GUEST BLOG POST – In the DRC, thousands of children accused of witchcraft are mistreated and forced to live in the street. This is a largely ignored phenomenon by populations and public authorities. An investigation was conducted into the matter.
“To this day, no successful study on the phenomenon of child wizards has been published in the DRC,” according to UNICEF DRC reports. “Nevertheless, the phenomenon of accusing children of witchcraft forms part of the challenges to the protection of the child,” affirms Gabriel Vockel, child protection specialist at UNICEF DRC. The organisation’s work encompasses prevention work, handling child homelessness, reunification, and social reinsertion. According to the organisation’s sources, thousands of children accused of witchcraft are chased from their homes and live in the streets of Kinshasa.
“The beginning of a study in 2006 stipulates that 70% of children from separated families find themselves isolated because of accusations of witchcraft,” adds Gabriel Vockel. The Network of Adolescents and Children of the Street (REJEER – French acronym) reported in 2006 that more than 13,000 children are homeless in the city of Kinshasa alone. The statistic is difficult to verify, but it nevertheless allows us to measure the scope of the phenomenon.
“Despite the law, the streets of Kinshasa are not becoming empty…”
Maître Dido Songole Nsase, a lawyer specialised in human rights, explains nonetheless that a jurisdiction does exist concerning the protection of the child and accusations of witchcraft toward children.
“The law provides that in the case of an accusation of witchcraft with respect to a child, the accuser is liable to one to three years of penal servitude and to a fine of 200,000 to 1,000,000 Congolese francs [200-1,000 euros],” the lawyer elaborates.
However, despite this law, the streets of Kinshasa are not becoming empty, and if this many children find themselves abandoned, it is because revival churches and sects that proliferate in the Congolese capital operate in complete impunity.
“Minors forced to fast and to follow exorcism sessions”
Directed by “self-proclaimed prophets” who claim to be able to detect “possessed souls”, these religious institutions had the support of a large number of followers. In the Congo, accusations of witchcraft toward children are multiple and diverse.
In Mon-Ngafula, a municipality in the city of Kinshasa, the “Precious Blood” sect is directed by a “prophet” who claims to carry a message from God to free the universe from the influence of witchcraft. Followers leave their children with this sect for retreats of 10-20 days during which the children are forced to fast and to follow exorcism sessions.
“The children are also obliged to drink a liquid substance so that they vomit and expel the witchcraft that they are thought to have swallowed,” recounts a resident of the Kindele quarter, who wishes to stay anonymous.
For Albert Mpanzu, a farmer in Ngaliema, a municipality of Kinshasa, “poverty and a lack of education are the principal reasons for these deviations.”
To make a fortune out of children’s innocence and parents’ ignorance
“Many parents are not able to ensure the education of their children, and are forced to abandon them. Beliefs in witchcraft remain because of a lack of education. It [child abandonment] is the easy means to try and resolve many of their problems, and some people jump at the chance to make a business out of it,” he explains.
For their “services”, the “prophet” of the “Precious Blood” sect takes sums of money between 5,000 FC ($5) and 50,000 FC ($50), according to examples. These “prophets” also make their fortune out of children’s innocence and parents’ ignorance.
Aristote, chased out of his home by his parents
Aristote, a 15-year-old youngster nicknamed “Boyoma Nyama mabe” by his friends, lives in the street today, and works as the conductor for Mercedes bus 207. His life was toppled over by the divorce of his parents, because his mother left their home. Aristote was forced to live with his stepmother. All was going well until the stepmother became pregnant with her first child. The attitude of the stepmother then changed rapidly. Aristote was hit regularly until the day that his parents decided to bring him to a church for a month-long prayer retreat. When he arrived at the location, the “prophet” was formal in their declaration: Aristote was possessed by a witch left by his mother in order to keep an eye on her ex-husband.
Aristote was then chased from his home. He was obliged to take all his belongings because, according to the “prophet”, the child’s belongings were “communication antennae” that allowed him to maintain communication with his mother.
The streets were violent. The young man was sexually abused, and his integration into his new life was difficult. “If I was really a witch, my stepmother would be the first that “I would eat” because she ruined my life,” Aristote bitterly recounts.
And if we were to change things
The city of Kinshasa has thousands of children abandoned under the pretext of witchcraft. Unfortunately, efforts to protect this children are not sufficient. Our silence is one fo the major causes of the expansion of the “child witch” phenomenon in the DRC. We must all respond to accusations of witchcraft toward children. The active involvement of judicial services and the promotion of an equitable justice that conforms with the prescriptions of the law, are essential. Otherwise, mass education programmes must be undertaken in order to raise awareness among families and religious leaders about all forms of non-violence toward children.
“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world,” as Nelson Mandela said.
More info about child witches in DRC
Photo: UNICEF DRC 2015 Gwenn Dubouthoumieu
Translated from French by Darren Ou Yong
Lemien Saka est un jeune congolais amoureux de l'innovation et passionné de l'informatique. Ingénieur agronome de formation, Lemien Saka est blogueur du Mondoblog, la plateforme des blogueurs francophones de RFI et de Habari RDC, la communauté de blogueurs et acteurs du web de la République démocratique du Congo. Lemien Saka a l'Afrique dans le sang et le Congo dans son cœur.Lemien Saka is a young Congolese man in love with innovation, and passionate about information technology. Agronomist engineer by profession, Lemien Saka is a blogger at Mondoblog, a platform for the francophone bloggers of RFI and of Habari RDC, the community of bloggers and online actors in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Lemien Saka has Africa in his blood and Congo in his heart.