(formerly IRIN News) Journalism from the heart of crises

Children victims of witchcraft accusations

[Angola] Accused of being a sorcerer, Manus was thrown out of his sister's home where he had been living since the death of his parents.

In some areas of Angola the belief in witchcraft is strong, and an accusation of sorcery can lead to violent and sometimes lethal retribution by the community.

In M'Banza Congo, the provincial capital of Zaire in northern Angola, at least 23 young boys are forced to live in an orphanage run by the Catholic Church. They were thrown out of their homes for allegedly possessing supernatural powers.

"My parents died during the war. I moved to my sister's for a while, but they did not want me to stay there. They threw me out on the street. I lived there a long time before I came here," 12-year-old Manus told IRIN.

He did not want to say why he was forced onto the streets, but he knows that he and the other boys in the orphanage are accused of being "wizards".

Several of the boys, like Manus, slept rough at the market or in derelict houses before being collected by the orphanage. Most of them had also been abandoned by relatives after their parents died.

Manus would like to stay with his extended family but, as that is impossible, he thinks the orphanage is a good substitute, and has been living there for the past three years. "I like the place. The other boys are nice - I have many friends here."

They go to a local school and have also found friends there, with some visiting the orphanage after school to play football. But, according to Manus, "some people think I am a wizard - they think I have powers. They do not say much, but I know that they think."

The accusation can be a convenient explanation for misfortune. "If someone dies or gets ill it is easy to accuse witches. It is even easier to accuse children, because they cannot defend themselves," an aid worker helping the children told IRIN.

"These kids are disowned by society and will continue to be so throughout their life. Most of them were beaten when they still lived with their families. At least two children were killed last year," the aid worker said.

The difficulty of feeding yet another mouth in extended households already burdened by shortages can be enough of an incentive for children to be labelled sorcerers and thrown out of the house, a tragedy that befalls boys in particular.

"Girls can often stay – they can work with the household. But the boys are left on their own. Their only chance to have a normal life is to live with a family, and that is not possible," noted the aid worker.

The subject of witchcraft is a sensitive one, and many are reluctant to speak freely about it. But the NGO, Save the Children, has held workshops in M'Banza Congo to help change attitudes, and to inform participants about basic child psychology.

According to the NGO, a child's behaviour can lead to them being branded as witches or sorcerers. Being too loud or energetic is seen as abnormal, and can be viewed as a sign of a child possessing supernatural powers.

Manus says he wants to become a priest. He was speaking quietly about the church and God, sitting on his bed in the room he shares with the other boys. "I know in my heart that I am not a wizard. God has told me that I am not."

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