Thursday, September 15, 2011

Statement on Child Witchcraft Accusations in Africa

Dear friends, In the past decade there has been an upsurge in violence against children in sub-Sahara Africa who have been accused by their families or communities of witchcraft. The stigmatization of children as witches as well as the stigmatization of other vulnerable groups in society such as the elderly, refugees or the handicapped needs to be arrested before it gets out of hand. Accusing children of being witches is becoming standard performance for unscrupulous Pentecostal style pastors and so-called prophets and apostles who mix Christian and African traditional religious elements so that they can build their reputation of being spiritual experts. In Malawi this poisonous mixture of Pentecostal Christianity and African Traditional beliefs has led to severe instances of abuse including torture and murder. You may recall the case of the 12 year old boy in Mwanza district who was burned to death two years ago after a prayer meeting, or the two young children who were burned to death by their relatives in Bangwe after having been accused of witchcraft by the pastor of a so-called Miracle church. You may also think of the youths who committed suicide by jumping in a fire in Ndirande last year after a prophet had told them that they were bewitched by their father. Recently we had the case of a 12 year old orphaned boy who was beaten to death in Blantyre district after the relatives had decided he was a witch. The issue of branding children as witches highlights the general need for addressing the problem of witchcraft accusations in society. It is not only a human rights issue but also a gender issue since girls and women are disproportionally affected. It is also an issue that affects the handicapped and the elderly as diseases such as Alzheimer often result in witchcraft allegations. It is even an issue of democracy because witchcraft allegations fuel tensions in our communities, creating an atmosphere of fear and anxiety resulting in violence and destruction of property. Proposed action We aim to form a broad coalition against witchcraft stigmatization in Malawi in order to address the issue from multiple angles. We believe it needs to be addressed from a legal perspective involving the government and the judiciary which includes the review of the witchcraft suppression act as well as lobbying for tougher legislation dealing with people who use witchcraft accusations as an excuse for violence and abuse. Finally we believe that the issue must be addressed as an educational issue, both formal and informal education. This can be achieved by means of a nation-wide awareness and education campaign involving civil society as well as the media and educational bodies. We also need to create awareness concerning witchcraft accusations from a psychological and medical point of view to help people understand that diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease, neurological problems as well as psychological conditions such as schizophrenia and paranoia do not reflect bewitchment. This needs to involve the medical fraternity. From a religious perspective it needs to involve the Christian church and theological training facilities as the problem of witchcraft stigmatization has been compounded by unscrupulous Christian leaders. We kindly invite you and the organizations and/or government agencies you represent to become a formal partner in the coalition against witchcraft stigmatization in Malawi so that together we can successfully address this issue and minimise its harmful effects in society. Thank you. Contact: The coalition against witchcraft stigmatization PO Box 2363, Blantyre, Malawi Email:

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