Girls as young as nine accused of WITCHCRAFT are tortured, sexually abused and even buried alive in Nigeria

A WOMAN who set up a charity to save youngsters accused of witchcraft has revealed how girls as young as nine are tortured, sexually abused and even buried alive.

Anja Ringgren Loven, from Denmark, has rescued hundreds of abandoned children in the last eight years after founding Land of Hope in Nigeria in 2012.

The 42-year-old, who splits her time between the Nigeria and Denmark, set up the charity after watching a documentary about superstition in the West African country.

Accusations of witchcraft often stem from death or illness in the family, crop failures, employment problems or infertility, and children are often made into scapegoats and branded as witches.

"Superstition in Nigeria is most common in the states of Cross River State, Rivers State and Akwa Ibom State, where I live and run my children's centre together with my husband, David Emmanuel Umem," Anja said.

"In Akwa Ibom, the Pentecostal Christianity beliefs are mixed with local tribal religions to form a deadly cocktail that involves belief in witches and exorcism.

"The stigmatisation of children as witches is a recent phenomenon in the Niger Delta region, which suddenly exploded in the 1990s.

"Before that, elderly women were the main targets of witchcraft accusations."

Young children are often tortured and burned alive, Anja said, and some have had nails driven into their heads, been forced to drink cement, scarred by acid, poisoned or even buried alive.

She said some children are even sexually abused.

Anja has rescued a 13-year-old pregnant girl, and a nine-year-old with a number of sexually transmitted diseases.

The aim of Anja's charity is to "fight against the accusations made about children being witches, a menace which has led to the stigmatisation, torture, abandonment and killing of thousands of children in Nigeria". 

Anja said children accused of witchcraft are typically treated like outcasts by members of their village.

"Most of the local villagers will not come near those children and they will outcast them from society," Anja said.

"The children are no longer allowed to attend school and their friends will no longer play with them.

"Some youth leaders might even gather a group to torture or kill children accused of witchcraft.

"Most family members will also turn their backs on them but not because they don't love them anymore.

"They don't have the power to protect them, and if a family keeps a so-called 'witch' child in their home, the whole family might be in danger of more witchcraft accusations."

Documenting one tragic case on Facebook, Anja rescued a young boy, named Hope, who had been branded a witch and abandoned by the side of the road by his family.

"At rescue, we had very little belief Hope would survive," Anja wrote on Facebook.

"He had been branded a witch and abandoned by his parents for months. At his early age, he should have been breastfeeding.

"For Hope, it's been a new world for the past three years with us. Hope is a happy boy, going to school and feeling love and care every day."

Anja also shared the story of seven-year-old Michael who was found living on the street after his village accused him of being a witch and threatened to poison him.

"One night he got caught by a group of men and was seriously beaten. But he survived the brutal attack and ran away to another village," Anja wrote.

"After the rescue Michael was very traumatised. He did not really talk. It was very difficult to get him to speak just a few words.

"Sometimes he would just laugh and act like nothing had happened.

"We knew that Michael’s laughing and acting out was a way for Michael to deal with his stress from the abuse and not because he was happy."

Six years on, Anja said Michael is unrecognisable.

"He is now a young handsome teenager with so much confidence. In school he is the best in his class," she wrote.

"He always takes first position and he just loves to study. You will never find Michael in any trouble. He is so polite and sweet."

In total, Anja has rescued more than 300 children and she currently cares for 76 kids in the largest children's centre in West Africa, named Land of Hope.

Anja said: "Our main focus is to provide the children with quality education.

"Education is the strongest weapon against superstition and all our children go to school and university."

Superstition is about "ignorance and extreme poverty", Anja added.

"To solve a problem you need human interaction and communication. Not judgment," she said.

"We are very professional in our work. We need to help the villagers and change their mindset.

“We enlighten the villagers through advocacy programs in rural areas.”

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