A man and woman from New Zealand were jailed yesterday for the abuse of their 15-year-old daughter, who they believed was a witch. The Auckland District Court heard that the couple hit the girl, forced her to take ice-cold baths, and cut out chunks of her hair.
The mother arrived in New Zealand from the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2007. She met her husband a few years later and the two settled in a North Island town, The New Zealand Herald reports. The 15-year-old, who between 2010 and 2014 was also choked and tied up with electrical cords, said her stepfather told her that her bedroom would be her "cemetery". He was sentenced to more than three years in prison, while her mother received a two-year sentence. Even after their conviction, the couple asserted their innocence, claiming the violence was a common and accepted practice in the Congo.
Witch-hunts in the Sub-Saharan Africa are an ancient tradition. The figure of the witch is understood to be evil personified, and the cause of any misfortune that befalls a family. Priests perform exorcisms daily, and victims often endure physical and psychological abuse from their families and the community, who believe they are capable of crimes such as drinking human blood.
According to Emmanuel Musoni, Director of Sydney's Great Lakes Agency for Peace and International Development, the increase in witchcraft accusations is a poverty-induced trend. "Congo's lack of infrastructure is to blame," he tells Broadly. "There's a lack of medical services and there's a lack of education, which means people will turn to spirituality to explain abnormalities.
"For example, if your child has symptoms of malnutrition, sweating and bloat, someone will tell you that your child is a witch. Your kid is just unhealthy, but they don't know that."
The issue is receiving increasing attention the world over: Numerous humanitarian organisations have released reports stressing that exorcism and witchcraft-related child abandonment is a growing phenomenon, in correlation with the nation's poverty and constant state of conflict.
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Last year, the Mail Online travelled to the region, where it reported 50,000 children, some of them newborns, were living on the streets of capital city Kinshasa as a result of witchcraft allegations. Most were turning to prostitution and crime to survive.
The UN's 'Global Goals' includes the hope that this practise will disappear in the next 15 years. "Children are cast out of their own homes and forced to undergo dangerous rituals," it states. "All in the name of superstition."