Advocacy statements

Harmful witchcraft beliefs and practices

  • Date / 2018
  • Location / India
  • Relevant Institution / UN Human Rights Council
  • UN Item / Item 8: Follow-up and implementation of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action


International Humanist and Ethical Union

UN Human Rights Council, 39th Session (10th – 28th September 2018)

General Debate on Item 8

There is a growing crisis in human rights taking place around the world related to harmful witchcraft beliefs and practices.[1]

Witchcraft related abuses occur on a worldwide scale, with highest prevalence in India, Nigeria, Zimbabwe and South Africa. In 2016, a total of 398 reports were documented from 49 countries. These included 216 witchcraft accusations, 102 murders for body parts, and 35 human sacrifices.[2]

New technologies, such as social media, enable the easy spread of superstitions and rumours, causing even more and sudden attacks on alleged “witches”. The popularity of churches that preach about sorcery contributes to the rise of witchcraft related abuses.[3] Offers of deliverance services and exorcism practices are lucrative businesses.[4]

Those most affected by witchcraft related abuse belong to vulnerable or marginalised groups such as women, children or people with disabilities. They are used by their communities as easy scapegoats for all kinds of problems including illnesses, misfortunes or poverty.[5]

Article 38 of the Vienna Declaration stresses the need to eradicate “any conflicts which may arise between the rights of women and the harmful effects of certain traditional or customary practices, cultural prejudices and religious extremism.”

To live up to the commitments made in Vienna 25 years ago, we urge all Council members to increase their efforts to deal with witchcraft related abuses. We recommend bolstering legal measures with education and training initiatives as well as the necessary cultural and social changes in order to tackle the consequences of witchcraft accusations effectively and sustainably.


[1] http://www.whrin.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/2017-UNREPORT-final.pdf

[2] http://www.whrin.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/2017-UNREPORT-final.pdf

[3] http://saharareporters.com/2017/02/04/churches-and-hunting-witches-christian-africa-leo-igwe


Secker, E. (2013). Witchcraft stigmatization in Nigeria: Challenges and successes in the implementation of child rights. International Social Work, 56(1), 24;26.

[4] http://edition.cnn.com/2010/WORLD/africa/08/25/nigeria.child.witches/index.html

[5] Chaudhuri, S. (2012). Women as easy scapegoats: Witchcraft accusations and women as targets in tea plantations of India. Violence against women, 18(10), 1213-1234.

Suggested academic reference

'Harmful witchcraft beliefs and practices', Humanists International

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