Children as the ‘New’ African Witches
: Abused by their Mothers and Female Guardians

  • Chima Agazue

Student thesis: Master's Thesis


The thesis explored the phenomenon of the ‘child witch’, that is, children who are labelled as witches, abused and killed in contemporary Africa. The focus was on female carers as perpetrators. The study adopted the qualitative research paradigm. The aim was to gain insights into why the women believed that children under their care were witches, the factors contributing to the belief and why the women chose to abuse the children as the solution to the witchcraft problems. Primary and secondary data were adopted. Primary data were gathered via semi-structured interviews while secondary data were collected via reports by the media and relevant non-governmental organisations (NGOs). The interviews were conducted on eleven staff members of the Child Rights and Rehabilitation Network (CRARN) in Akwa Ibom State of Nigeria. Reports by two NGOs and eight media organisations on the contemporary African child witches were analysed. These secondary reports were drawn on to gain insights into the patterns of the abuses by women in other parts of Africa since the interviews were conducted in Nigeria only. These reports concur with the claims by the interviewees.

The data were analysed by means of thematic analysis. This study found that a number of factors were responsible for the belief in child witches held by the women and the abuses committed by the women. These factors were presented and discussed under five principal themes, which are, movies, religion, ignorance, adversity and inconvenience. The theme ‘movies’ explored how home movies depicting children as witches were produced and used as a powerful evangelical tool by the leaders of the African revivalist neo-Pentecostal churches to convince parents that children are witches and wreak havoc in families and communities. The theme ‘religion’ explored how commercialisation and proliferation of religious houses in the continent of Africa promote child witch hunt due to an over-emphasis on witches as the root cause of misfortunes in families by the
leaders of the revivalist neo-Pentecostal and syncretic churches, including African traditional priests. The theme ‘ignorance’ explored how poor knowledge of medical and psychological conditions as well as aberrant behaviours and giftedness in children pave way for the labelling and abuse. The theme ‘adversity’ discussed how misfortunes in the family, such as serious illnesses and deaths are attributed to children as witches, who are consequently abused. The theme ‘inconvenience’ explored how women who consider children as sources of inconvenience or discomfort exploited this new belief to abuse the unwanted children. Recommendations were made for further studies considering the limitations of this current study as well as how to effectively address this social problem.
Date of Award2023
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorHelen Gavin (Co-Supervisor)

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