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Children’s Rights Policy and the Protection of Children in Nigeria: A Case Study of Children who are being accused of witchcraft in the Eket District of Akwa Ibom State

Witchcraft, as described by some anthropologists, is the supernatural action of witches, a term which they commonly use to describe people, usually women and children, suggested to have dealings with the devil or evil spirit. This is why Ekanem (2002, p. 268) suggests that witchcraft denotes the projection of supernatural evil by human instigation with their complex social and cultural ramifications.

In this research, I have tried to weave together three main over arching frameworks as a tapestry of social construct which encompass child witchcraft accusations, child’s rights policy and protection and socio-cultural deprivation (poverty) as it affects the development of the children who are being accused. This is made possible through an extensive literature review which explores the different conceptual framework and the different world view against the back-drop of the existing phenomenon of child-witchcraft accusations and child rights abuses in Akwa Ibom State. In trying to explore the above frameworks, an inquiry is made through the use of unstructured interviews with government officials, a pastor of an evangelical church, and a guardian of an accused child to determine their role in the entire phenomenon of child-witchcraft accusations and child rights abuses. A creative workshop is also used with selected accused children to give them the opportunity to articulate their experiences and how it affects their development in the society. A few documented memoranda have been reviewed to examine the reaction of the public to this phenomenon.

If development, as Peet and Hartwick (2009, p. 1) define it, means making a better life for everyone, can one really say that this is possible in the present context of a highly uneven society? If a better life for most people is essentially meeting basic needs like sufficient food to maintain good health, a safe healthy place in which to live, safe drinking water, affordable services available to everyone, and being treated with dignity and respect; can we then say that, following the findings as illustrated in the primary and secondary research in the topic given above, Akwa Ibom State government is far from meeting its responsibility towards its citizens, when a good number of children are seen to be accused of witchcraft, stigmatized and abandoned in the streets of the city and in the villages? Such neglect of children has constituted a breach of the children’s rights, challenging the state government to enact the Child Rights Law for the protection of children in the state since December 2008.

At the presentation, critical reflection and analysis of the findings, the research surprisingly reveals a number of strategic efforts made by the state government to tackle the phenomenon of child-witchcraft accusations and child rights abuses. However, undue inconsistencies on the part of the duty bearers and constant changes within the government functionaries keep interfering with the plans, thereby leaving the children socially and culturally deprived and lacking access to such basic facilities as education, health services, food and shelter and very often the right to worship with others. As a result, the children are exposed to all forms of hazardous living and adult exploitation  They migrate to other cities outside the state in search of greener pasture, with the hope to hide their acquired identities. However, once they are discovered to be who they have been tagged, their sense of insecurity become escalated and they are immediately confronted with brutality, further exclusion, illnesses, early pregnancy for girls and early death.

An analysis of a creative workshop with the children uncovers such painful experiences as illustrated in the problem tree, leaving much to be desired as the state struggles to tackle the situation of child-witchcraft accusations and child rights abuses. In conclusion, I offer some recommendations which in my opinion can lead to a consolidated intervention that can influence the development of the children in a positive way. Such recommendations seems to agree with Mayor (1979, p. 76) who suggest that “local strategies need to be developed within the framework of alternative development strategies at regional, national and international levels to include training and educational programmes that can support local and regional development policies”.

 

Franca Edet (2011)

 

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