Wednesday 18th May was the official launch of the Prevent Abuse of Children Today (PACT) campaign. Stepping Stones Nigeria, the children's right charity has created the PACT campaign in coalition with other child rights organisations in order to protect the rights of children that are accused of being so called 'Witch Children' and those children which subsequently suffer further abuse such as trafficking and homelessness in the Niger Delta region.
The launch was marked with an event held at the Amnesty International Human Rights Action Centre attended by notable speakers including representatives from other children’s rights charities and the chairman of the Central Association of Nigerians in the UK (CANUK), along with other participants.
The aim of the PACT campaign is to provide a voice and a change in the lives of children which have their rights violated due to trafficking and abuse through child-witch branding. It is hoped that through the coalition of NGOs and supporters there will be an application of pressure on leaders in countries such as Nigeria to take steps and to act on the concerns of the coalition.
The event was opened by Lynda Battarbee, the campaigns officer for Stepping Stones Nigeria. We heard about the origins of Stepping Stones Nigeria and the reasons behind why the charity was set up and exists to protect the rights of the vulnerable children that have been abused by being branded as witch children by members of their communities and religious figures normally belonging to small churches with no accountability system in place. Once a child has been branded a witch, they often suffer physical abuse such as beatings and horrific circumstances in which children are burned with acid being poured onto them, all of this inflicted by close family members, those that are supposed to do their upmost to protect the child. The situation has been known of for some years, yet the problem continues to this day.
Lynda outlined the various initiatives that the charity has enlisted in order to combat the problem within the region. Some of these include educational tools such as a Nollywood film, The Fake Prophet and a children’s book titled Eno’s Story, and working with local churches all in order to aid and educate on the issue of child witchcraft.
The PACT coalition is made up of new, small NGO’s including those from within the Niger Delta region itself which are working with very limited finances and resources. The aim is to work on a grassroots level with local communities to discuss around the topic of child witchcraft.
A member of the PACT coalition is the Bethany Children's Trust (BCT). The director of BCT, Susie Howe was at the event to talk about the work of the organisation. The BCT has been working with children in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), a country with many humanitarian problems for many years which have effected the lives of thousands of children as a result. Susie explained that any child in the DRC perceived to be "out of the norm" or there is a family tragedy then the children are perceived as being the cause and accused of being witches. These children are often forced out of their homes onto the street in complete poverty and can easily exploited. We were informed of the great work that the Bethany Children's Trust has been doing. Including advocacy and lobbying the government of the DRC to improve the level of child protection in the country. Raising awareness in the country and providing counselling for traumatised children to help them come to terms with their experiences.
Another charity ECPAT UK, which stands for End Child Prostitution, Pornography and Trafficking was represented by Debbie Beadle to talk about the work being done for child trafficking victims in Nigeria and the UK. ECPAT also provides counselling for the child victims to help them through the effects of being trafficked as the impact on the child can be severe and they can feel like outcasts for a long period of time. ECPAT UK also conducts research around the issues of child witchcraft and its link with child trafficking as there has there has been little research on the connection between the two.
All of these charities are doing commendable work, employing creative and progressive methods to improve the situation for these very vulnerable children and we should do whatever is in our means to support their work and it turn do our part in protecting children’s rights.
There are ways in which we can assist, whoever we are and whatever we do for a living. In the first instance, we can all sign the PACT which acts as a petition, please follow this link: http://www.makeapact.org/ in order to sign the PACT online.
Others ways in which individuals or community groups can help is by writing letters, by joining the campaign mailing list and holding events to raise awareness.
If you are a part of a church or attend church, you can set up a church campaigning group and resources are available from Stepping Stones Nigeria to help do this. Also request for your church leader to speak out about the topic at sermons or across the media.
Schools can also take part by setting up campaigning groups and by introducing “Eno’s Story” which is available from Amazon.
If you are an academic you can assist by carrying out research on the issues raised by the PACT campaign, organise events/seminars and also join the Witchcraft and Human Rights Information Network (WHRIN), www.whrin.org.uk
I hope that this post has given a little insight into the problem of children being branded as witches and suffering abuse because of it and encouraged those that have read this to get involved with the PACT campaign. Please visit the website links provided for each of the charities to learn more about their work.
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