A GUEST POST BY DR EMILIE SECKER AND LOUISE MEINCKE Stepping Sones Nigeria (SSN) is a UK-based child rights charity which, together with Nigerian partner organisations, works to protect the rights of vulnerable children in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria. One of our partners, the Child Rights and Rehabilitation Network (CRARN), runs a shelter in Akwa Ibom state in Nigeria, for children who have been accused of being ‘witches’ or ‘wizards’ and who are subsequently abused, abandoned, totured or even killed. Two documentaries about our work have been shown on Channel 4, in 2008 and 2009.
Despite many sucesses over the last few years, including the enactment of the Child Rights Act in Akwa Ibom state with a unique clause criminalising the stigmatisation of children as witches, we are increasingly concerned about recent events. Over the last few weeks, both SSN and CRARN have been accused of financial impropriety and of exaggerating the scale of the problem. There have been calls for the arrests of Gary Foxcroft, Programme Director of SSN, and Sam Itauma, President of CRARN, and for the organisations to be shut down. Although we have always faced a degree of threats and harrasment, this has increased massivly over the last few weeks.
These accusations have come from a number of sources, but it is particularly worrying that some have come from members of the government of Akwa Ibom state, with whom we had previosuly had a good working relationship and who had supported the work that we have been doing, including financial support. We are aware that certain people have a financial interest in preventing us from helping these children and challenging the belief in so-called child ‘witchcraft’, and we are concerned that misinformation is being provided to the government in order to undermine the work that we do.
However, most disturbing have been reports of gunmen firing shots at the CRARN shelter, and that Sam has had to go into hiding due to fears for his safety. Obviously this is preventing us from carrying out our work to protect child rights as effectively as we could, but what is truly terrible is the effect that this is having on the children at the shelter, most of whom are already deeply traumatised by what they have gone through.
We implore the government of Akwa Ibom state to do everything in their power to ensure the safety of the children and staff of CRARN. We urge the Governor of Akwa Ibom to meet with us to discuss how to overcome these problems. We call upon everyone who cares about child rights to stand up for these children and for child rights NGOs across the world.