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Sunday, 27 November 2011

Zodiak radio

From next month we plan to embark on a 6 month Civil education by means of weekly radio broadcasts concerning the unlawfulness of witchcraft accusations against children, the elderly and the handicapped in Malawi together with various partners in the coalition.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Witch Children and Christianity

Published in the Sunday Times, Malawi 13 November 2011: p. 6

Witch Children and Christianity

In our African continent we find more and more Pentecostal, Charismatic and independent churches who stigmatize children and other vulnerable groups in society as witches.  These are accused of being the cause of all the misfortunes that befall their families and communities.

The self-proclaimed spiritual experts specialise in finding witches by using prophecy, discernment and other gifts of the Spirit as tools of divination.  They call themselves prophets and apostles, pastors or bishops even though most of them have had hardly or no theological education at all.  The children who are ‘sniffed out’ as witches are exposed to abuse, ostracism, torture and murder. The more 'lucky' ones are exorcised of their demons in a heavy handed manner which often includes beatings, starvation and imprisonment until the families of the accused pay the high fees demanded by the spiritual experts.

Some of the spiritual experts operating in Malawi do not demand fees but try to build a name for themselves as a miracle worker or powerful man or woman of God.  Indirectly there is still monetary gain as a powerful reputation translates to more followers and therefore higher financial contributions in form of tithes and offerings.  There are also monetary rewards offered by family members whose children have been 'treated'. However, even the children who have been subjected to exorcism or cleansing ceremonies still carry a stigma and continue to be viewed with suspicion.  This translates into emotional neglect if not outright psychological and physical abuse. Children whose parents are still alive may be taken back to the prophet over and over again for exorcisms but children who are orphaned are often chased away from their host family after having been branded witches.  Many of them ending up as street children, become victims of trafficking or get trapped in prostitution.

From a theological point of view, regardless of Church affiliation or tradition we can only view the belief in children being witches as hetero-orthodox.  The core of the teaching of Jesus Christ is love, love from God for humankind (John 3:16) and love for God which must be demonstrated by practical caring love for one-another, including for those who turn against us as our enemies. Any teaching that negates, undermines or deviates from this and results in stigmatization, psychological or physical abuse is therefore a heresy. 

If one insists on using the words demonic or Satanic as is common in some Christian circles then we should consider that in the Bible Satan is described as the father of lies and as a murderer from the beginning.  Any so-called Christian teaching which results in false accusations, stigmatization, abuse and violence is then not Christian but Satanic.  Those who consider themselves spiritual leaders should consider that the Bible teaches that the true evidence of the presence of the Spirit of Christ is shown in genuine caring love (agape) which among other things results in joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, goodness and self-control (Gal. 5:22-23).

We believe that Christians in Africa should be at the forefront in addressing the false beliefs that hurt our children.  So far in Malawi we have started a safe house for children accused of witchcraft and conducted about 40 workshops for church leaders as well as a consultation for CBOs and NGOs.  We are also joining hands with Civil society, the government and religious bodies to form a national coalition against witchcraft stigmatization.

Unfortunately funding constraints prevent us from taking part in international conferences but we hope that our contribution will encourage other Christian organizations, churches and individuals to play an active role in addressing the issue of stigmatizing children as witches in Africa.

 Rev. Aubrey J. Goliat, Mr. Frank B. Phiri, Mrs. Emmie Chanika and Rev. Dr. Erwin van der Meer

Saturday, 29 October 2011

From ABC News 20 October

MARK COLVIN: A week ago, the BBC broadcast a shocking story from Uganda about widespread child sacrifice. As a result of an undercover investigation, it said many cases were not being followed up by the police, and little was being done to protect potential victims.

The reporters spoke to a witch doctor who offered to kill a child for them to bring luck to a construction project.

Peter M Sewakiryanga is director of Kyampisi Childcare Ministries in Uganda, which helped with the investigation.

He's in Australia to draw attention to the child sacrifice problem, and he spoke to me this afternoon.

