Photos: The Ten Year Old Girl Branded A Witch
By: Rasheed Olanrewaju Zubair
Witchcraft is a belief system that is very pronounced in the south south state of Cross River and Akwa Ibom and this has left many school-age children becoming social menace to the Society.
In Calabar, the Cross River State Capital, some of these children are seen loitering the streets, begging and constituting a social nuisance to the Society.
At a Shelter camp, I met a pale looking Esther Abasi Idara from Ibiono Ibom local Government Area of Akwa Ibom State. She is ten years old who was alledgedly abandoned by his mother after being accused of being a witch at the church her mother attends, she is one of the many young girls and boys who ran out of their family homes in Calabar ,the Cross River State capital, to fend for themselves on the streets.
This unfortunate situation has however led to sickness and other inhuman treatment meted on these children by those who take advantage of them in the wider society. Esther narrates her experience
” My name is Esther Abasi Idara. I’m the first born of my mother. We are three and because of how I asked my mother questions of what happened between her and my father, she branded me a witch, saying her pastor has confirmed, and she threw me out of the house .
“I was on the street for months begging and one day, where we were sleeping under the three along side my friends ,I was abused by some group of boys who came there and raped me ,I screemed but there was no help as my friends ran away.
“But help me to thank this NGO (Basic Right Counsel Initiative) which God sent to me for my rescue, I have been staying here and they are taking good care of me”.
Asked what she would like to be in the future, Esther said ,” I want to be a nurse to enable me care for the street children because we are many”.
Esther may be lucky, but many do not survive the neglect, abuse, and the physical and mental health issues that arise from the stigma of being branded a child witch in the South South States of Nigeria.
In the course of my investigating why some parents abandon their biological Children and entrust them to the street for training, I met a lawyer, Barrister James Ibor, the Director of Basic Right Counsel Initiative (BRCI) whose work Is to protect the child’s right ,using his legal experience as an instrument.
“It has been very tough fighting this cause, because we are in a religious and superstitious society, where they believe in witches and wizards and their belief in spirits and ghosts is deep and entrenched in our Communities.
“Religious merchants are exploiting this belief for their own gains, exploiting specifically the most vulnerable of our society, for example, children, poor women and persons with disabilities.
“It’s being very tough protecting these vulnerables especially because most of those exploiting them are well to do, so will battle with the crime and try to persuade security agencies in investigating the crime.
“It is sad to say that despite hundreds of exposures we have made over the years with hardcore evidences of degrading inhuman treatment metted out on this Children including that of Esther you asked about, not even one person has been prosecuted for stigmatizing or branding anybody a witch.
“Most of the people who are supposed to be arresting, investigating or Prosecuting these criminals are themselves culpable directly or indirectly that I can tell you as of fact.
“Between 2010 and 2019, we have documented about a hundred cases of witchcraft branding and stigmatization in Cross River State and their stories are worrisome.
“In all, the government of Cross River State has failed and is culpable in it’s duties to protect the children because the level of implementation of the law 2009 is very poor” he said.
After several times of headhunting for Esther’s mother, Goodness Akpan, to tell me why she branded her first daughter a witch ,I succeeded in meeting her to tell me her said of the story which was different from what Esther and her counsel told me.
“I didn’t throw her out. She’s troublesome and I reported her to the Northwest police station in 8 miles Calabar ,she has been giving me problem to the extent that at 10 years of age ,Esther couldn’t take care of her siblings.
“Is it an offence to be a single mother after their father left me with three kids? Will Esther kill me and let her siblings be stranded? Esther’s mother who broke down in tears asked me in her house around midnight.
What could have made a mother throw out her own child? Maria Sunday-Oju ,a social worker who decried the situation wondered why some parents will be so inhuman to their children.
“It’s a pity that a mother will throw out her first daughter. Its very pronounced in Akwa Ibom and not Cross River State, but because most them live here ,people don’t really know whether they are from – Cross River or the neighboring Akwa Ibom State, said Oju.
In Cross River State, there is an existing child rights law but beyond the implementation of this law, Special Adviser to Governor Ben Ayade, Mr Christian Ita tells me what the Government is doing to curb the situation.
“It’s been a challenge that Cross River has faced over time and it’s not our making as a government, but as an administration. We must cater for every one. Most of these incidents happened in our neighboring states but they will come and drop them In Calabar.
“The Government through the ministry of social welfare has been tackling this and the governor has directed that these children should be reconnected with their parents where ever they are and where there are difficulties in doing that, government will take care of them in it’s shelter homes.
The government of Cross River State has free primary education for all children and their health needs, we care for them no matter where they come from, Says Christian Ita,the Special Adviser to Governor Ben Ayade on Media and Publicity.
“They are children, they are innocent of their parents misdeeds and we won’t call them such inhuman names because they are victims of crass religious beliefs.
Some anthropological studies have revealed the belief system in some parts of Akwa Ibom and Cross River State that certain people are witches. They argue that, through various supernatural instincts , these people impoverish, harm or kill their fellow human beings due to this belief system.
Rights activists say government must take radical action to contain this practice by implementing the SDG Goal One, Two, Three, Four and Six for Poverty reduction, quality education, healthcare , water and sanitations among others.