Thursday, May 21, 2009

Congolese Child "Witches"

Keeping with last week's theme of witchcraft persecutions, an alaming trend has recently been observed in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Children as young as seven years old are being accused of witchcraft by religious leaders and subjected to painful "exorcisms" - for a fee.

According to a United Nations report issued this year, a growing number of children in the Democratic Republic of Congo are being accused of witchcraft and subjected to violent exorcisms by religious leaders, in which they are often beaten, burned, starved and even murdered. The relatively new phenomenon has become one of the main causes in Central Africa for humanitarian groups, which are organizing programs to protect children's rights and educate pastors on the dangers of accusing children.

Magical powers take years if not decades to develop and rarely manifest before the onset of puberty. Aptitude alone doesn't make you a magician - it generally takes years of study and disciplined practice. The idea that a seven-year-old child could be an effective magician is pretty ridiculous, but pastors who claim to be speaking the words of the "Holy Spirit" as they accuse these unfortunate children tend to be believed nonetheless.

Standing before a wooden cross, Pastor Moise Tshombe, in a robe adorned with pictures of Jesus, went into a trance. Claiming to be speaking through the Holy Spirit, he declared, "These children are witches."

Moments later, with Isaac and Chanel by her side, the children's grandmother, Marie Nzenze, said she believed the charges. "God has spoken through the mouth of the prophet," she said. "God has not lied."

It should go without saying that this sort of faith is dangerous, especially to the children accused. God may not lie, but seven-year-olds also can't do magick. That suggests to me that the speaker is someone or something other than God - that is, unless it's just the voice of Tshombe himself out to make a buck.

The practice, which has also been reported in Nigeria and Angola, can be lucrative for the priests who perform them.

Pastor Tshombe charged Julie Moseka $50 to exorcise her emaciated daughter, Noella, 8. The average annual salary in Congo is $100.

That would be like me going to my neighbor and telling them they needed to pay me $20,000 because their kid is a witch. How do I know? Well, God told me, of course!

When asked whether he thinks Jesus would approve of what he's doing, Tshombe said, "Why wouldn't he be happy? I'm just using the gifts given to me by the Holy Spirit."

And Jesus wants you to be rich, right? Just like he wants televangelists to have fancy cars and vacation houses in the Bahamas. Because Jesus said time and again that it's the rich who will have the easiest time entering the Kingdom of Heaven. Oh, wait...

Even worse are the stories of those children whose families cannot afford the exorcisms. The stigma of being accused often results in them being thrown out onto the street where they live as best they can in extreme poverty.

Liana Bianchi, the administrative director for the humanitarian group Africare, says the trend is partly the result of decades of war and economic decline in the Congo. The non-profit group Save the Children estimates that 70% of the roughly 15,000 street children in Kinshasa, the capital, were kicked out of their homes after being accused of witchcraft.

This is truly a case where ignorance of how magick works can result in real human tragedy, especially if there are plenty of folks willing to exploit that ignorance for the sake of profit.

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