PETER M SEWAKIRYANGA: Many people in Uganda have come to believe that when you sacrifice a child to evil spirits you get blessings, you get wealth, you get protection of some kind.

And there are many people involved in witchcraft, who are called witch doctors, who have been going on telling people that you need to sacrifice to be able to succeed in life.

MARK COLVIN: How many children get kidnapped and used in this way?

PETER M SEWAKIRYANGA: Last year we had reports of over 9,000 children (inaudible) lost and that is based on the United States human rights report. And unfortunately the most number of these children never get to be found and it's been come to our attention that most of them have been victims of child sacrifice.

Because people do it in such secrecy, it's very hard to find them dead until you find decapitated bodies of children with ritual stuff that is around them; others are castrated for ritual, you know castrated completely, others are mutilated, others are just cut heads off and remove body organs out of their bodies, and others you will never find them.

We did an investigation with the witch doctors, an undercover investigation, and we found out that 100 per cent of all those involved in witchcraft are willing to give child sacrifice as the best remedy for a problem that is going to bring success to business, it's going to protect business.

MARK COLVIN: So the people who buy this service, they think they're going to get good luck and good health, do they?

PETER M SEWAKIRYANGA: Yeah, they think they're going to get good luck, good health, they're going to get rich because there's a big number of people that are poor and they're going to get rich.

And the rich people want also to protect their wealth.

MARK COLVIN: Uganda is in many areas a Christian country. Are these people both practising both Christianity and witchcraft sort of side by side?

PETER M SEWAKIRYANGA: You will find that the biggest, we have a very, very big number of people that believe in witchcraft. Uganda is …

MARK COLVIN: So it's possible to go to church on Sundays and believe in witchcraft the other days of the week?

PETER M SEWAKIRYANGA: Most people that are practising witchcraft don't believe in god.

MARK COLVIN: Has this been happening for a long time or is it a relatively new phenomenon?

PETER M SEWAKIRYANGA: It's come very highly in the last couple of years and it's a very complex phenomena. It's become very high now in the last four, five years.

MARK COLVIN: It's an extraordinary phenomenon because Uganda during that period has been growing quite fast and people have a lot more technology, mobile phones, computers, that sort of thing.

It's extraordinary to imagine that witchcraft should be so strong in those circumstances.

PETER M SEWAKIRYANGA: Yeah we have heard also foreign people coming into the country like from Tanzania. Those people that believe in the killing of albinos, that they'll get wealth.

And so any witch doctor that crosses from Tanzania to come to Uganda, they are allowed to announce on radios that they are going to offer the best spiritual power.

MARK COLVIN: They're allowed to advertise on the radio?

PETER M SEWAKIRYANGA: Yes, they are allowed to advertise on the radio.

MARK COLVIN: For killing albino children?

PETER M SEWAKIRYANGA: No, no, no to offer evil spiritual success or solutions to problems and once people go there is when they are brought into the practice of child sacrifice.

MARK COLVIN: So you're campaigning against it in Uganda, what are you hoping for by campaigning here? What can Australians do?

PETER M SEWAKIRYANGA: Back in Uganda we have tried to ask the government to look up the child protection laws. We have asked the government to bring all pending cases in court to a logical conclusion so that justice can prevail.

But that has not happened and why we are making this an international campaign is to ask people to sign petitions, to show the government that the whole world is behind this campaign, is asking you to bring all these pending cases in court to a logical conclusion, to ask the government to look at the child protection laws.

They can look at them and this petition to help bring justice and protect children.

MARK COLVIN: Peter Sewakiryanga, director of Kyampisi Childcare Ministries in Uganda. If you're interested in that petition he was talking about you'll be able to see it at www.kyampisi.org or www.jubileecampaign.co.uk.

Accessed 29 October 2011 on: http://www.abc.net.au/pm/content/2011/s3344511.htm

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Reintegrating witches in Africa: Ghana

Ghana: Reintegrating the nation’s "witches"

Ghana’s government is looking at ways to support people accused of witchcraft - mainly women and children banished by their communities to “witches’ camps” in the north - and to reintegrate them in their home villages.

