19 October 2009

Murder By Holiday and Modern Witch Burnings

Sometimes the truth is more frightening than any thriller novel or movie.

South Asians in Britain are "lured" to the rural Punjab state in India. When they arrive, contract killers paid a little more than $1,000 carry out a killing, often procured by a family member or business associate. The motive may be want to avoid a divorce or business breakup, for example. About 50-100 such killings take place every year. Often, local police don't catch the killers.

In a world where we are bombarded by all manner of violent mayhem in the media and fiction is rare to come across something like this that had never occurred to you.

People Still Persecute Suspected Witches

Also notable is an outbreak of attacks on children denounced as witches by pastors in evangelical Christian churches in two Nigerian states:

Pastors were involved in half of 200 cases of "witch children" reviewed by The Associated Press, and 13 churches were named in the case files. . . . The idea of witchcraft is hardly new, but it has taken on new life recently, partly because of a rapid growth in evangelical Christianity. Campaigners against the practice say about 15,000 children have been accused in two of Nigeria's 36 states over the past decade and about 1,000 have been murdered. In the past month alone, three Nigerian children accused of witchcraft were killed and another three were set on fire.

Nigeria is one of the heartlands of abuse but not the only one: The United Nations Children's Fund says tens of thousands of children have been targeted throughout Africa.

The children who are most often denounced are "the orphaned, sick, disabled or poor." Families are often happy to be relieved of an economic burden, and family members often carry out the actual torture or killing or bring in a child for a violent exorcism by someone else.

A shelter established in 2003 by the Children's Rights and Rehabilitation Network houses 120 to 200 children accused of witchcraft at any one time.

Pastor Joe Ita from Liberty Gospel Church in Eket, Nigeria, in that area, who has accused children of being witches explains the practice:

We base our faith on the Bible, we are led by the holy spirit and we have a programme of exposing false religion and sorcery. . . . To give more than you can afford is blessed. We are the only ones who really know the secrets of witches. Parents don't come here with the intention of abandoning their children, but when a child is a witch then you have to say "what is that there? Not your child." The parents come to us when they see manifestations. But the secret is that, even if you abandon your child, the curse is still upon you, even if you kill your child the curse stays. So you have to come here to be delivered afterwards as well. . . . We know how they operate. A witch will put a spell on its mother's bra and the mother will get breast cancer. But we cannot attribute all things to witches, they work on inclinations too, so they don't create HIV, but if you are promiscuous then the witch will give you HIV.

Northern Nigeria is predominantly Muslim. At the intersection of the two, driven by the movement southward of the fringes of the Sahara desert, there is often violent conflict. Southern Nigeria has historically been animist, but in the last half century it has increasingly become Christian in a form of Christianity significantly different in character from the denominations that missionaries from abroad brought to them. The Akwa Ibom State in Nigeria, where the Children's Rights and Rehabilitation Network is based, is on the Southern border of Nigeria is currently predominantly Christian and has a resident population of about 5 million.

The Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria, which is the fastest-growing religious group in Nigeria, with more than 30 million members, is implicated in many of the cases.


Michael Malak said...

Those statistics are startling. I'm surprised since according to Wikipedia, the majority of Christians in Nigeria are Catholic, with Anglicans comprising a significant amount of the rest.

(And anecodtally, the only Nigerian, from the Washington, DC area, that I know is Catholic.)

Andrew Oh-Willeke said...

I suspect that in Nigeria, as in the United States, religious affliation within Christianity is highly regional. For example, I would suspecct that Anglicans are most common at the centers of British colonial power prior to independence, and that Catholics would be most numerous near borders with former French colonies. The state where the problem is greatest is rural and inland, and this denomination has arisen mostly after colonialism, so there may not be nearly the colonial legacy effects in these areas. The population centers and megacities tend to be coastal and more closely linked to former colonial powers.