More and more children in Nigeria are being accused of witchcraft by church leaders out to make money, and then tortured or killed, often by family. Church leaders were involved in half of 200 cases of ‘witch children’ and 13 churches were named in the case files, the Associated Press news agency said. "It is an outrage what they are allowing to take place in the name of Christianity," said Gary Foxcroft, head of children’s charity, Stepping Stones Nigeria.
The idea of witchcraft has taken on new life recently partly because of a growth in evangelical Christianity.
Campaigners say about 15,000 children have been accused in two of Nigeria's 36 states over the past decade and about 1,000 have been murdered. In the past month alone, three Nigerian children accused of witchcraft were killed and another three were set on fire. The families of these children are often extremely poor, and sometimes even relieved to have one less mouth to feed, said Martin Dawes, a spokesman for the United Nations Children's Fund. Eight out of 10 Nigerians struggle by on less than $2 a day. "When communities come under pressure, they look for scapegoats," he said. "It plays into traditional beliefs that someone is responsible for a negative change ... and children are defenceless."
It is the most vulnerable children — the orphaned, sick, disabled or poor — who are most often singled out, said Sam Itauma of the Children's Rights and Rehabilitation Network said. "Even churches who didn't use to 'find' child witches are being forced into it by the competition," said Itauma, whose organisation runs a home for the scores of child victims. "They are seen as powerful because they can detect witchcraft and the parents may even pay them money for an exorcism." Just mentioning the name of a church is enough to children at the home. "Please stop the pastors who hurt us," said Jerry quietly, touching the scars on his face. "I believe in God and God knows I am not a witch."The United Nations Children's Fund says tens of thousands of children have been targeted throughout Africa.