When Pascal’s little brother got sick, his family accused him of witchcraft and took him to a pastor who forced him to drink pigeon’s blood and oil. Denied food and beaten for three days, the ten-year-old managed to escape, joining some 250,000 other street children in Congo for three years until he was scooped up by a children’s centre in Kinshasa’s tough east end. (Photos: Congolese boys play in Kinshasa, November 7, 2006/Goran Tomasevic)
“(The pastor) wouldn’t let me eat or drink any water — he said it would increase the power of the witch,” Pascal, not his real name, said in the centre where nearly 100 other children, most accused of witchcraft, have also sought shelter.
UNICEF, the United Nations’ children’s charity, says accusing children of sorcery is a fairly new and growing trend in Africa, despite long-held traditional and mystic beliefs on the continent. “The phenomenon of ‘child witches’… occurs in urban areas, where it has grown constantly in the last thirty years,” according to a UNICEF study published this month.
Where previously elderly women were accused, today the focus more often falls on young children, often some of the most vulnerable, such as orphans, disabled or poor. “It’s a problem that’s growing every day,” says Father Justin Onganga, a Catholic priest who manages another centre. “This has nothing to do with witchcraft but it has everything to do with urban poverty.”