Humanists in Malawi have launched a new report on violence and other forms of persecution prompted by witchcraft accusations, and a government spokesperson has already agreed that the report’s recommendations must be implemented.
The report, entitled The Extent of the Witchcraft-based violence towards Children, Woman and the Elderly, was launched on 20 July 2012 in Lilongwe, Malawi, by the Association of Secular Humanists (ASH), a member of the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU).
Speaking at the launch, George Mkondiwa, Principle Secretary for Disability and Elderly Affairs, expressed that the government shared “great concern” over violence rising from superstitious beliefs. He said, “Unfortunately, traditional leaders are at the center of most witchcraft allegations in the society by bringing in witchdoctors to exorcise those suspected of practicing.
“In most cases, victims end up losing their property and abused in various ways. We therefore, urge the community to report such issues to responsible authorities like the police so that victimization can be stopped,” he said. Mkondiwa said that more research is needed, but government will take up the recommendations of the ASH study.
The research was supported by the Norwegian Embassy in Malawi after ASH expressed concerns over violence and other human rights violations stemming from witchcraft accusations. The Embassy funded the research in order to provide data which might corroborate anecdotal evidence. The research was carried out by ASH and the Sociology Department at Chancellor College.
The Norwegian Ambassador to Malawi, Asbjørn Eidhammer, thanked ASH for raising the issue of witchcraft-based violence and said that the issue must be discussed in society and among policy makers. The Ambassador commended ASH Executive Director George Thindwa and the association, and said, “The issue of human rights is at stake here. Victims of witchcraft are being abused in many ways… physically, psychologically, social and economically. It is therefore, our moral obligation to support them.”
For ASH, George Thindwa said, “While traditions are important, not all traditions are good. Some traditions should give way to enlightenment. The issue of witchcraft should be seen in the context of human rights. Physical attacks, threats, property grabbing and destruction of property, unlawful imprisonment and in the worst cases, murders, are grave human rights violations. ASH calls for a moral obligation to protect people, whether they are women, men or boys or girls, from such abuses.
“ASH will be looking for support to undertake further national projects to sensitise Malawians on existing legislation, which already makes witchcraft accusations illegal, so that witchcraft-based violence towards children, women and the elderly is eradicated in Malawi.”
Sonja Eggerickx, President of the International Humanist and Ethical Union, said, “This is an excellent example of international cooperation and we thank the Norwegian Embassy for their support of this project. Humanists prefer rational, evidence-based approaches to public policy, which is enabled by research like this. The Witchcraft report has direct implications for human rights work in the field, for broader public education, and for the pursuit of justice in Malawi.”
The Report was conducted in 8 districts across Malawi, namely Karonga and Mzimba in the Northern Region, Ntchisi and Dedza in the Central Region, and Machinga, Thyolo, Blantyre City, and Mwanza in the Southern Region. Data was collected through a document review, a household survey, key informant interviews, and focus group discussions (FGDs). Data collection tools namely a household questionnaire, a key informant interview guide, and an FGD guide were pre-tested.