Friday, 2 March 2012

Forced to Bear a Tag

Aja, a legal practitioner in Abuja, is nothing short of passionate about advocacy, especially in defence of the less privileged. In true manifestation and projection of this very deep-set intent, Aja wrote from his heart, of his meeting with Victoria, a child who was subjected to Torture and ill-treatment after being imputed with allegations of being guilty of witchcraft. DeltaWomen caught up with Aja in a speedy exchange via email to find out more about the issue, and to understand his perspectives on putting an end to the culture of impunity shrouding such a malpractice. Aja’s original article is available here.

1. What are the chief reasons for the imputation of allegations of witchcraft?
There is no worse manifestation of personal irresponsibility (as a flip of personal responsibility) than the belief that some other person is spiritually responsible for a man’s problems. The incidence of child witchcraft is an extremity of buck-passing. In our environment, where superstition still has a grip on a substantial number of the people, it is not uncommon to see a man tag his child a witch when the child exhibits social and personal habits that do not fit into the community model. A child who cries in the middle of the night runs the risk of being so branded, and so does the one who suddenly bursts out laughing in his sleep. It is also worrisome to note the involvement of churches and spiritual homes. They give tacit and direct endorsement by conducting ‘deliverance’ sessions where even children are said to be exorcized. However, poverty accounts for the phenomenon; hardly has any comfortable home produced a ‘witch’. It is always the struggling man, the frustrated family, the unproductive homestead and the ignorant horde that spawns witches, all in a bid to rationalise their failures.
Aja and Victoria

2.  Where are these practices most prevalent?      
The practices are everywhere there is poverty, ignorance and pseudo-spirituality. But in Nigeria, it is rife in Akwa Ibom State and other riverine areas where there is a certain belief in the mermaid phenomenon. It is hardly evident in the urban areas, except among those who practise the new form of Pentecostalism, which appears to thrive in coded superstition.

3. You wrote about Victoria, and mentioned "A child preferring the warmth of strangers to the coldness of her own home!". Sadly, this is reality for many children. There are plenty of laws in place that cater to children, but none seem to be of help. As a Barrister, what are your views on the slip between the cup and lip? What renders these laws paper tigers?
My answer is simple: will power. There is a certain reluctance to enforce the law due to a mistaken belief that it would amount to disrupting family values, especially as the perpetrators are subject to punitive measures. In addition, even the law enforcers have their own domestic challenges, a part of which may still be the same thing they are supposed to fight. In other words, some of them believe in witchcraft too, and some of them may have children they see as being witches. That gap between personal conviction and values espoused in our laws is diminished and that accounts for the lack of enforcement.

4. Would you believe there is a solution to these kinds of incidents? What would you propose as a solution?      
 There must be a concerted effort to combat the scourge. The fight should be championed by the civil society, and this must of necessity involve spiritual leaders because Nigerians have a deep attachment to matters of faith. I believe that people must be made to understand the immediate and future consequences of denying a child the right to develop and grow in love. The connection between child abuse and crime must be stressed because a child who is abused more often than not considers himself a rebel.

5. The trouble with the world is that people love to read about these incidents and sympathize. But in a matter of days, these lovely little children are forgotten. What would you advocate for proactive upkeep of responsibility owed as basic human beings?      
There must be a consistent effort to keep the light on the blight. We cannot afford to go to sleep. Every child who is abused today may be a terror to the society tomorrow. It is therefore a path to self-survival and in the interest of all that we take the welfare of our children more seriously. Some of us who have made a vocation of our desire to support our afflicted children should never rest on our oars but KEEP THE LIGHT ON THE BLIGHT.

 Written by Kirthi Gita Jayakumar

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