There is a growing concern over witchcraft allegations against women and children that is said to be fuelling human trafficking in Africa. In 2009, the Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRCee) acknowledged the fact that violence against children accused of witchcraft was increasing.
According to the International NGO Save the Children, children accused of witchcraft do not fit one single profile. Some are targeted because they are physically “different” – such as persons with disabilities or albinos or because they are “difficult” undisciplined or rowdy children.
“Children are isolated or even rejected from their family and community, they end up living on the streets, becoming victims of different forms of trafficking, suffering from physical and mental health problems and trauma due to the abuses they have experienced,” said UN Special Rapporteur Phillip Alston.
The situation is no different in South Africa, where there have been multiple cases of “muti-killings” cases where victims are trafficked and killed for their body parts.
Two men were arrested after they killed and beheaded an intellectually impaired victim with a bush knife. The men allegedly lured the victim into dense bushes, killed her, and then took her cell phone, clothing, and sneakers.
Investigations led detectives to where the buried head was recovered. It was placed in several plastic shopping bags and was in an advanced state of decomposition. A third suspect, a security guard, was also arrested after he led the police to another part of the bushes and pointed out the headless body of a woman.
About 2000 widows accused of witchcraft are banished from their communities in Ghana, they are then forced to live in witch camps, which are spread across the country. While a plan was created by the Ghanaian government to shut the camps, activists expressed fears that the communities would refuse to reaccept the women. The government has since halted its plans to shut the camps, as many of the accused witches fear returning to the communities that sent them away.
Another concerning trend that has been linked to the prevalence of human trafficking is the practice of Juju (a spiritual belief system incorporating objects, such as amulets, and spells used in religious practice, as part of witchcraft in West Africa).
According to the Nigerian National Agency for Prohibition of Traffic in Persons (NAPTIP), cultural beliefs have been twisted to ensnare hundreds of victims, noting that 90% of girls from Delta and Edo states sent into slavery in Europe had undertaken “secrecy oaths” with the idea that the rituals would help protect them on their journey.
Recently, the country’s anti-trafficking agency jailed three family members for forcing a teenager into prostitution in Russia. The victim was 19 when she was approached by the traffickers in 2012, NAPTIP said. They arranged her travel documents and said she would work in a hair salon in Russia.
The mother, Helen Ehiozee, collected nail clippings and hair from the victim as part of a “juju” ritual that made her believe she would be cursed if she fled. Once in Russia, the victim was told she owed $45 000 (about R680 000) and forced to sell sex to clear the debt.
The victim paid off her debt after several years and returned to Nigeria, where her testimony helped police identify the traffickers, the agency said. A NAPTIP prosecutor said this week’s sentencing was “significant” and the most severe jail term she could recall.
“Human trafficking is becoming endemic to society. (Judges) don’t really see the need to punish people (traffickers), they just say let them pay,” the prosecutor said.