Child's Right and Rehabilitation Network (CRARN) is charity organisation registered with Corporate Affairs Commission in Nigeria and a 501c Charity in the US. CRARN began operation by a small group of volunteers in 2003 to shelter a few children who had been accused of possessing witchcraft power as part of a widespread witch-hunt in their community, which left hundreds of people dead in the space of two months.
Some of the children living in the bush under rain and cold. Some have even died before rescuers arrived
The majority of the children accessing the services at the CRARN children’s shelter are orphans of one or both parents. Typically the surviving parent remarries and the incumbent spouse brands the child as a “witch” or “wizard” and casts them out onto the street. They have often spent much time living on the streets before they rescued to the centre. Most children have suffered some severe violations of their right’s, either on the streets or at the hands of pastors, parents neighbors and members of the public.
This includes horrible beatings with machetes, rods, horsewhips, burning parts of the body with fire to elicit confessions, hanging on the roofs. Some children shows scars of fire or hurt water burns, finger chopped off, mutilated bodies while being rescued. Some children have told volunteers how they where chained in churches, starved of foods for days and even hung on roofs and allowed to dangle for hours while receiving beatings from the step-parents and step brothers and other adults.
Report by UNICEF working with CRARN has shown that the belief in child “witches” cuts across all facets of society – the literate and illiterate, the wealthy and poor, the law enforcement agents, social welfare workers law makers and most specifically the leaders of revivalist Pentecostal churches. Such people believe that when a mysterious, spiritual spell is given to a child through fruits, food or drinks. Witchcraft spells could also be given to a child in spirit form while asleep. The child who eats this spell, is then called out in the night where his soul will depart the body to be initiated in a coven, a place where of witches and wizards and believed to be gathered. The initiated child will then have the spiritual power to bring about untold destruction, including killing uninitiated people and causing diseases such as HIV/AIDS, malaria, hepatitis, typhoid and cancer. Cases like drunkenness, madness, smoking of marijuana, divorce, infertility, accidents and misfortunes are perceived to be the handiwork of these child “witches” and “wizards” or the elderly witches. It is believed that in recent times, children have become the target for initiation by elderly witches as they are more proactive and susceptible to their spells and are quicker in destructive action. This belief is boosted and cultivated by many pastors in the local churches. This superstition is deeply ingrained in the minds of more than 95% of the people. Those who help or rescue or support the witch branded are believed to witches of have superior power that could ward off any charm or spell.
CRARN supports children to access medical care, education giving them nutrition and love. Children with CRARN have come to realize that they were never witches or wizards. They feel comfortable to enlighten others who have the belief in witchcraft. Some of the children believe they will be enlightenment ambassador in the future to help crape the deeply held belief in witchcraft.