Bewitching Ghana's Children

Accra, Ghana - Her bones were broken, and she was sleeping in a blacked out room with goats and fowl. For eight years, young Augustina Ankomah never saw the sun rise nor set. She is an example of how some of Ghana's children can suffer from their family's unfounded belief in witchcraft.

While some towns and regions in Ghana accuse older women of possessing witchcraft, some also inflict it on the girl child.

Unknown to her family, Augustina had from birth suffered from Epilepsy; she became seriously sick at the age of six. Two years later, her father died.

She was accused of being the cause of her father's death. Her mother could no longer afford to send her to the hospital and native doctors for treatment, so she locked her up in an old hut where the animals were kept.

"My mother kept me in that hut because she said my sickness was infectious and I could infect it on my other siblings if I continued to live with them in the room. She said I was also a witch that was why after visiting various hospitals and herbalists I never got healed,"

Augustina, now 17, said. Many women and children go through this trauma when they suffer from long or strange illness.

Augustina now can neither walk nor talk well because for that long period she spent with the animals she never spoke with anyone or exercised her body by walking about.

Anytime she suffered an epileptic seizure, there was no one to attend to her. In fact, the only time she saw her mother was when she brought her something to eat and on the rare occasion she came to bath her.

It was Edith de Vos and Alhaji Issaka of the Baobab Children's Foundation who eventually freed Augustina from her torture two years ago. On a routine call to Augustina's village of Kissi, they learned of a girl who was being locked away in a hut. Issaka found her lying down with twisted limbs, unkempt hair, and broken bones.

"The only thing she did when I called out her name was to respond and raise her head which came along with her unkempt long hair.

She could not walk, talk clearly, she looked very pale, weak and paralyzed," said Issaka.

Ebenezer Aggrey, of the Commission for Human Rights and Justice (CHRAJ) in Cape Coast says that the belief in Witchcraft leads to many human rights violations like what happened to Augustina.

According to Aggrey, lack of education and lack of scientific understanding are the major contributing factors.

"We come from a society where for every mishap we become analytical. Causes must be found for everything that happens to us. Somebody must be blamed or reasons be given for something that happen to us or someone else," he thought.

Aggrey himself is currently working on the case of another young girl, Patience Arhin, 12, also from Kissi, who stopped showing up for her classes in early December, 2005.

Patience lived with her grandmother at that time.

Her grandmother had complained that she was not selling as well as she used to in her bread business, and claimed that her money was disappearing.

According to Patience, she over heard a man telling her grandmother that she and another girl in the house were possessed by witchcraft and held the key to people's prosperity in the village.

Her family, believing Patience was a witch, brought her to a prayer camp to pray for her. In addition to the prayers, the camp pastor caned her as a way of casting the witchcraft out of her.

"Whilst praying the girl told my grandmother and the pastor that I left my witchcraft behind at home and came to the church so as they prayed I possess nothing with me at that moment. The pastor and my grandmother dragged me outside and caned me. They also asked me to go home and bring it."

According to Issaka and the Baobab Children's Foundation who also went to the aid of Patience, she was dragged home four times to bring out the witchcraft and anytime they went and came back the other girl told them she had left it at home.

She was caned several times by the pastor and grandmother because her sister who 'confessed' they were witches told them she left her witchcraft behind at home anytime they got to the camp.

Aggrey said in communities where superstition and illiteracy are rampant, the belief in witchcraft is further perpetuated by those who claim to be Christian pastors and use the belief in witchcraft to give themselves a just cause.

CHRAJ took up the case when they realized there has been serious abuse of a child's human rights, and also violation of dignity which would make her suffer discrimination in her community.

They are also working out ways of inviting the pastor down for interrogation.

Aggrey went on to say that, when they went to speak with Patience, there was no way to prove that she is a witch, and that she was likely forced to the prayer camp, and into confession.

Aggrey said the commission is now aiming to meet with pastors in the region to educate them on the law because Patience pastor is not the only one casting out witchcraft.

"Formerly, it was the fetish priests and Malams who saw and cast out witches, but now it looks as if most of these pastors have taken out the work of these people. Many of the fetish priests and Malams do say this a lot," he pointed out.

He also spoke on the impact most of the movies on the screens as doing more harm than good to uneducated citizens.

He feels they always have to portray quick way of acquiring money or women performing dark crafts, and that these images have a great effect on people.

Aggrey knows though, that changing this belief will be difficult. "It needs much knowledge and time to break away with the past."