A report by Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN), says about 1,000 women and 700 children are living in "witches" camps in northern Ghana where they were forced to take refuge after their communities accused them of "witchcraft."
IRIN reports that in many African societies, there is a tendency to blame any pattern of unexplained misfortunes which befall a community on invisible and malicious forces embodied in the person of "witches" and "wizards." There is a tendency in male dominated societies for the victims of witchcraft accusation to be women and children — the most vulnerable members of society.
In recent years, attention of the world has been drawn to an increase in accusations of witchcraft targeted at children in some African countries, The Telegraph, in 2008, reported accusations of witchcraft targeted at children in Akwa Ibom State, southeast Nigeria. According to The Telegraph, the "child-witches" or "devil's children,"
"...are 'identified' by powerful religious leaders at extremist churches where Christianity and traditional beliefs have combined to produce a deep-rooted belief in, and fear of, witchcraft. The priests spread the message that child-witches bring destruction, disease and death to their families. And they say that, once possessed, children can cast spells and contaminate others. The [exorcism]ceremonies are highly lucrative for the spiritual leaders many of whom enjoy a lifestyle of large homes, expensive cars and designer clothes. Ten years ago there were few cases of children stigmatised by witchcraft. But since then the numbers have grown at an alarming rate and have reached an estimated 15,000 in Akwa Ibom state alone."BBC also reported that in 2008, police in southeast Nigeria arrested a man Sunday Ulup-Aya, who claimed he had killed 110 "child-witches." But after the police arrested him, he claimed he had only killed them "spiritually." According to the BBC,
"...children are frequently abandoned, hideously injured and even murdered because their families believe they are witches. Self-proclaimed 'pastors' extort money from families to exorcise the children, but none has been charged until now."
According to the IRIN report on Ghanaian "witches" living in exile, once an individual, especially an elderly woman, is accused of witchcraft, she is at risk of being lynched to death, usually by stoning. Children, on the other hand, as Nigerian cases show, tend to be subjected to trial by ordeal and abusive exorcism rituals by native priests.
According to IRIN, most of the persons living in the six "witches" camps in northern Ghana were brought there by embarrassed relatives wishing to be rid of family members accused of witchcraft, but unwilling to allow such family members subjected to violent treatment by the community.
According to Ghana's deputy minister for women and children's affairs Hajia Hawawu Boya Gariba, a few men accused of being "wizards" are also brought to the camp.
Relatives of Ghanaian "witches" abandon them in the remote camps with poor facilities and limited access to basic needs such as food, water, electricity and medical care, and the children stop attending school.
IRIN notes that the camps, which now rely on NGOs for funding, are not new. They have existed for a long time. The attention of the Ghanaian government is now being drawn to these camps with the recent media publicity they have received. Hajia Hawawu Boya Gariba, deputy minister for women and children's affairs, frankly admits the government's perspective on existence of the camps:
“As a government we are embarrassed that we have these camps in our country — especially as our human rights record will be scrutinized as far as this is concerned."
Gariba says the government with the help of National Disaster Management Organization (NADMO), is trying to improve living conditions for inmates of the camp. She emphasizes, however, that the long term aim of government is to resettle the refugees in their communities and shut down the camp. The Christian Science Monitor also reports that Ghana plans to abolish the refugee camps. Hajia Hawawu Boya Gariba, says,
“This practice has become an indictment on the conscience of our society...The labeling of some of our kinsmen and women as witches and wizards and banishing them into camps where they live in inhuman and deplorable conditions is a violation of their fundamental human rights.”
Ms. Gariba explained that the government may consider a legislation to make it illegal for anyone to accuse another of witchcraft, but says it is also important for people to be educated to make them understand that accusations of witchcraft are false.
But concerning the proposal to return the witches to their native communities, chief psychiatrist in Ghana's national health service, Akwasi Osei, according to IRIN says,
“Right now if you [repatriate accused witches] you can be sure they will be lynched when they go back home...You have to prepare [their] society and help them understand that it’s not these women who were the causes of [misfortune].”
IRIN, according to Wikipedia.org, is a new agency which focuses on humanitarian stories in regions that are under-reported.