A 16-year-old girl, Aline Veronica, is leading children in praise and worship at an orphanage where tens of them, infamously accused of witchcraft live.
The teenager was banished from her home in Bukavu, South Kivu province – where the belief that children can be powerful sorcerers is widespread.
She is accused of killing a neighbour’s son.
I told him that I didn't know anything about it and it was then that he said he was going to bring a witchdoctor to the house, to find out whether it was me or not who cast a spell on his child.
The ‘child witches’ are punished by their families and an entire community.
Veronica was picked up from school one morning; “a neighbor’s dad came and took me outside, then he asked me, whether it was me who went to pick up a phone at home”, she narrates.
Once the man established she had been to his house, he alleged that his dead child fell ill immediately after her visit.
“I told him that I didn’t know anything about it and it was then that he said he was going to bring a witchdoctor to the house, to find out whether it was me or not who cast a spell on his child”.
Merveille is 12 years old – forced to leave his family seven years ago, when his father claimed he had killed his own mother.
“We were in a prayer room when the pastor declared I am a witch. He told me to bring some bottles. I had no bottles. He then blindfolded me and started praying for me telling me that if I do not bring the bottle I’m hiding I would not go out of the prayer room.”
Lynched or burned alive
Kids like Merveille and Veronica are in the thousands in DRC, condemned by their families to be beaten to death or burned alive.
Parents are likely to brand children who wet beds and suffer epilepsy witches.
Even just being a stubborn kid can mean witchcraft in this part of Africa – the reasons why Esther and Julian’s aunt says they are witches.
“It was after we questioned and brought them to church where the prophet revealed that they were indeed wizard”, Julienne Nshonkano.
“For example, during the prayers you could see a child clapping his hands but all of a sudden you notice that three hands have appeared, but with powerful prayers we were able to exorcise the evil spirits”, Juliette Mwaciza, a spiritualist who adds that witchcraft has no place in the community.
Bukavu people share conflicting opinions over the issue. Some believe to have witnessed witch children, while others are convinced the children easily become targets in difficult economic times.
Housing ‘child witches’
At Ek’abana, an organization that provides shelter to abandoned children in Bukavu, the numbers are going up by the day.
More kids are now known as child witches – left to the mercy of Good Samaritans.
A bigger space is needed to house all the children, who are mostly orphans and below the age of 18 years.
“The cases have become very recurrent lately, at least every single day something happens and we don’t know why, we are almost running out of beds”, Donatus Birindwa a mediator at Ek’abana home.
These persecutions seem to be encouraged by mushrooming cults in South Kivu.
But churches are appealing to the families for understanding.
The Reformed Evangelical Church accomodates tens of victims, “we are in the process to tarnish the image of the Church”, Rev. Nicolas Kyalangalilwa of the Reformed Evangelical Church of DRC, Bukavu.
When the kids themselves share their opinions on events and reasons why their families believe in sorcery, they say poverty
is the leading factor.
Ravages of war
2017 statistics show, that 640 boys and over 1000 girls, between the ages of 6 and 17 years were believed to be possessed by evil spirits, beaten in exorcism.
The provincial Minister for Children in South -Kivu says, the government is working to help these children.
He has vowed to follow up with the justice department, so that a law enacted in 2009 to protect them, can be implemented.
In the meantime, some children are counting on Pascaline Ndamuso, who has 16 years of experience taking care of children accused of witchcraft.
But she testifies, in the time she has spent with the kids, “there was nothing superstitious about them”, and many are integrated back into the community.
First cases were in the mid-nineties, with the emergence of religious sects, and favored by a rural exodus due to poverty and the ravages of war.
The Democratic Republic of Congo has already struggled with the scourge of child soldiers. But now the country must deal with another problem, just as worrying, that of children accused of witchcraft.Follow @RazAthman