Thousands of stigmatized ‘Witch Children’ have found refuge at CRARN center, in Akwa Ibom. The children were branded as “witches” by church ministers and have been cast out by their families and shunned by society.
One of them is six-year-old Israel Effiong, from Ikot Uso Ekong, Eket, who was accused of being responsible for his father’s illness. Fearing for his life, he ran away and hid in a bush for a year before he was rescued by Edoho,a volunteer with the organisation.
Edoho, himself is former child at CRARN Children Center. He now serves as one of the volunteers who rescue children to the centre.
“When my father became ill and taken to a hospital, my stepmom asked if I knew anything about his illness. I told her that I could not think of anything bad about my father because he’s the supporting me,” Effiong recounts.
“When his illness took a turn for the worst, my stepmom became angry with me.
In the nights, she’ll wake me up, tie my hands and legs then poured wild ants all over my body while asking me to relieve my dad from the witches coven. At times she would tie my hand and legs, began to hit my heads with sticks and electrical wires.
She stopped giving me food and locked me out of the house. I went and told the neighbors living close to us. She said she could not allow me to stay with her because my stepmother will be angry with her.
“The people living around us began to hate me and asked not to come close to their children. I went and slept in the village town hall. One night, some men came and saw me there, they brought me out and asked me to dance as witches. When I told them that I didn’t know witches dance, they used sticks and matches to beat me. A man who was passing by came and told them not kill me. They left me and warned me not come there again. I went and stayed in a bush and be coming out in the night to pick up leftover from the market garbage
“One day, I was tired and slept off in the market, a boy by name Edoho came and saw me there and told me he would come back and take me to a safe place where other children like me are living. I told him where I normally stay in the bush.
Yesterday, he came and took me the CRARN Children Center, Eket. I’m very glad to stay here because I would go to school again and sleep without fear of the unknown.”