On January 11, 2011, I led a team of police officers who rescued an 8 year old girl, Esther Obot Moses in remote village, Nsit Ubium, in Akwa Ibom State in Southern Nigeria. Esther, according to locals was accused of witchcraft and abandoned by her family.
She was sleeping in the local market till a 40 year old man, Okokon, ‘kidnapped’ her. Police arrested Okokon who is believed to have some mental problems. He has been living with Esther in his shanty building since last year and raped her several times.
Both Okokon and Esther made statements at the police station at Nsit Ubium. Esther was later taken to Uyo and handed over to the Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Welfare after receiving some treatment for malaria at a local children’s hospital.
Every year, thousands of children are accused of witchcraft, and then abused, abandoned or exiled from their homes by family and community members in Akwa Ibom state. These children are forced to roam or live on the streets, markets, public or abandoned buildings. Others are trafficked by unscrupulous persons.
In 2008, the government of Akwa Ibom enacted the child rights law which prohibits the abuse or abandonment of children in the name of witchcraft. Unfortunately the state has not recorded any successful prosecution to date.
Editor’s note: Leo Igwe is IHEU Representative for Southern and Western Africa. Immediately after completing his rescue of Esther, Leo was arrested by police, imprisoned overnight, beaten and mistreated. Leo’s report of his experiences can be read here: https://humanists.international/iheu-representative-leo-igwe-jailed-and-beaten-human-rights-work