Currently around 1,000 women and 700 children are living in six camps in northern Ghana, where they have found refuge from threats and violence from people in their home communities after being labelled witches and blamed for causing misfortune to others. In most cases the residents were taken to the camps by family members. A small number of men are also banished to the camps as “wizards”, according to Hajia Hawawu Boya Gariba, Ghana’s deputy minister for women and children’s affairs.

Belief in witchcraft is widespread in Africa - and other parts of the world - but in sub-Saharan Africa accusations against children are a recent and growing phenomena, according to a UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) report released last year.


The camps are located in remote areas and the residents usually live in basic conditions in mud huts without electricity, with limited access to food, water or medicine. Local reports detail women going hungry, residents having to walk kilometres to collect water, and children being unable to attend school. The camps are run by managers - usually the people who founded them - who rely on funding from NGOs and private donations to operate the facilities. Sometimes camp managers also take payment such as food from residents.

While the issue of “witches’ camps” is nothing new - they have been around for decades - recent media reports have spurred the government to action. “As a government we are embarrassed that we have these camps in our country - especially as our human rights record will be scrutinized as far as this is concerned,” Gariba said.

Stigma

A meeting of government officials, accused women from the camps, camp managers, NGOs and doctors in Accra on 8 September considered what action should be taken to improve the situation for camp residents. Gariba said the government was working with the National Disaster Management Organization (NADMO) to improve conditions in the camps by providing food and other support to the inmates, then in the long-term the government would look at repatriating the residents to their home villages and shutting down the camps.

This will include educating communities back home so they understand the banished women are not actually witches, said Gariba, who has also suggested drafting legislation to make it illegal to accuse people of witchcraft.

Akwasi Osei, the chief psychiatrist in Ghana’s national health service, who helped initiate the meeting, emphasized the need for community education. “Right now if you [repatriate accused witches] you can be sure they will be lynched when they go back home,” he said. “You have to prepare [their] society and help them understand that it’s not these women who were the causes of [misfortune].”

A second meeting later this month will firm up a plan of action to eventually disband the camps, Gariba said.

Reluctant to leave

Not everyone thinks trying to close the camps is a good idea. Bilabim Jakper, 60, has lived in the Nabuli “witches’ camp”, Gushegu District, northern Ghana, for the past nine years and says she wants to stay put.

Her husband died 15 years ago, and after that her former husband’s younger brother accused her of witchcraft. “He told family members I attempted to kill him spiritually in the night… Later the whole village heard about the incident and concluded I was a witch. They beat me up and threatened to kill me.”

She escaped and eventually found her way to Nabuli. She said she does not believe her original community would accept her back. “They say I am a bad omen to my family. Here is my home… The people here are my friends and relatives now.”

Alhassan Sayibu, who has managed the Nyani “witches’ camp” in northern Ghana for 10 years since taking over from his father, said the risk of violence against so-called witches and wizards in their original communities was too high and the camps should not be closed.

“If something bad happens they [could] be accused [again]. Three months ago [people in one community] broke someone’s hand after she was sent back there and she was brought back here again. Even men are beaten and returned here,” Syibu said.

Gariba suggested if some inmates were still unable to return after their original communities were educated, the camps could be redeveloped into care centres.

Who are the accused?

Chief psychiatrist Osei said women accused of witchcraft are generally mentally ill - suffering depression, dementia or schizophrenia. Women were also usually easy targets when people were looking for a scapegoat, he said. “Very often [accused witches are] vulnerable women who are probably widowed or childless… or are poor and illiterate,” he said.

Emmanuel Dobson, executive director of Christian Outreach Fellowship, an NGO providing food, medicine and accommodation to people in the witches’ camps, agreed that mainly older, uneducated women were targeted. He also pointed to the patriarchal culture in northern Ghana as a factor in their vulnerability. “When a man marries a woman she becomes his property. The woman’s family then has less authority over the life of the woman, and the woman is left helpless [if] her husband is not able to advocate for her.”


