Child Charity News 26/6/2009 – There has been a notable rise in the number of witch-killings at the hands of civilians in parts of Kenya. This ongoing practice endangers children, education and occurs outside the legal justice system.
Tales of magic, witchcraft and wizardry are but fairy tales to children in most parts of the world. Yet in the Kisii district of Kenya’s Nyanza Province, the fears of witchcraft are very real to many people and the consequences are lethal.
In the Itii village of the district, five elderly women and men accused of bewitching a young male child were executed – burned to death by a lynch mob. The child, claimed the mob of villagers, had been unable to speak to any person in the village except the executed men and women. Not only adult villagers, but youth too, participated in the lynching. All believed that the lynching was a punishment deserved by the witches. In other words, it was an administration of ‘justice.’
The practice of lynching in the Kisii district is so widespread that street signs even warn that witches will be prosecuted. Even in other parts of Kenya, the problem persists in a way that eludes authorities because the beliefs are so widespread. It is not unusual for accused witches to receive warning letters and flee their villages for fear of persecution. The relatives and children of accused witches bear a stigma that can ostracize them or shame them within their own communities.
In addition, the Coast Province of Kenya has been the place of up to 40 witch lynchings in the last two years. Most frequently, it is the rampant death and disease in poverty-stricken areas that are seen to be the product of witchcraft.
Besides Kenya, these practices have been occurring in Nigeria, Central African Republic, Tanzania, Burundi and India.
Superstitions of a different sort in Tanzania have led to a black market “flesh trade” with Burundi in young albino children as young as 5-6 years old who are intentionally hunted and killed for their body parts, which are believed to be good luck and have protective qualities.
In India, one woman was saved from being executed after a mob decried her as a witch who had cast a spell on a teenager who had died in hospital some time earlier. The Block Development Office (rural or community development office in India) was able to prevent the murder and currently has plans to develop awareness-raising education campaigns to prevent the practice from continuing.
Witch-killings are no longer anecdotal relics from the histories of Salem, Massachusetts and medieval Europe. They are a very real problem of extrajudicial justice that endangers children, families and entire communities.