I was invited to an Alumni event to speak to a group of students at Birkbeck University of London yesterday, and as a result met a fantastic group of people/ students, fellow graduates and staff.
Whilst I will take some time over the next few weeks to look into the other organisations/charities that were mentioned, today I decided to look at the belief in 'Witch Children'
A Masters graduate and representative from the Charity Afrikids informed us of the great work that they do.
In a quick chat at the end of the event, It was brought to my attention, the difference between what's known as 'Witch Children' and 'Spirit Children'.
I'm informed that 'Witch Children' are believed by some, to be possessed by evil spirits and perform deeds on their behalf, Spirit children are denounced as not even human
This reminded me in part of the Mami Wata belief, as it's commonly known in Sierra Leone.
Across Africa, there are different names used to describes what is in essence, the same, or a very similar practice or belief.
Some say you cannot effectively legislate against culture, that change must begin with a new understanding rather than an outright ban. or criminalization.
In comparison, many parts of the world where FGM campaigners have been working to stamp out the practice of 'cutting', they have conducted various approaches from talking to chiefs community leaders, doctors nurses etc, however, this, (despite now many countries placing a legal ban on the practice) is still be a difficult practice to halt.
However, what a ban achieves, is that it legitimises the campaign against, and it also provides some protection (not total) to campaigners. Equally, if a Fine or Prison sentence is a deterrent, then it may work on that level also.
Yet whilst in some quarters FGM may be passed off as a 'silly women's issue' this is not likely to be the case regarding the belief in 'witchery'. Politicians and chiefs alike appear fearful to interfere with this practice, despite it causing major issues in many african countries.
Tanzania have placed a ban on the practice after the horrific abuse of albinos, [click] but i've heard little outside of that.
For children branded witches or spirit children the situation is difficult indeed.
I met with a young lady a few weeks ago, who after having be cast aside by her family due to their belief that she was indeed an 'evil spirit' was still, as an adult struggling to come to terms with how she had been treated, and equally struggling to find the self confidence to believe in herself. despite being a beautiful and extremely articulate woman.
The old nursery rhyme 'sticks and stones may break your bones but words can never hurt'.. is Wrong
Words can hurt.
Whilst I'm conscious that my initial reactions and expressions may be coming from a place of relative or slightly eurocentric privilege, unlike some of my fellow pan africanists, I'm not afraid to say that not every african cultural practice... ( practiced by Africans across the globe, and the Caribbeans also) is 'good'. (a relative term I know).
I understand culture enough to recognise that cultural practices can and often do change. We are not stuck with them.. if we decide they no longer serve us.
Many argue that these beliefs go 'back to creation', or at the very least, hundreds of years prior to Christianity or Islam.
Prior to the European invasion enslavements and subsequent colonization of the majority of the continent
I understand; but can we also recognise when a practice is being used for ill?.
'With great power comes great responsibility' it's often said.. so irresponsible use of such 'great powers' should not be accepted, or embedded into a community disguised as tradition or culture.
Unlike FGM which those in favour of believe 'elevates a woman', 'creates a woman'; there is no upside for the children branded Witches.
If the AU ever debate on the issue I would really like to read the transcripts.
In the video below, I do wonder whether the claim of 'evil witchery' is an excuse to get rid of children they no longer want around, or simply cant afford to feed.
This second video upset me greatly.
I was doing fine until I got to 39:15. Even after everything i'd seen and heard previously.
Seeing that little boy on the floor, and the little girl...was the saddest and most sickening thing I've seen in a while
The film film focuses on the practice of Kindoki in the Congo, and the impact the practice has on its church going diaspora communities especially in the UK
In watching this I wondered; where do we draw the line at Cultural spiritual belief and mental illness?
It's a serious issue across parts of Africa, and practiced.. more often than not, to cause harm to others.
Not for development
Not to eliminate poverty
Not to unify friends or neighbours
But to destroy.
Mix that practice with Christian or even Islamic beliefs (the more dominate religions) and you have a huge problem on your hands.
Sadly some parents will honestly take the steps they take out of 'love' and the honest desire to 'fix' their child, such is the strength and power of the belief
With community issues such as this taking place across the continent, is it any wonder that education, development, poverty alleviation, or pan africanism, tends to be slower to achieve, than one may desire
The film below looks at spirit child claims in northern Ghana
The Minister is very clear that things are being done, and for the purpose of the post it's also worth pointing out that these practices are being carried out in certain areas, and not necessarily widespread across the country.
( or the other countries mentioned in this post.)
On a lighter note, these guys look like they been watching starsky and hutch!