Children Falsely Branded by Witch and Murder

Disclaimer: As an awareness for children who have been falsely branded and beaten for witch and murder within our country, I decided to write this short story and give some insights into this practice. There are also suggestions as to how we can protect these innocent children.

Sitting at home in rural Grand Gedeh on a rifted wooden chair, Annie, a five-year-old, swings her leg excitedly; her feet barely even touches the ground. She’s attentively watching a movie and looking at her, you would find it hard to believe she is a witch.

Yet, this is why she, and three of her older siblings, are now living in an orphanage in the city of Zwedru, located in the Tchien District of Grand Gedeh, near the border of Cote d’Ivoire. Annie likes to tightly close her eyes and listen keenly, trying to hear the calming swoosh of the Cavalla River. They live in a one-room zinc-round house, with a television and a few dozen mattresses. For the children’s safety, the door is locked at most times.

The orphanage was meant to be a temporary stop – a makeshift home until a family could adopt them. But, they’ve been there for much longer than intended because no one wants to take the “risk” of bringing them, – children accused for witchcraft, into their home

Once the movie was over, Annie wobbled outside for cool air. The heat was suffocating and was making her skin itch, so she lifted her blouse to scratch away at the discomfort. Then she saw the bruises that covered her torso. She always managed to make her little brain forget their existence so whenever she came face-to-face with them, there was always a little shock. Then she remembered all over again how she got them. The scars can be traced to the outskirts of the woods and the heated cutlasses that the neighbors used on her and her siblings to force them into a “confession.”

In early September, Annie, her sisters Martha (17), Theresa (16), and her brother Shederick (7) had moved in with their Aunt Mariama in Zai Town, Grand Gedeh, a county that lie east of Monrovia, the country’s capital city.

Their parents had passed away under what the village people had called “questionable circumstances,” so, their aunt had become wary of them, but she reluctantly took them under her wings.

Already diagnosed with Tuberculosis and refusing to go for treatment because she believed only in traditional/country medicines and God’s spiritual healing power, Mariama’s health was failing and she became increasingly slim and feeble. But she didn’t see it as that. In her mind, the children were to blame for her illness. They were trying to kill her as they had also done to their poor parents. So, Mariama took them to her local church for deliverance. There, a man claiming to be an anointed man of God confirmed her biggest fears – the children were indeed witches.

For Mariama, this explained all – the passing of her sister and brother-in-law, her daughter and son-in-law, her own illness, and the disorderly behavior of the children. The next day, Mariama called her friend, Ma Mary, to catch up on the local gossip. They were talking when Theresa mistakenly spilled the soup she had just finished cooking.

“See this witch! You finish making me sick and weak and now you want starve me to death too? Your plan fail oh! I will not die!”, Mariama shouted.   “What’s happening? What you mean by witch?”, Ma Mary asked. So, Mariama explained her suspicions and the Pastor’s confirmation. “My sister! What kind of trouble you see so?”, Ma Mary exclaimed. “No worries, I know what to do. I coming back tomorrow. They will confess by force.” And so, Ma Mary returned the next day with two male friends. The men, without questions, started to beat Annie and her siblings and told them, “Your will untie your aunty from all the witch your put her under. Your will release her soul from under water!”

The children tried to run away through the corn fields but they were quickly caught by the men and taken to Ma Mary house. In a scene directly out of a spy movie, the men tied up their feet and hands as Ma Mary heated up a cutlass in the open fire. They started to interrogate the children, asking them, “Are you all part of the dark world?”, The children strongly denied the accusations, but the adults were not convinced at all. In search of a confession to validate their beliefs, they started to take turns and beat the children. They roasted their skins by placing the steaming hot cutlasses on their bodies, from morning to afternoon.  

The children just wanted the excruciating pain and torture to end so, they eventually started replying “Yes” to the questions asked. Still hunting for more forced answers, the children were asked, “Were you the ones who killed your parents and caused all the troubles in the family, including your aunt’s illness?” – they said, “yes.”

In Liberia, it has become a phenomenon that most unfortunate situations connected to an abysmal health  system, ill-fated medical conditions, failure to seek proper care or unfortunate incidents that lead to one’s death, are linked to what we term as “witch” or “witchcraft activities.” Nobody can simply die of natural causes in this country.We conveniently tend to ignore the fact that it is the lack of considerable educational work related to epidemiology and an existence of a modern public health care system that leads to most sudden death and illnesses among our people.

The branding of children as witches has led to many cases where children and babies have been treated and killed unfairly. Often times in our surroundings, due to illiteracy and lack of further information on most medical conditions among people in Liberia, children with physical disabilities such as leprosy, epilepsy, albinism, and down-syndromes are mostly the target of these accusations.

According to the Telegraph, “As recently as 2008, the Liberian Ministry of Internal Affairs employed traditional practitioners of sassywood, a form of trial by ordeal used to extract confessions from suspected witches that can include placing red-hot metal on their skin… Well, this was wrong to process, because there were many people falsely accused in these situations of which they had to go through many physical abuse for crimes they didn’t commit.

“Such ideology was later banned by the Ministry, and people wrongly accused for these acts were encouraged to sue for the damages to their reputation,” stated the Telegraph. However, in our present days, some Pastors and Traditional Doctors continue to practice this wrong act – forcing people into agreeing to crimes they are not guilty of.

Nevertheless, in fixing this brokenness among our people, I urge that the justice system make it their foremost duty to give all children the maximum protection needed for their upbringing. The reality is that the more abuse they have to wrongly endure in their early lives, the more their lives are psychologically affected in the near future.

Additionally, people need to change their perceptions and attitudes on this whole witch issue. There is a possibility that things happen in life that are out of our control, we don’t have to find an explanation for them by any means necessary. In the justice system, any confession obtained from a person under duress is inadmissible in court because a coerced confession does not always spell guilt.

Valdemar Reeves was born and raised in Monrovia, Liberia. He recently graduated with a BSC in Economics and Business Administration from Edinboro University Pennsylvania. Valdemar plans to pursue an MBA in Business Administration and Entrepreneurship with goals of launching his own Non-profit Organization in Liberia.

Featured Picture by FIRD-UG

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Wilmot A. Reeves says:

    This is a great piece, which is well written. Let the sky be the limit, as the Lord guides your path to fulfil your goal in life.

  2. Moses Zangar, Jr. says:

    I am not sure if Liberia has a Juvenile Justice Act. Even if it does, I am not certain if the Act covers such child cruelty. Such practices that continue to cost lives and ruin the lives of children need to be criminalized. There could be no or fewer branding issues today if people were aware of the consequences on children and if they knew they would face hefty fines with years in prison for child cruelty.

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