Being held responsible for a range of issues from bad luck to financial difficulties, children are suffering as a result of being accused of being witches.   

“If you love a hen, you should also love their eggs.” Wise words from Miriam, a child reporter in the Voice of a Child project in Kinshasa. She’s speaking about family relationships and goes on to say: “You get into a relationship, you love your partner but you refuse to accept his kids. You really should like all of those children because they are his kids.”

Life as a blended family brings challenges between step-parents and step-children but in Kinshasa, family breakdown, polygamy and poverty lead to accusations, abuse and abandoning children to live on the streets.

Of the 20 thousand street-living children in Kinshasa...roughly 80 percent1 of these children are on the street because they were accused of harming others through witchcraft.

Harmful beliefs and practices can mean that life's misfortunes, be it poverty, sickness, family breakdown, infertility or death are often ascribed to what is perceived as the malevolent and supernatural powers of a young child.  A resulting accusation of witchcraft can be incredibly harmful, leading to abandonment and abuse within the family and also in local communities when they've been cast out onto the streets.  Unfortunately these practices are often endorsed by pastors and Christian leaders.

Of the 20 thousand street-living children in Kinshasa, an organisation of Congolese pastors led by Pastor Abel Ngolo suspects that roughly 80 percent1 of these children are on the street because they were accused of harming others through witchcraft. 

Radio training to address stigma

The first strand of our Mungongo ya Muana ("Voice of a Child") project partners with the Children’s Radio Foundation. Teaching radio skills to street-living children, young people are enabled to speak about their treatment and experiences. 

Young reporters Paulin Mwanza and Raissa Bawala (©Sydelle Willow Smith)

The resulting broadcasts in Kinshasa's Gambela market and on an FM radio station sought to challenge the stigma faced by children affected by witchcraft accusations. We are also in conversation with a Christian FM station which is considering carrying the programmes too. Helping change community attitudes towards them, the young reporters are active in bringing about the change they would like to see. 

Young reporters Sarah Pambu and Samuel Mutshiri conducting an interview (©Sydelle Willow Smith)

Child reporter, Jeremy shared his experience: “I was a ghost according to my step-mum, simply because I was not her child. Nothing worked in the house because of me. I was then considered to be a source of misfortune.”

Both Miriam and Jeremy were accused by their families of being witches.

Witchcraft accusations are a common reason for children to be abandoned on the streets. The belief in witchcraft exists at every level of society and the supernatural is a common theme in Nigerian-produced films which are very popular across Africa.

Church influence

Unfortunately, instead of being a place of care and support, many churches have used witchcraft accusations as a business opportunity. Jeremy explains: “Pastors are making money out of this. It has become a business to use us street children as witches . . . Pastors are exploiting the witchcraft issue as a way of extorting money from people.”

Last year the child reporters were able to share their stories with 150 church leaders at a church meeting. Afterwards an attendee said: “These children were objects of atrocities because some pastor indiscriminately declared that they were witches.”

We want to mobilise the church to use its influence to prevent child witchcraft accusations and promote better care for children.

The church has a considerable influence over the community’s perception of children, and so the second strand of this project is widening its scope to include training materials for pastors.

Feba is partnering in the production of a radio drama as well as audio resources based on a training tool produced for pastors by the Stop Child Witchcraft Accusations (SCWA) coalition, of which Feba is a member. The resources will be used in a training pilot and it is hoped that participating pastors will take them back to their respective churches.

Stephanie Mooney, Partnerships Team Director, says: “We want to mobilise the church to use its influence to prevent child witchcraft accusations and promote better care for children.”

Read more on: The Voice of a Child

1. Equipe Pastorale Aupres des Enfants en Détresse (Pastoral Team for Children in Distress)

[images on this page copyright of Sydelle Willow Smith]