The situation of children accused of witchcraft in Togo is getting worrying as they are subjected to different heart-wrenching forms of abuse. There are reports of abuse from family members, where accused children have been tortured, forced into hard labour, ostracised, and kidnapped or trafficked. Some families particularly in rural areas, reportedly perform cruel rituals to chase away the demons to save the children from being killed by the community.
There are cases where parents are said to have performed heinous acts on their own children. In other cases, the children have been beaten, poisoned, and have had their limbs slashed, while others have been abandoned in the forest.
The children accused of witchcraft are blamed for any perceived curse in the community either by neighbors or their own families. The accusations include being blamed for diseases, death in the family/community, a bad harvest or the loss of a job, accidents and any other natural calamities.
In worst cases, children get mutilated or even killed. The number of unreported cases is high, and police often refuses to intervene, as these cultural acts are a taboo subject in public discourse and the fear of supernatural powers is widespread even for the police and the prosecutors.
The protection of children from violence, including harmful practices, is enshrined in international human rights laws that have been adopted by the international community.
In some parts of the world, being suspected of sorcery can result in harsh sentences. In Togo, many of cases in the courts involve witchcraft.
The plight of the children accused of witchcraft has continued to worsen, and a Togolese organization called KiRA – Children’s Rights Africa/CREUSET is working on a campaign called “Children are not witches! Don’t accomplice violence”. The campaign is part of a project to save the accused children serving sentences in prison and police custody because of their alleged harmful practices of witchcraft.
“Children branded as evil are being abused, abandoned, kidnapped, trafficked and even murdered. At times, most families take those children to the bush and tie them with a rope until they die there,” said Alidou Moulamouwa, Educator, CREUSET Transit Centre, one of the rehabilitation centres for the accused children in Togo.
Witchcraft in Togo
Togo, a small country between Ghana and Benin with a population of about eight million, is home to more than 40 ethnic groups, for whom animism is a fundamental part of their culture. Witchcraft is rooted in most of their ancestral traditions, as is the case in other parts of Africa.
Research by several human rights groups has shown that accusations of witchcraft against children are pervasive, and accepted in Togo as “just something that happens”. The authorities have been unable to challenge these deeply-held beliefs, where children are branded as witches; tortured and sometimes killed.
But several rights groups, missionaries and other civic organizations are moving swiftly to rescue and protect the children by providing them with a safe environment to live.
The Togolese government’s regional Social-action Department reports that, no exact figures are known on the number of children who have been charged in the country. However, their numbers are rising at the same pace as the rise in poverty around them. In the region of Kara alone, in the north of Togo, 773 minors were reportedly accused of witchcraft in 2016.
However, many organizations have been pushing the authorities and communities to combat these practices. Despite the efforts, the road to safety for the Togolese children is still a long way as they continue to suffer at the cruel hands of the families, communities and authorities, who are supposed to protect the children.