BBC, Jan. 17, 2003
By Mark Dummett
At a church in Kinshasa the children sat glassy eyed and nervous as they waited to be exorcised by the priest.
One by one they stood up and explained how they became witches, were kicked out of their homes and ended up at the church.
Nzuzi, an eight-year-old with a sad face, said she was tricked by some class mates.
“They gave me some bread at school. It was poisoned and they came to get it back later.”
Nzuzi said that when her family slept, she would sneak out to join her friends to fly in the night sky.
When they found out, she joined the growing ranks of children abandoned by their parents in Kinshasa, and accused of witchcraft.
The children rights organisation, Save the Children, estimates that there are more than 20,000 of them.
Although the belief in sorcery is traditional in the Democratic Republic of Congo, as elsewhere in Africa, many people are concerned that children never used to be blamed in such huge numbers.
“It is a new problem, because when we grew up we never saw this problem of children accused of sorcery. It is only since life became bad,” said Ange Bay Bay, a children’s rights lawyer.
When something goes wrong in a family the children are often blamed, she said.
So a child can be accused of sorcery when death, an illness or sudden unemployment strikes the home.
As Kinshasa’s economy and infrastructure collapsed in the last decade, as a result of government corruption and war, so the number of children accused of witchcraft exploded.
“Parents who don’t work or who lose their jobs because of the economic situation are looking for a scapegoat,” Mrs Bay Bay said.
Nabor, for example, who now lives in a home supported by Ange Bay Bay, was blamed, along with his brothers, for the death of his father.
“My dad was ill, he had tuberculosis. And when he died, we were chased away from the house because we were accused of having eaten him,” he said.
Song for change
Many of the children suffer appalling treatment from their families and in the churches where they are forced to undergo sometimes painful exorcisms, Mrs Bay Bay explained.
“There are children who are ironed with a clothes iron, there are others who are not given food for a whole week – there are these unbelievable things going on,” she said.
A group of former street kids turned musicians are now trying to do something about the situation.
Their band, called La Chytoura, backed by a Unites States NGO Centre Lokole, has released a song and a video to change people’s attitudes.
It tells the story of one young boy who is blamed by his parents for his father’s unemployment.
When he accidentally kicks over a cooking pot, he is accused of sorcery and thrown onto the streets.
The song, of course, has a happy ending, and the band members hope its story line and catchy rhythm will have an impact on Kinshasa’s music-loving and TV-watching public.
“We want to educate the whole world that what is going on in our country is not good,” singer Romain Mazamba said.