Two Child Rights non-governmental organisations, Stepping Stones Nigeria and Stepping Stones Nigeria Child Empowerment Foundation have called upon the Nigerian government to take actions to demystify the common ailments that are associated with witchcraft and prevent the labelling of children with disabilities as ‘witches’.
In a statement released in Lagos ahead of this year’s Day of the African Child on June 16, and signed by Emilie Secker; Stepping Stones Nigeria’s Advocacy Officer, the groups said there is an urgent need for the Nigerian Federal and State governments to raise awareness about the nature of physical and mental disabilities and to combat the belief that these are evidence of witchcraft in children.
This year’s theme focuses on the rights of children with disabilities.
Utibe Ikot, the Acting Director of Stepping Stones Nigeria Child Empowerment Foundation, said that it is vital to challenge the belief that physical and mental disability is a sign of witchcraft.
“I am very sad to report that we have seen many cases where a child with a disability, for example autism, epilepsy, or Down’s syndrome is automatically considered to be a witch due to their condition,” Mr. Ikot said.
“The behaviour traits that children with disabilities may have, such as stubbornness and poor school performance, or simply looking different to other children, mean that people looking for an explanation often label them as witches.
“Instead of the child getting the support and care they so richly deserve, they are often hidden from view, prevented from attending school, or in the worst cases beaten, tortured and abandoned to survive on the streets,” Mr. Ikot lamented.
Ms. Secker, the Stepping Stones Nigeria’s Advocacy Officer, explained that there is a “huge” lack of understanding of disability around the world.
As a result, according to her, disabled children do not get the understanding and support that they need.
“It is vital that the Nigerian government acts now to educate the public about the nature of disability and to make sure that people understand it properly,” said Ms. Secker.
“The government should set up public awareness campaigns across the country and should also train police and social welfare teams to look out for cases of abuse involving disabled children who have been accused of witchcraft.
“As a party to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Nigeria has a legal and moral responsibility to uphold the rights of children with disabilities and to protect them from harm,” Ms. Secker said.