Following a visit by its Director, Gary Foxcroft, to the Divine Children’s Centre in Uyo, Stepping Stones Nigeria (SSN) has applauded Ekaette Akpabio, the wife of the Governor of Akwa Ibom State, and her NGO, Family Life Enhancement Initiative (FLEI) on the role they played in providing care to the abandoned children in the state.
The children’s centre, which was established in 2011, currently shelters over 200 children who were labelled witches and wizards by their parents and who were previously sheltered at the Child Rights and Rehabilitation Network (CRARN) centre in Eket.
Speaking to the media after his visit to Nigeria, Mr. Foxcroft said that he was delighted to see “the high levels of care and support” being provided to the children by Mrs. Akpabio.
“The children were clearly being well cared for, with many of the older children being trained in vocational skills or attending private boarding schools.
“Previously ill and sickly children that we have known for over 5 years were now healthy and happy,” said Mr. Foxcroft.
“It was truly a joy to see them receiving the levels of care that they so richly deserve and the great progress that they had made,” Mr. Foxcroft added.
The five-year partnership between CRARN and Stepping Stones Nigeria ensured that CRARN had sufficient funds to meet the cost of running the centre and providing care for the children.
At the end of the partnership in February last year, CRARN were no longer able to meet the basic needs of the children.
SSN said that the action taken by the Akwa Ibom State government and FLEI to provide the children with alternative accommodation is an excellent example of the type of intervention it had been campaigning for.
“It complements other child rights initiatives in Akwa Ibom state including the establishment of UNICEF-supported Child Protection Network (CPN) in 2011 and the enactment of the Child Rights Act by the Akwa Ibom State government,” said Mr. Foxcroft.
The Akwa Ibom Child Rights Act criminalises the act of branding children as witches.
This two-pronged approach, according to SSN, of social welfare support for vulnerable children and legal redress for those children whose rights have been violated will bring a lasting change to the lives of hundreds of children in the state.
There have been no successful convictions to date of anyone charged with child witchcraft accusations.
SSN say they, with other child rights experts, are “well positioned” to provide support to the state government in order to sensitise judges, lawyers, police, pastors and community members about the Act in order to increase prosecutions.
“We are confident that an effective working relationship between Stepping Stones Nigeria and the state government, particularly the Ministry for Women’s Affairs, will help bring an end to the stigmatisation and abuse of Akwa Ibom’s children,” Mr. Foxcroft said.