Child witch hunts in contemporary Ghana

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Objective: The persecution of children as witches has received widespread reportage in the international mass media. In recent years, hundreds of children have been killed, maimed and abandoned across Africa based on individual and village-level accusations of witchcraft. Despite the media focus, to date, very little systematic study has investigated the phenomenon. In this case study, the persecution of child witches in Ghana is studied to explore the nature and patterns of witch hunts against children in the West African nation. Methods: There are no reliable national data on child abuse related to witchcraft accusations in Ghana. For this study, 13 cases of child witch hunts appearing in the local media during 1994-2009 were analyzed. Case summaries were constructed for each incident to help identify the socio-demographic characteristics of assailants and victims, victim-offender relationships, the methods of attacks, the spatial characteristics, as well as the motivations for the attacks. Results: Children branded as witches ranged in age from 1-month-old to 17-years-old, were primarily from poor backgrounds, and lived in rural areas of the country. Accusations of witchcraft and witch assaults were lodged by close family members often through the encouragement of, or in concert with Christian clergymen and fetish priests. Accused witches were physically brutalized, tortured, neglected, and in two cases, murdered. For school-aged children, imputations of witchcraft contributed to stigmatization in both the community and at school, resulting in dropping out. The most frequently expressed reason for persecution of the child was suspicion that the child had used witchcraft to cause the death or illness of family relations or someone in the community. Another reason was suspicion that the child was responsible for the business failure or financial difficulties of a perceived victim. Conclusions: The results of this research are consistent with findings in the witchcraft literature suggesting that seemingly inexplicable illnesses, untimely deaths, and financial hardships tend to be the major causal forces generating witch hunts. Additional research is necessary to further shed light on child witch hunts in Ghana and other countries. Practice implications: To reduce the incidence of such abuse, there is a need for increased advocacy and protections for children in the society. The government must also increase the penalties for child abuse. This will serve as a deterrent to potential offenders. Additionally, through public service campaigns, educating citizens about the causes and trajectories of diseases, will lead to a significant diminution of witchcraft accusations and the associated violence.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)741-752
Number of pages12
JournalChild Abuse and Neglect
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 2011


  • Africa
  • Child abuse
  • Child neglect
  • Child witches
  • Ghana
  • Witch hunts
  • Witchcraft
  • Witches


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