From brewing potions and watching pictures come alive before your eyes, to learning spells to protect yourself against all enemies, being a witch seems to be as exciting and enchanting as the Harry Potter books promise through the young hero's trials and tribulations as he saves the world from evil. But in reality, or at least the Mugglereality as we know it, witchcraft is far less glamorous, and those accused of dabbling in the occult are shunned from society and become extremely vulnerable to traffickers because of the demonic powers they supposedly possess. The trafficking of children accused of being witches is a growing, but infrequently discussed, problem in Africa. When children are accused of being witches, they are beaten, abused, and sometimes even killed in exorcism rituals as family and community members try to force the demons out of their souls. In some instances, these children are forced to sit on open fires or have nails hammered into their skulls. They are pushed out onto the streets, away from their families, with no place to turn, and fall into the hands of traffickers looking to exploit their vulnerability.
In early April, a pastor in Nigeria was arrested for trafficking and exploiting 23 children between the ages of five and 20. Pastor Bawa Madaki claimed to be following the word of the Lord, saving these children from witchcraft at the behest of their families. He forced them to work in unbearably hot restaurant kitchens and demanded they turn over all of their minimal earnings at the end of each week before prayer time. But I wonder, is the exploitation of young children really redemption from the evil they supposedly possess, and is doing this really acting in the name of God? Luckily, Nigerian authorities didn’t think so and promptly put Pastor Madaki under arrest upon the completion of an investigation into his actions.
Independent organizations are also joining the fight to protect these vulnerable kids. Recently, the women’s branch of the Oron Union, a united organization of people living along the western banks of the Cross River in Nigeria, have vowed to sponsor a bill in the House of Assembly targeting churches and pastors that falsely label children as witches and extort money from their parents for exorcism rituals, or urge families to abandon their young loved ones, leaving them vulnerable to the abundant traffickers in the region. It’s inspiring to see groups taking action against trafficking and exploitation in parts of the world where we don’t often see such initiatives.
We now see that being accused of witchcraft is more reminiscent of the Salem Witch Trials back in 1692, when many community members were tortured and murdered for their supposed association with the devil, than the indulgent tales of a young Harry Potter on his quest to save humanity. Though we are still free to romanticize the fictional world of witchcraft, we must not forget that the reality is much darker and scarier, and young kids are losing their lives and their freedom for the benefit of others.