April 2 is World Autism Awareness Day. It is also day 6 in 30 Days of Advocacy Against Witch-Hunts. In the U.S. there is much concern–largely disproved by scientific research–that autism is caused by vaccinations. In Nigeria there is concern that autism is caused by witchcraft.
At a news conference March 29, 2012 in Abuja, Nigeria, the Minister of Health, Onyebuchi Chukwu spoke about autism awareness, expressing “concerns over the misconception of autism in Nigeria saying some persons are mischievously associating autism spectrum disorder to witchcraft and other bizarre beliefs..”
We are lucky: in this day and age, self-identified Witches are Europe and North America are not likely to be blamed for causing the disorder, but in Nigeria the blame may fall on other children. In June 2011, the Federal Government in Nigeria “a stern warning to churches, parents, guardians, as well as individual or corporate body who have taken keen interest in the identification and stigmatization of children as witches or wizards to desist or face the full wrath of the law.”
Permanent Secretary of the Federal Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development, Idris Kuta said:
“The judiciary, law enforcement agencies and other child focused agencies and NGOs must assist to challenge this issue of child witch accusation. Enforcement and full application of the provision of the law must be seen to have been done wherever breaches or infringement on the law occur.
“Every society, no matter its cultural, economic or social background, can and must stop violence and abuse against children.”
Surely–surely!–we can dismiss the abuse of suspected child witches as an African aberration. Right? Backward, ignorant, superstitious… Then what are we to make of Nigerian witch-hunter Helen Ukpabio preaching in Houston, TX?
The persecution of suspected witches is not just an African problem or an Indian problem or a Saudi problem. The poison can be found right here on American soil, and we have a obligation to speak out about human rights violations–about violence and social ostracization against the most vulnerable members of society.
More stories to come during 30 Days of Advocacy Against Witch-hunts.
Filed under: Witch Hunts and