The disgraceful problem of child witch hunts in Nigeria was addressed for the first time this week by the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC). In a May 26 meeting with a large delegation of senior government representatives from Nigeria, the CRC raised a number of child rights issues, including birth registration, children in conflict with the law, adolescent health, adoption, child trafficking, street children, child marriage as well as witchcraft allegations against children.
Leo Igwe, IHEU’s representative in West Africa, whose work in Nigeria includes campaigning against witch hunts, welcomed the UN’s focus on this issue. “It is too easy for government to ignore these problems when they are hidden from view,” said Igwe. “We hope that by shining the international spotlight on these issues the UN will prompt serious government action in support of the work we are doing at the grassroots.”
The meeting at the UN was held to review the combined third and fourth periodic report of Nigeria on how that country is implementing the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The Nigerian delegation was headed by Mrs Iyom Josephine Anenih, Minister for Women’s Affairs and Social Development, and also included representatives from the Ministries of Health, Education, Justice and Foreign Affairs, as well as delegates from NAPTIP, the Prison Service and the Police, and the Nigeria Children’s Parliament.
This was the first time that the issue of child witchcraft accusations within Nigeria was addressed by the CRC, demonstrating a recognition of the dreadful toll that accusations of witchcraft take on children. Various Committee members identified the links between witchcraft accusations and violations of the rights to life, to freedom from torture and to alternative care, among others. It was recognised that churches and the film industry play a role in encouraging witchcraft accusations, and the Nigerian Federal government delegation were asked what they were doing to regulate these groups and to bring the perpetrators to justice.
The Nigerian delegation responded with an emphatic condemnation of the practice of accusations of witchcraft against children and of those churches which exploit the poverty and ignorance of parents. The Minister for Women’s Affairs and Social Development, Mrs Iyom Josephine Anenih, and the Director of the Child Development Department, Dr Macjohn Nwaobiala, both stated that they were completely opposed to this practice and that they intended to end it. This would be achieved through “rounding up” abusive church leaders and prosecuting them through the family courts, as well as via awareness-raising activities and poverty eradication strategies at the community level.
Lynda Battarbee, Advocacy and Campaigns Officer for Stepping Stones Nigeria, who attended the meeting as an observer, said: “This is a major victory for child rights in Nigeria. We are delighted that the Nigerian Federal government has publicly stated their opposition to child witchcraft accusations and their commitment to eradicating this horrific practice. We are especially pleased to hear that the Minister for Women’s Affairs has written to the Nigerian President about this and has been assured of his full support. This sends a clear message to the perpetrators of these terrible acts that they will be found and punished.”
The Committee will release its formal, written concluding observations and recommendations on the report of Nigeria in mid-June.