Congo child sorcery abuse on rise

Kinshasa, DRC - A report has highlighted what it calls an alarming rise in the abuse of boys and girls accused of sorcery in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Such children are physically abused and end up on the streets of the capital, Kinshasa, Human Rights Watch says.

The organisation has been examining the plight of children in the country.

Its report says that about 70% of the street children appear to be outcasts from their family having been accused of sorcery.

The report cites many cases where boys and girls had been physically and emotionally abused at home, segregated from other children and forced out of school.

Orphans or children with step-parents are said to be especially vulnerable to accusations - made by surviving relatives - that they are sorcerers responsible for the family's misfortunes.

Children who are HIV positive are also susceptible, with some people believing that children can infect their parents with AIDS by using magic spells.

Human Rights Watch says that self-styled pastors are employed to rid children of their alleged sorcery using torture, beatings and the denial of food.

In the meantime, the authorities in Kinshasa are accused of periodically carrying out mass roundups of the street children, beating and abusing them, on the basis of a law dating back to colonial times that forbids children from begging.

Human Rights Watch calls on the Congolese government to protect the children and enforce a provision of the new constitution that specifically forbids accusing them of sorcery.