Leo Igwe, IHEU Representative for Southern and Western Africa, has led a rescue of two children accused of witchcraft. The children, who were living with a member of a family known for trafficking children, were rescued on February 11 and handed over to the local authority who will now care for them. Every year in the Nigerian state of Akwa Ibom, thousands of children are accused of witchcraft, and then abused, abandoned or ejected from their homes. These children are forced to live on the streets, or abandoned buildings, and are often trafficked for sex or slave labour.
Leo Igwe is working throughout Africa to combat human rights abuses caused by belief in sorcery and superstition. With IHEU, Igwe has raised these issues at the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) and at the United Nations Human Rights Council, as well as at the state and federal level.
In 2008, the government of Akwa Ibom enacted a child rights law which prohibits the abuse or abandonment of children in the name of witchcraft. Unfortunately the state has not recorded any successful prosecutions to date.
Leo Igwe sent the following report about his latest rescue:
“On February 11, 2011 I led a team of child rights activists and a police officer who rescued two infants—Freedom Peter Okoro-Oko (8) and Anietie Mfon Ime Etuk (10) following a tip off from our local contacts in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State. The kids were leaving in a shanty buiding with an old man, Asuquo Akpan Ukpong, whose family members—according to local sources—trafficked children.
“Freedom and Anietie were accused of witchcraft and then abandoned by their families. They were living in the local market square before they were ‘picked up’ by Mr Asuquo who used them as child labourers. (Asuquo, we were told, used to send children to work in for him his farm. They were peeling cassave at the time our team arrived.) Sources in the community said the children could disappear any moment because Asuquo’s family members were into human trafficking and had targeted child witch victims in the community. At the local police station, officers confirmed that two members of Asuquo’s family had, in the past, been arrested for human trafficking.
“I made a report at the station and later handed over the two children to Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Welfare iin Uyo for proper care and other necessary investigations.”