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Opinions of Friday, 22 May 2015

Columnist: Igwe, Leo

From Children of 'Witches' to 'Child Witches' in Ghana

By Leo Igwe

Children are among those who populate the witch camps in the Northern Ghana. These children are not at the sanctuary because they were accused of witchcraft. They are at these shelters because their mothers or grand mothers were accused. But from my observations, many of these children end up suffering as a result the label of witchcraft applied to their mothers or grand mothers. The belief in child witches exist among the Dagomba and other ethnic communities in the Northern region. But it takes a different dimension.

In 2012, I visited an orphanage in Sang near Yendi. This orphanage provides a shelter for some children accused of witchcraft. Child witchcraft has a different pattern among the Dagomba. Child witches are not perceived as 'little gods' of the Bangwa performing extraordinary things but as the incarnation of evil and ominous signs for the family. Children who are born with disability or those whose mother died after delivery are believed to be vectors of evil magic. They are branded witches. I was informed that some family members kill or abandon such babies on an anthill or in a forest. The children at the orphanage in Sang are some of the child witches rescued and brought to the shelter by some well meaning individuals.

The witchcraft circumstances of the children at the sanctuaries are entirely a different issue. Children are staying in these sanctuaries because of their relationship with accused persons. Concerns about the rights and welfare of these children have been debated by different stakeholders mulling over how to improve the living conditions in the sanctuaries.

Some of the children are living with their own parents. Some were delivered at the camp. I met during my field work a woman at Gushiegu sanctuary who was nursing a baby. He became pregnant and gave birth to the baby while at the witch camp. The number of children in these sanctuaries vary from sanctuary to sanctuary. Gnani witch sanctuary has the highest number of children. This is because in Gnani there are more accused persons living with their families including men than in any other sanctuary.

There are accused women at the sanctuaries who are living alone because they have no children or grand children. Some women have children and grand children but none is staying with them. None has been sent to help look after them. I noticed that getting to live with one's children or grand children is a factor of the position of family members on the accusation, that is whether one's family members support the accusation or not. Children who support the accusation and banishment of their mothers do not visit them. They do not send their daughters to live with them. The main reason for this is that they fear that the children could be infected with witchcraft or possibly be killed by their 'witch mother or grand mother'. Also they fear that the children could beaccused of harmful magic when they later return back to the communities.

Dagomba believe witchcraft powers can be inherited or transferred. Parents-often female parents and grand parents - can pass the powers on to their children and grand children. Dagomba banish people 'convicted' of witchcraft to prevent them from using the powers against other members of the family or community and also to prevent them from transferring their powers to others. Some children who are sent to look after their grand mothers end up staying back at the witch camps because of this concern. At the witch sanctuary in Kukuo, I met elderly women in their 90s who came to look after their grand mothers but stayed back after the grand mother died.

Some children are living at the sanctuary because their fathers were accused. This is the case in Gnani camp, the only sanctuary that accommodates accused males. Some men who are accused of witchcraft and then banished from their communities relocate to the witch camp with their entire family including their wives and children. I observed that not all accused male parents were living with their families at the sanctuary. The accused male persons who relocate with their entire family are those who children are still very young, and still need parental care and support.

Accused fathers whose children are adults at the time of accusation and banishment do not usually relocate with their families and children. Some male parents who are not living with their families are either those who do not have the means to accommodate or cater for them or those who intend to return back to their communities after some time. The children I saw living with their accused fathers at Gnani Tingdang were either born there or were babies when their fathers relocated to Gnani. Children have become part of the phenomenon of witch sanctuary in Ghana. The government of Ghana announced last year that it would abolished the 'witch camps'. It is important that the government factors into the process the rights and welfare of these 'children of witches' who have now become 'child witches'.