In Central Africa, the phenomenon of child sorcerers has caused much ink to flow. Especially in DR Congo, where thousands of children are rejected by their parents and by society. Accused of being cursed, they are called “sorcerers” and held responsible for the ills suffered by their loved ones and their community. Casimir Mpetshi Etshindo, sociologist and researcher at the University of Kinshasa (Unikin), specialist in the question, has published several articles on this scourge which finally seems to be weakening, without however disappearing.
Jeune Afrique: To what do you attribute the decline in the phenomenon of child witches in the DRC?
Casimir Mpetshi Etshindo: It has not disappeared, even if it is somewhat down compared to fifteen years ago. These timid advances are largely attributable to a certain awareness of the faithful of the so-called revivalist churches. [pentecôtistes], where children were declared witches with disconcerting ease and lightness. Were the pastors and other “men of God”, as they are called, who made these alleged revelations inspired by the Holy Spirit? The faithful now take a slightly more lucid look at the question.
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In addition, the law on the protection of children adopted by Parliament in 2009 has, to some extent, contributed to curbing the phenomenon. She says that in this country no child not can be accused of witchcraft. The text is good in its philosophy, although some of its measures are not really implemented.
You speak of an awareness in revivalist churches… Do we observe the same thing within society?
Society does not yet seem to have integrated the danger that this phenomenon represents. The children of today will take on responsibilities tomorrow, it is on their shoulders that the future of the country rests. If they are excluded from society, marginalized, discriminated against, what results will we obtain?
Society comes to accept and perpetuate a number of false beliefs that can lead to its weakening, even its destruction. Huge challenges remain. Some social constructs need to be deconstructed for us to move forward. We have come a long way in the field of the fight against the phenomenon of child witches, but much remains to be done to eradicate it.
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I was born in the village and grew up there. Witchcraft exists: this social phenomenon represents one of the characteristics of our traditional societies. And although it seems to me to be losing momentum, even in the village, it meets certain needs. In Sankuru, my home province, there is what is commonly called mpilo. A person with an ancestral power can temporarily transform into I don’t know what object, claiming that it is a protective power – so it’s a kind of positive sorcery. This power can, for example, protect young soldiers who, thanks to it, will emerge unscathed from ambushes set by enemy forces. But this witchcraft, which concerns initiated adults, is not comparable to what happens with child witches.
It seems difficult to shake up beliefs if a large part of the population believes in witchcraft…
It is possible to shake up certain firmly anchored beliefs that do not contribute to the development of children and society. We can, in the long term, change certain behaviors and mentalities. Awareness campaigns would be needed to achieve this.
Is there a typical child witch profile?
The phenomenon affects both girls and boys. Their age generally varies between 5 and 10 years. The majority of these children come from working-class and underprivileged neighborhoods in Kinshasa. In our investigations, we have not yet come across child witches from wealthy neighborhoods.
Those who are not lucky enough to be picked up by support structures grow up on the streets. They can turn into delinquents, usually called kulunas. If there are no official figures, I could nevertheless put forward, on the basis of our investigations, the figure of “a few thousand” child witches in Kinshasa – all them street children are not necessarily child witches.
What is the extent of this phenomenon in rural areas?
It is more pronounced in urban areas, particularly in the city of Kinshasa. The problem hardly exists in rural areas, where the children are better supervised. Despite the possible difficulties they encounter there, the parents make efforts for the schooling and supervision of their children. Solidarity is stronger there within the community and some of our traditional values are well preserved. The child is considered as the future of society, the one who will bring more to his family and to the community.
What do child-witch care structures provide?
They supervise these young people: they learn a trade there and flourish there before their reintegration into society. Good intentions are not lacking, and some people try to make these so-called “witch children” smile again. Not everything is negative, many positive stories can be told about them.
It is poverty that is at the root of this scourge
For example, I know one who became a priest. Rejected by his parents, he was picked up by nuns, then went to the minor seminary, then to the major seminary, before being ordained a priest, with a degree in canon law. And people wonder where his so-called witchcraft has gone in the meantime… Children are victims. Society would benefit from looking at them differently, instead of stigmatizing them.
What measures would make it possible to eradicate this scourge definitively?
It is poverty that is at the root of this phenomenon. The mother of all measures would be the restoration of social protection: it would be a question, for the government, of helping families and parents who cannot find work and are in the grip of great financial difficulties on a daily basis. .
For its part, the Ministry of Social Affairs must equip itself with structures responsible for identifying the most vulnerable families. This will allow the government to better identify and target priority beneficiaries, because it is on this point that the State is failing, even if it allocates aid.
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Furthermore, the State must put in place structures responsible for raising awareness. The Congolese must therefore immerse themselves in the law on the protection of children in order to better understand the responsibility of society in the supervision of children. The latter, for their part, must know their rights better. And revival churches, which now number in the thousands in this country, must be led by trained people with at least a degree in theology. Finally, various specialists, in particular sociologists who follow this problem closely, must be put at contribution.
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DRC – Child witches: putting an end to their ordeal – Jeune Afrique
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