Saturday, September 3, 2011
Witches - Accusations,Persecutions - Women & Girls
tortured and murdered and the practice continues today. Statistics are not
easy to come by but it is known that every year, thousands of people, mostly
older women and children are accused as witches, often abused, cast out of
their families and communities and in many cases murdered.
The Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions,
Philip Alston, in his most recent report to the Human Rights Council, says:
?In too many settings, being classified as a witch is tantamount to
receiving a death sentence.
Shockingly, it is children that are increasingly targeted. A report for the
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees published in January 2009,
?Witchcraft Allegations, Refugee Protection and Human Rights, says the
abuse of children accused of witchcraft is common in countries that have
suffered years of conflict where traditional social structures have
disappeared and where child soldiers have often emerged as a threat. And in
countries where sudden deaths from diseases like AIDS are common, where
there are few if any prospects of a better life, and where revivalist
churches confirm signs of witchcraft, children are often accused of
supernatural powers and persecuted.
Alston concludes: The persecution and killing of individuals accused of
practicing so-called witchcraft the vast majority of whom are women and
children is a significant phenomenon in many parts of the world. The
response to witchcraft frequently involves serious and systematic forms of
discrimination, he says, especially on the grounds of gender, age and
disability. The families of the witches are also often subjected to
serious human rights violations.
In his report, Alston offers an insight into the size of the problem and its
- Reports from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) suggest that
most of the 25,000 - 50,000 children living on the streets of the capital,
Kinshasa are there because they have been accused of witchcraft and rejected
by their families. In 2009 The Committee on the Rights of the Child noted
that in the DRC violence against children accused of witchcraft is
increasing, and that children are being kept as prisoners in religious
buildings where they are exposed to torture and ill-treatment or even killed
under the pretext of exorcism.
- The Special Rapporteur on violence against women has highlighted the
problem of witch hunts in India, Nepal and South Africa.
- In Ghana it is thought as many as 2,000 accused witches and their
dependents are confined in five different camps. Most of the camp inmates
are destitute, elderly women and some have been forced to live there for
- The murder and persecution of people accused of witchcraft in Tanzania
is better documented than in most countries. The figures vary widely but it
is estimated as many as a thousand, mostly elderly Tanzanian women are
targeted and killed annually.
- In Angola, the Committee on the Rights of the Child has called for
immediate action to eliminate the mistreatment of children accused of
- In Papua New Guinea, provincial police commanders reportedly said there
were more than 50 sorcery-related killings in 2008. Other sources have
suggested much higher figures.
- In Nigeria, the Child Rights and Rehabilitation Network reports an
increasing number of children abandoned or persecuted on the grounds they
are witches or wizards.
- In Nepal, elderly women and widows are often singled out and abused in
In considering how to address the problem, the Special Rapporteur has said
that making it illegal to believe in witchcraft is not a solution. Respect
for customary beliefs, however does not allow for persecution and
murder. Alston recommends in his report that all killings of alleged witches
be treated as murder and investigated, prosecuted and punished. And
governments, he says, must play their part, taking all available steps to
prevent such crimes and prosecute and punish perpetrators.
Alston also recommends that the problems surrounding the persecution and
killings be reflected in the guidelines and programs of development agencies
operating in countries where there is a significant level of belief in
witches and witchcraft. Alston wants more than awareness-raising programmes.
He believes protection should be offered to those whose lives are endangered
by accusations of witchcraft.
source:UNHCR - UN Refugee Agency
Violence against women is a worldwide yet still hidden problem. Freedom from the threat of harassment, battering, and sexual assault is a concept that most of us have a hard time imagining because violence is such a deep part of our cultures and lives.