The Day of the African Child is celebrated around the world on 16th June. This year the theme of the Day is the rights of children with disabilities. Given that mental and physical disabilities are often considered to be evidence of witchcraft in children, we have highlighted this issue in our press release:
The Child Rights Non-Governmental-Organisations – Stepping Stones Nigeria and Stepping Stones Nigeria Child Empowerment Foundation – have called upon the Nigerian government to take action to demystify the common ailments that are associated with witchcraft and prevent the labelling of children with disabilities as ‘witches’. In a statement released in Lagos and signed by Stepping Stones Nigeria’s Advocacy Officer, Dr Emilie Secker, the groups said there was an urgent need for the Nigerian Federal and State governments to raise awareness about the nature of physical and mental disabilities and to combat the belief that these are evidence of witchcraft in children.
Utibe Ikot, Acting Director of Stepping Stones Nigeria Child Empowerment Foundation said “Around the world, thousands of people are celebrating the Day of the African Child on 16th June. This year, the theme of the Day is the rights of children with disabilities. I am very sad to report that we have seen many cases where a child with a disability, for example autism, epilepsy, or Down’s syndrome is automatically considered to be a witch due to their condition. The behaviour traits that children with disabilities may have, such as stubbornness and poor school performance, or simply looking different to other children, mean that people looking for an explanation often label them as witches. Instead of the child getting the support and care they so richly deserve, they are often hidden from view, prevented from attending school, or in the worst cases beaten, tortured and abandoned to survive on the streets. It is vital that the belief that physical or mental disability is a sign of witchcraft is challenged now so that no more children suffer these abuses”.
Dr Secker further explained that “in many countries around the world there is a huge lack of understanding of disability and as a result disabled children do not get the understanding and support that they need. It is vital that the Nigerian government acts now to educate the public about the nature of disability and to make sure that people understand it properly. The government should set up public awareness campaigns across the country and should also train police and social welfare teams to look out for cases of abuse involving disabled children who have been accused of witchcraft. As a party to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Nigeria has a legal and moral responsibility to uphold the rights of children with disabilities and to protect them from harm”.
 For more information see www.steppingstonesnigeria.org