With the support of Humanistisk Aksjon for Menneskerettigheter i Utviklingsland (HAMU) the Human-Etisk Forbund (HEF) the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU), ChildRights and Rehabilitiation Network and Stepping Stones Nigeria, The Young Humanistas Network, has been working hard to spread the ideals of secularism and promote gender, sexual and religious equality and protect the rights of children in Nigeria since 2004.
Among their many campaigns, YHA initiated the Humanist Against Witch-Killing and Stigmatization (HAWK) project in 2008 as an intervention project to combat the alarming rise of witch-labelling of women and children in Nigeria and West Africa. There are an estimated 10,000 children in the Akwa Ibom state of Nigeria alone accused of being witches. Stepping Stone Nigeria report that these children can be ostracised from the community, slaughtered in the forest, publically disgraced and murdered, bathed in acid, poisoned to death or buried alive or chained and tortured in churches in order to extract confession.
You can read the YHN’s 2011 report on the Child-“Witches” Rights Project here, and although it hasn’t been updated for a while, the HAWK blog charts the project's progress and activities, including parlays with influential local pastors, fact-finding missions and the protection of vulnerable children expelled from their communities after being accused of witchcraft.
Here’s Dispatches documentary on the problem, first aired in the UK in 2009 about the growing problem.
Notorious preacher Helen Ukpabio is responsible for the appalling and influential video End of the Wicked, used by many pastors to convince people that child witches are real, and is one of the chief instigators in the rise in abuse of children and witch-labelling. Earlier this year the
New Humanist reported on Ukpabio taking her promises of (among other things) helping people ‘Under witchcraft attack or oppression’ or ‘Possessed by mermaid spirit or other evil spirits’, to the US.
Abuse of children labelled as witches is not just confined to Nigeria or West Africa, as Okpabio's expansion into Nigeria shows. In a recent article in the New Humanist Sarah Ditum highlighted the presence of the problem in African and Asian migrant communities in Britain, too, brought to the fore with the horrific murder of 15-year-old Kristy Bamu, and the important work of Africa Unite Against Child Abuse.
For those interested in reading more about this horrific practice, a 2010 report by Unicef outlines the causes and impacts in detail , and Stepping Stones Nigeria have collated corroborated publications and research of child witch persecution.
It was in aid of the HAWK project that HAMU, in collaboration with the Radar Ungdomscafé og Scene at the Asker Kulturhus, organised a concert last Wednesday, teenage artists from the local community played to raise money and awareness of the Young Humanistas Network and their fantastic and crucial work. All the proceeds from the 100kr tickets, sale of homemade chocolate cakes, lemonade and a raffle with prizes from local companies all went straight to HAMU.
Nearly all of the performers with HEF confirmants, and they were some of the most talented teenagers I have ever had the privilege to see live. Here's the full line-up.
- Dismissed (Konfirmant)
- Burning Lighthouse
- Snorre Moltzau
- Ole Gromm
- Høne Pøne
- Buddha Avenue
- The Modern Project
- Egil Olsen
- Kid Astray
- Eskil Dante
- Sara AJ
There were sweet-voiced female soloists like Sara AJ, performing Bob Marley’s Redemption Song (below), joyous pop from a Flaming Lips-esque ensemble (Kid Astray), a dance troupe, a keyboard soloist with such a soulful voice he sounded thrice as old as his youthful years (Eskil Dante), a wonderfully crafted song about the joys of working with children in a kindergarten (Snorre Moltzau), and an industrial post-rock trio (Burning Lighthouse), whose melodic racket nearly brought the whole Kulturhus crashing to its foundations.
The word eclectic doesn’t do any justice to the range of music on show.
The definite highlight of the evening, however, was Margrete, who wrote a song especially for the concert called We Are Not Witches. I grabbed a recording of it and have listened to it on loop since. I can’t quite fathom the talent it takes to write such as throught-provoking, socially conscious song, not just at such a young age but in a second langauge, too.
The concert was a great showcase for the talented kids from Asker, but more importantly, it was a great example of how young people can use their talents to support great causes and help others their age, who, because of the superstitions and irrational practices of their parents, church leaders and communities, suffer a terrible fate.
- My People! My People!! This Witch Hunting Must Stop - Leo Igwe - Sahara Reporters (richarddawkins.net)