. This documentary exposes the struggle of about 15,000 children around the Niger Delta denounced by Christian pastors as wizards and witches. The documentary exposes how these children are killed, tortured, or abandoned by their families. The most tragic stories in the film are that of Ellin, who is two-and-a-half years old and whose severely burnt body was found by the roadside after being burnt with boiling water; and that of Nwanakwo, who was only eight years old when he was pronounced as a wizard. His family members poured acid all over his body and he later died a painful death.
In order to understand the circumstances that lead to these children being accused, scholars have tried to research and understand these societies that involve themselves with such backward thoughts. According to De Boeck (2000), there are combinations of social, economic and political factors that make children the targets of such false accusations. Coining the term “multi-crisis,” De Boeck writes that this urban phenomenon of ‘child-witches’ is caused by the challenges faced by families in urban areas. These challenges include unemployment, financial pressures, an emerging individualism, and other challenges of urban centers that have resulted in dysfunction of families. To add on, some of the ethnic and civil wars that have happened in Africa have led to the rise of many orphans that strain the capacity of their relatives. Thus, to escape such dependency from these children, the relatives use witchcraft accusations as a scapegoat to avoid the burdens of taking care of them.
In their discussions and recommendations, most scholars have believed that urgent actions need to be carried out to stop the phenomenon of witch hunting, which mostly involves children. According to Cimpric (2010), one of the actions that should be taken to stop the accusations of children as witches is that the international community should strengthen child protection systems that respond and prevent abuse, exploitations, and violence put on these children. Again, the author stresses that there should be advocacy interventions that promote social change by raising awareness among families and community leaders.
In Kenya, children born with albinism are at risk. Many children, if not properly guarded by their parent, are at risk of being sold by people targeting albinos. Once these children are sold, they are killed and their body parts are sold to businesspersons who believe that by planting their body parts, their business will accrue more profit.
Apart from witchcraft related incidents, HIV/AIDS is also a threat to the survival of the young generation. According to the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Development of Kenya, through the Department of Children Services, about 2.4 million children were orphans by 2005, and of the orphans 48% were a result of HIV/AIDS. Thus, the Kenyan government developed the Kenya Orphans and Vulnerable Children Action Plan 2007 – 2010 that documented the plight of orphans in Kenya. Many of these children end up as street children who consider the streets as their homes. A rough estimate is that about 250,000 to 300,000 children consider the streets as their home.
Since 2011, the Center for Inquiry–Kenya, through the support of CFI–Transnational, has supported vulnerable children in Kenya. With this initiative, children who had no future can now smile again because they can now go to school and get food from the program.
Image: Bill Cooke, CFI International Director, with the Humanist Orphans
For a long time, the CFI–Kenya tried to apply for the Humanist Orphans Program to be registered with the Kenyan government to have its activities recognized and accepted in the society where it was started. After a long battle, the Humanist Orphans Program was registered and is now recognized by the Kenyan Government. This is good news for the project because the registering body in Kenya has been very resistant to giving registrations to organizations they believe are sceptical to religious ideas. A good example is the current battle of the Atheist in Kenya group that has been denied registration. According to the Deputy Registrar of Societies, Mr. Joseph Onyango, the constitution of Kenya has a preamble that states that people must acknowledge the supremacy of God, therefore, a group that does not recognize the existence of God fails to qualify. The representatives of the group have vowed to take legal steps quoting Article 32 (1) of the Kenya constitution that gives eve
ry person the right to freedom to conscience, religion, thought, belief, and opinion.
Image: Humanist Orphans Registration certificate
The Humanist Orphans CBO is going to operate as a project of CFI–Kenya, and in all its publications it will report the support it receives from CFI–Transnational. Already, the organization is currently developing a website at www.humanistorphanskenya.org.
In this direction, the organization has developed a comprehensive Strategic Plan for 2015–2017 looking at some of the potential areas that need to be developed and how to work towards self-sustainability in the long run. With the continued support that CFI–Kenya gets from CFI–Transnational, we believe that there is going to be a great impact on the communities that benefit from this project.
George Ongere is the executive director CFI–Kenya. Our thanks to George for sending this report and for all his wonderful work.
Read George’s previous posts:
- African Humanism and its Agenda (July, 2014)
- Using Humanism to Help the Less Fortunate in Africa (March, 2014)
Cimpric, A. 2010. ‘Children Accused of Witchcraft: An anthropological study of
contemporary practices in Africa’. UNICEF
De Boeck, F. 2000. ‘Le deuxième monde’ et les ‘enfants sorciers’. Politique Africaine,