BLANTYRE — Faith and human rights organizations in the Southern African country of Malawi have joined hands to fight the practice of witchcraft which has become rampant across the country, especially now that witches are imparting their sorcery skills to innocent children.“Witchcraft has reached alarming proportions here. It really requires prompt multisectoral action,” Margret Ali, the executive director of Save the Children Malawi, told Islamonline.net.
She wondered what legacy would this generation pass on to the next if the matter is left unattended.
Children are prone to being taught witchcraft against their will because of their innocence and ignorance which make them take action such as ritual killing of relations without question.
Many children have, in a rare moment of surprise, revealed to have killed relations through witchcraft.
All over the country, witches have been caught red handed.
They are normally undressed, wearing a strange face, with talisman on their necks.
In February of this year, eight children told their parents that some two women were teaching them witchcraft in the Malawi’s central region district of Ntcheu.
The women were arrested, but later released on bail despite having pleaded guilty to the charges.
Even if taken to court, the matter is treated as a misdemeanor, attracting a small sentence.
Documents sourced from the Blantyre Child Justice Court and Police Public Relations Office suggest that over 200 witchcraft-related cases were reported country-wide.
Witches put spell on people causing strange illnesses, or sometimes death for rituals, out of envy or just for fun.
Children manipulated into practicing witchcraft are usually cast away from family and society, and sometimes even killed.
“We are chased from home and ostracized in the communities,” a child who can only be identified as Tiyanjane, 12, told IOL.
“Sometimes we are beaten up for revealing that we killed our relatives,” he added.
Worse than Tiyanjane’s experience, two years ago two minors were killed by their parents as they tried to exorcise them in Manase Township on the outskirts of the commercial capital Blantyre.
Court records also indicate a case of a 12-year old boy who was abandoned by his parents because he was accused of witchcraft.
The parents are reported to have divorced and left the boy with no one to take care of, only to be referred to a reformatory center.
At a consultative meeting on witchcraft and children held on 22 February in Blantyre, exorcised victims told the gathering about their experiences.
Also, paraded at the meeting were two boys who were living in fear after they refused to kill their guardians as demanded by the woman who taught them witchcraft.
The first boy, 12, said he refused to kill his sister and the other, 11, refused to kill his mother, whom he had bewitched.
The number of children revealing to have been taught witchcraft continues to grow since the establishment of Victim Support Units at police stations across the country and child justice court system.
The witchcraft problem has not only affected children.
Teachers now refuse to be posted to rural areas or areas where witchcraft practice is known to be rampant for fear of the lives.
Faith groups, the judiciary, government departments, police, the council of traditional healers and orphans and vulnerable children care givers have teamed up to lobby the government to rescue and protect innocent children from potential harm associated with witchcraft.
Like many other existing laws, the witchcraft legislation was enacted under the British colonial rulers in 1901 and does not recognize the existence of witchcraft.
“It’s unfortunate that instead of punishing the witches, the existing laws protect them,” said Emmie Chanika a human rights activist.
“This is a mockery and this piece of legislation should be reviewed to suite the current situation,” he added.
Human rights bodies have called on the National Assembly to consider the amending of the law as a high priority and an urgent matter.
A national children’s parliament held on February 26-28 addressed the issue of witchcraft, with a unanimous vote for new legislation that would spell stiffer punishment for people found guilty of teaching witchcraft.
“Death caused by witchcraft is the same, or even worse than that cause by murder or manslaughter,” one child MP said during the deliberations.
“So why protecting the witches?”
Ali, the executive director of Save the Children Malawi, said that while the issue of witchcraft is critical, there is a great need to sanitize the nation of witchcraft.
“Witchcraft is a spiritual and mysterious in nature and we need the religious sector to take a leading role in addressing the problem,” she insisted.
“While trying to find lasting solutions to the problem, we can not rule the need to embrace a multisectoral approach to overcome the challenges we are facing.”
Sheikh Muhammad Silika, a renowned Malawian Muslim scholar, agrees.
“The faith community can indeed do a lot to address this problem. We can not be indifferent to such an issue,” he told IOL.
Silika of the Blantyre Islamic Mission added that the best manner was to instill a sense of belief in one God, the Creator.
“Witchcraft is like a seed. As a seed grows well in an enabling environment where there is sufficient water, light and carbon dioxide among others, witchcraft also thrives where there is over-indulgence in evil,” he maintained.
“People need to start fearing Allah and abide by his laws if we are to make progress on this issue.”
According to official statistics, Muslims constitute 12 percent of the country’s estimated 12 million people, but the umbrella Muslim Association of Malawi (MAM) puts the rate at 36.
Islam is the second largest religion after Christianity.
There are also minority faiths like traditionalists (animists), the Bahai, Buddhists, Rastafarians and Hindus.