DRC: how to explain the rise of the phenomenon of “child witches?”

They are the subject of scapegoats in their families. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, where nearly 73% of the population lives below the poverty line, According to figures from the World Bank, some children are struck by a curse. Or rather, the political, economic and social context curses these children. Described as “sorcerers”, they are held responsible for the ills suffered by vulnerable families.

According to UNICEFthe United Nations agency dedicated to improving the living conditions of children, “ignorance, poverty, the lack of means to cover children’s school fees or the damage caused by war which increases the number of orphans” are factors that contribute to the belief in child witches. As soon as a child has sleep or behavioral disorders, a disability, or a malformation, he can be considered a child witch, specifies the UN agency.

Beyond the DRC

The phenomenon of child witches is not unique to the Democratic Republic of Congo. According to a report published in 2010, the problem of children accused of witchcraft affects Central Africa in general, the Central African Republic and Angola in particular. But the phenomenon is also known in Nigeria, Sierra Leone or Liberia. In a 2018 report, RFI looked into the situation child witches in Benin, explaining that, in the north of the country, “in some communities, a child who is born by the seat or the feet, with malformations, whose mother dies in childbirth is considered a witch“.

A vicious circle

Moreover, the belief in the phenomenon of child witches brings significant benefits to the evangelical churches of the country. These churches, called “churches of revival” feed the belief in the supposed curse of “child witches.” The Target Institute estimates that there are approximately 13 million faithful in the country, or nearly 15% of the Congolese population.

Pastors offer to perform exorcisms, which cost between 5,000 and 30,000 Congolese francs (between 3 and 30 euros), reports Unicef. They promise their followers to deliver them from evil. “I will bring out all the evil that lies in the belly of your children”, promises a pastor interviewed in the documentary. According to him, evil spiritsuse children because their level of reasoning is lower.“He is credited with freeing over 500 children from evil spirits.

My child has a problem, she has nightmares, explains a woman attending the pastor’s sermon. She fears that the demons are coming to take her.“She attends these sermons hoping to heal her daughter,”so she can get out of this dark world”. When these so-called solutions do not bring the desired effect, the children are abandoned and find themselves on the streets. According to Unicef, there are more than 20,000 in the streets of Kinshasa, the capital of the DRC. But their exact number is difficult to know.

What solutions?

Faced with the scale of the phenomenon, certain systems exist to take care of these children rejected by their families. The “Children’s House” is a foster home for these “child-witches”. The authors of the documentary explain that nearly 500 children have been entrusted to this center by the police for nearly twenty years.

The "Children's House" welcome "child-witches" driven from their families.

The organization, managed by the Catholic Church, offers its residents workshops, such as theater. In these workshops, self-acceptance is required, to help children rebuild themselves.

We want them to understand that their suffering and their misfortunes do not come from their children, but that it is a reality of the stages of life.Joseph, Dean of the “Children’s House”

Since 2009, the law provides for up to three years in prison for those accusing a child of practicing witchcraft. However, this law has never been applied. Joseph, the dean of the “Children’s House” tries to change mentalities, by going to sensitize the communities where the belief in child witches is widespread. “We want them to understand that their sufferings and misfortunes do not come from their children, but that it is a reality of the stages of life.”, he explains in the documentary.

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DRC: how to explain the rise of the phenomenon of “child witches?”

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