Source: UNHCR report 13 October 2011: http://www.unhcr.org/refworld/docid/4e97f4812.html

Monday, 3 October 2011

Christianity Today 24-3-2011

Warning on Witches: Missionaries may be encouraging witchcraft accusations.
 
By: Ruth Moon

A recent rise in the number of people accused of witchcraft—particularly African children—isn't just an issue for missionaries to address, say scholars. It's also a problem they may be contributing to.
An entire track of the annual missiology conference at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School this February was devoted to witchcraft, a topic usually neglected by the field.
"We had thought this was a phenomenon that would die out," said Robert Priest, professor of missions and intercultural studies at Trinity. "Instead we are finding that the conditions of modernity—urbanization and social differentiation under capitalism—are contributing to accusations getting stronger and stronger."
Presenters hope the conference will prompt missionaries to focus more on the subject.
"Most missionaries go out knowing the answer—namely, Christ—without knowing the questions the local people are asking that the local religion answers," said Carol McKinney, an anthropologist who teaches at the Graduate Institute of Applied Linguistics. "Questions like, 'Why did something happen to John and not to Joe when John and Joe were at the same place?'?"
Witchcraft often provides answers, whether in traditional African cultures, India, or Papua New Guinea. Someone is accused of bringing evil on another, often because the "witch" is jealous of that person's good fortune.
Missionaries have commonly responded in two ways, said Priest. The power of witches to harm others is dismissed as superstition, but this seldom persuades local Christians to abandon the concept; or the reality of witchcraft is endorsed by missionaries not wanting to be "post-Enlightenment rationalists" with a non-biblical skepticism of spiritual warfare.
The result is that traditional witch ideas are fused with Christian theology, which obscures the social consequences: Accused witches are often destitute or outcast, and thus socially defenseless. Instead of seeing old women or children as scapegoats, said Priest, Christian leaders suggest that witchcraft participates in genuine spiritual evil and that the accusations are reasonable. "The church is providing the cognitive underpinnings for the past system in the contemporary world."
Priest says the approach is unbiblical. "Nowhere in Scripture do we find anyone attributing affliction or death to a human third party acting through evil occult means," he said. "We're not questioning Satan's power; we're questioning the diagnostic system that blames another person."
When witchcraft is Christianized—by placing it in the realm of the demonic—missionaries unintentionally change the gospel message, said Timothy Stabell, assistant professor of mission at Briercrest College and Seminary. The Holy Spirit then becomes just another source of witch-like power, albeit more potent than local witches or shamans.
"That doesn't work," Stabell said. "If you dig deeper, there's an undertone of darkness, of evil, even when people ostensibly use the same powers for supposedly good things. It becomes very ambiguous."
Cultural background matters. Stabell, who was raised in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and worked for 15 years there, sees witchcraft accusations as often rooted in psychological problems. His African Christian friends interpret them as evil spiritual powers.
"We need to develop a fuller understanding and theology of what sin has done in the world, whether in the West or in Africa," Stabell said.
"Missiologists have not yet done an adequate job of wisely engaging these realities," said Priest. "We have a solemn responsibility to mobilize the effort to rethink our role in this."

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Shelter for boys who have been branded witches

Africa Outreach Malawi has opened a new shelter for children and youths accused of witchcraft in the Namiyango area of Blantyre.  This shelter caters exclusively for boys and supplements the shelter for girls that was founded last year.  Administrator Frank Phiri and counsellor Rev. Aubrey Goliat hope that other organisations will join hands in addressing this scourge in the Malawi society.  The project is funded by Across Outreach from the Netherlands.

Friday, 16 September 2011

Emmie Chanika

Influential Malawian human rights activist Emmie Chanika of CILIC has founded the coalition against witchcraft stigmatization in Malawi together with Africa Outreach (see link) and several other activists. The official launch is to be expected in October 2011.