Saturday, May 23, 2009

Children and exorcisms in the Democratic Republic of Congo

According to a United Nations report, a growing number of children in the Democratic Republic of Congo are being accused of witchcraft and subjected to violent exorcisms by religious leaders, in which they are often beaten, burned, starved and even murdered. The phenomenon has become one of the main causes in Central Africa for humanitarian groups, which are organizing programs to protect children's rights and educate pastors on the dangers of accusing children. Liana Bianchi, the administrative director for the humanitarian group Africare, says the trend is partly the result of decades of war and economic decline in the Congo. The non-profit group Save the Children estimates that 70% of the roughly 15,000 street children in Kinshasa, the capital, were kicked out of their homes after being accused of witchcraft. The practice, which has also been reported in Nigeria and Angola, can be lucrative for the priests who perform them. The pastors who conduct such rituals are non-denominational, and most have no theological training, says Matondo Kasese of the humanitarian group Reejer. According to Arnold Mushiete, a social worker with a small Catholic organization called Our House, Congo's atmosphere of religious fervor, minimal education and rampant poverty makes for fertile territory for pastors who convince desperate parents that their children are the cause of their financial, medical and romantic problems.


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