Over 400 minors live in Ghana’s so-called witches camps. Many denied education, cast out of their homes and forced into a life of bondage and torture against the country’s children’s’ act which guarantees a child’s right to live and grow with their parents and to protection.
JoyNews has spent months digging into the dark, lonely world of the children who risk their own lives so women accused of witchcraft can live.
The belief system in witchcraft in Ghana runs deep and is as old as the country is. There are currently four camps with shrines where the fate of women accused of witchcraft is decided on the way a chicken dies. These are usually old and frail women who can hardly do any chores on their own.
Children, mainly their Grandchildren and family relatives, are sent to live with these women and work for them. This is their story- in their own words.
Esther Aniiga (right), 6, Naabuli Witches’ Camp
Esther is the youngest child I met in all of my travels. She is a third-generation inmate in this camp. Her mother came to take care of her Grandmother, ended up living there and then gave birth to her.
At the time of my visit, she was down with convulsion and a swollen leg, wrapped with a dirty piece of cloth. She was in pain, having difficulty in breathing, battling the trauma of a snake’s venom.
Last year, she got bitten by snake while playing with other children. “I was running behind the house and I got bitten. Many children get bitten by snakes. The camp is weedy,” she told me.
Snake bites are common in Northern Ghana- especially in the rainy season and children like Mary are some of the most vulnerable. The problem for children like her is that the stigma and poverty means it is difficult receiving the treatment they need.
Safia Suale, 14, Ngaani Witches’ Camp
It’s hard to believe Safia Suale isn’t 25 years. Her thoughts sound deep. Her English is broken, interlaced with Dagbani (the local dialect of the Dagomba people) once a while but it’s not hard getting the point she wants to make.
“They are my enemies. But for them, I’d have a better life than this,” she says, referring to people from Demong, the village where she comes from, who pronounced her eighty-year-old Grandmother a witch, tortured her and chased her out of her home in the dead of night.
“They said she has killed somebody. She was beaten. They chased her and then we came here”.
She sits on the concrete floor, painting her face with a make-up pencil and you can hear the screechy sound as she draws on her skinny face. Unlike many children like her, Saafia is in school and in Class 6.
In Ngaani, there are over 300 minors, roughly half of them are out of school. She wants to be a nurse and “heal people,” she says.
“Whilst we are here, we only pray that in the future we have a good life. However, from the look of things, some people may have a good future while others will not,” she added.
Blasiem Jepora, 13, Naabuli Witches’ Camp
Blasiem too comes across as a very outspoken boy. Quite unlike the average child I met in this village. He came to live with his grandmother, BakpoTiig, now 86, when he was 5.
“The first time I came to this camp I only saw old women. I kept asking myself; what sort of place is this that only old women live? Everyone in my village asked me if I was not scared going to live with a witch,” he says.
When he is not with the Grandmother on the farm he is chasing donkeys that cart water for sale in the town. Fetching water for sale is big business in Naabuli. The town has a chronic water problem and people need to walk for over 45 minutes to the nearest stream that has water. Even that is an extremely dirty water- brownish looking and full of broken pieces of dry leaves from the nearby bushes.
It is water that the entire community drinks. They share it with their cows.
“The water is too dirty. It can kill. But that’s all we have”.
Mary Latsuole, 13, Naabuli Witches Camp
Mary too wants to be a Nurse. She went to school at age 9. Later than she wanted and should have. “I like nurses. I like the way they dress. I want to help sick people,” she says.
She looks upbeat about the future despite the current condition that she lives in. those who are lucky to be in school face one more, even daunting hurdle- stigma.
“They are the walk-alone children,” says Abatire Moses- her teacher- describing children like Mary who live the alleged witches in the town. There are two worlds in her school; one for those who live in their own homes and the other for children like Mary who have come to Naabuli, against their will, to take care of women living here on accusations of witchcraft.
Hawa Abdul Rauf (right), 17, Ngaani Witches’ Camp
Hawa is a third-generation inmate of the Ngaani witches camp. Hawa’s Grandmother and Grandfather were both accused of witchcraft. Her Grandmother came went to Ngaani with the father when he too was a child. The father grew up there, got married to another person in the camp and she, Hawa, was born.
Both of her Grandparents died before then. But still scared of going back to their native village, she lives with her parents and three other siblings in Ngaani. “I want to get out of here. Make a lot of money so I can come for my father too,” she says.
Serwaa (right), 13, Naabuli Witches’ Camp
“I don’t know who would take care of my Grandmother if I leave this camp,” she says when I asked if she wanted to leave.
She is also in school and wants to be a nurse too.
“If God helps me and I become a nurse I will educate people that it is not good to beat someone and say she is a witch,” she says.
In the video below, Justice Baidoo tells the story of children in witches camps in northern Ghana
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