AUTHORITIES at a school in the western African country of Liberia are under fire for expelling a six-year-old child for posing a danger to fellow pupils and teaching staff because she has ‘witchcraft powers.’
According to the Liberian Observer, the Tyneceploh Education Foundation told Catherine Karma’s parents to take her to a church for what they termed “deliverance prayers.” Only if she were to be certified in writing by a church or pastor that she is “free from witchcraft practices” would be accepted back in school.
The school has been blasted by Momolu Dorley, above, President of Humanists Liberia.
Humanists Liberia strongly condemns the decision of the school. This cruel act does not only have the propensity to isolate Ms Karma but will lead to perennial trauma that will terribly affect her growth and overall welfare.
He called for a swift publicly written apology to Catherine and her family.
We are also calling on the government to assist with counseling of Catherine and family and to take punitive action against the school.
This, said Dorley, would send a strong message to others not to falsely accuse people of witchcraft. He claimed witchcraft accusations were a long-standing problem in Liberia,and that it is time to tackle the issue head on.
Human rights activist Leo Igwe, above, who has spent years campaigning against witchcraft accusers, added:
The decision to expel Ms. Karma is shameful, outrageous, and difficult to comprehend. First of all, how did the school confirm that Ms. Karma was a witch? How was the school able to ascertain that she indulged in witchcraft activities (whatever that means?)
The role of a school is to educate and enlighten pupils and lead students out of ignorance and superstitions. A school should dispel irrational fears and anxieties, not reinforce these misconceptions. By expelling Ms. Karma, the school has failed in its role as an educational center. The school has betrayed the academic and enlightenment trust that the parents and the society repose in it.
He urged the school to take all the necessary measures to ensure that Catherine is allowed continues her education without any further disruption, while ensuring that “this educational failure” does not repeat itself.
Lillie Ashworth, Advocacy Officer at Humanists International, said:
Fear of witchcraft is used to justify extreme human rights abuses around the world. In the past year, we have witnessed witchcraft accusations lead to mob violence, extrajudicial killing and ostracisation in countries such as Nigeria, Malawi, India, Guatemala, and now, Liberia.
As Catherine Karma’s case demonstrates, the strong stigma associated with an accusation of witchcraft can result in an innocent individual being blamed for society’s ills, and treated as if they are not a human being deserving of empathy and basic human rights. States can – and should – be doing more to address witchcraft-related abuse.
At the UN Human Rights Council and the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, Humanists International, with support from its Members and Associates, has been calling for States to develop comprehensive strategies to tackle the roots of the problem: belief in the imaginary crime of witchcraft, the structural poverty that enables irrational superstitions to thrive, and the individuals who exploit it for personal gain.
The Observer reported that the the school confirmed that the girl had been expelled, but refused to say why.
When asked whether the allegation against her was true, the child burst into tears. She denied ever being a witch, insisting that the school administration’s action against her was based on rumours spread by her classmates.
My friends lied on me to my teacher so they say I should not go to school again. Every day, when I see my friends going to school I can be crying. I want to go back to school. I miss my friends and my teacher.
To make matters worse, she is now being stigmatised by her neighbors. Some families in the neighborhood have banned their children from associating with her.
My friends in my yard can’t play with me again; they are afraid of me, and only my small brother and I can play.
Her mother received a message from her daughter’s teacher, identified only as “Ruth”, telling her to remove Catherine.
When I got on the campus, I met my daughter’s class sponsor, the principal, and the proprietor, who told me that my daughter’s classmates told their teacher that her child would kill the teacher, the principal, and suck the children’s blood. For this reason, she could no longer attend classes.
The girl’s grandmother, who sells boiled cassava and coconut to pay the child’s tuition, could not hold back her tears:
How can this six-year-old child kill her teacher, principal and suck her classmates’ blood? I took care of this child from birth because her father is not working I have never seen anything relating to witchcraft about my grandchild.
Sources who are well experienced in the “deliverance of suspected or known witches” told the Observer that those who practice witchcraft activities have the ability to initiate others into the practice.
One “deliverance minister”, who requested not to be named, explained:
It is often held that parents, close relatives or friends who are witches often find it easy to initiate other children into the practice. It is also believed that children who are members of the dark world are frequently sent on missions by their superiors to recruit or sometimes harm their peers.
The girl’s parents are calling on the Ministry of Education, Ministry of Internal Affairs, and Child Rights advocacy groups to probe what they consider to be an unjust decision by the school.
Asked why her daughter cannot be moved to another school, the mother said she cannot afford it because there is no money.
The little money we had at the beginning of the school year is what we used to register our daughter. We do not have any money to take her to another school.
If even we could raise a little money, we will not be able to also send her to a faraway school because schools within the community might not accept her because of the allegation. This is why we are calling on relevant authorities to probe into the situation to clear our daughter’s name.
Update (March 28): Leo Igwe has emailed me to say that he’d received notification from the school saying this was fake news. After Igwe approached the school, someone called Gemane G Getteh, replied:
We could have elected to decline to respond to your email dated March 17, 2021 because of the unprovoked and unwarranted invectives, innuendos and unsubstantiated claims, but common decency and our core values as an institution constrained us to the contrary.
This letter is therefore in response to your communication alleging violation of the right to education of Catherine Karma due to alleged ‘allegation of witchcraft’ and ‘expulsion’ by the Tyneceploh Education Foundation.
We want to inform you that the Tyneceploh Education Foundation did not ‘accuse’ Catherine Karma of witchcraft neither did we ‘expel’ her.
As an advocacy institution, we wish you would learn to understand a situation before responding to it.
Igwe shot back:
Please take a look at this link. Is that not Catherine? Is that not the grandma? Is that not the account of what happened? So what substance are you looking for?
We are in touch with Catherine and the grandma through the journalist who covered the story. I have been in touch with the family after the last meeting at the school, since you refused to allow Catherine take the examination at the school. It is pointless denying the fact or trying to discredit anybody. Your school was wrong to have expelled Catherine based on unsubstantiated claims.