Society

Accused Of Witchcraft, Congolese Children Face Scorn and Abuse

When a family in Congo suffers an illness or poverty, the blame is often laid on one of the children, who may wind up accused of sorcery. If that happens, other truly horrible things may follow.

Maurice Mulamba


LUBUMBASHI - In the Democratic Republic of Congo, when a child is disobedient or has problems, when a family member falls ill or has a bout of bad luck, sorcery is often seen as the obvious explanation. The children accused of witchcraft either end up on the streets, or are beaten and tortured by the clergymen who practice exorcisms for cash.

A group of pastors from the southeastern city of Lubumbashi has decided to denounce this terrible practice, and to stand up for the thousands of so-called "sorcerer" children.

Thomas Kalomba is a Presbyterian pastor in Lubumbashi. He hands out flyers where it is written in large print: "Zacky is not a sorcerer, he has the right to our protection." He has also printed t-shirts bearing the message: "You don't need to be a wizard to protect a child."

Kalomba and his colleagues have launched a campaign to raise awareness about the plight of children accused of witchcraft. He's been spreading the word in church and all around his neighborhood.

For the past two years, pastors and priests have been organizing religious conferences in Lubumbashi to denounce the treatment of these children by unscrupulous clergymen. "We call for the respect of pastoral ethics," explains pastor Mbenga Thithy, head of Lubumbashi's Church of Awakening. "Whatever may be wrong with a child, a man of religion has the duty to bring him to God, not to exploit him for cash."

"Burned by God's fire"

Kalomba and his colleagues can't fathom the fact that other members of the clergy could "morally and physically torture children under the pretext of exorcizing them." Some of these children spend days, weeks or even months at the mercy of pastors who want to "free them from their demons." Others are simply thrown out into the street.

Mrs. Kibali, a nurse at the Kisanga health center, remembers: "We took in a 10-year-old girl. Her entire face had been burned by hot water that a pastor splashed on her face every night," she says. The pastor claimed that "the girl was burned by God's fire" before fleeing from the police.

Eighteen-year-old André Munga has been living in a foster home for the past two years. Accused by a pastor of being responsible for the illness that killed his father, Munga was thrown out by his family.

"We found this boy in the streets, struggling to survive, and placed him in foster care. We have identified his family and are fighting for him to be able to go home," says Monzambe Jean, Pastor at the Congo Church of Christ and a children rights advocate.

The religious leaders closely monitor Munga's progression and have also sent him back to school, which, little by little, is changing his biological father's attitude. "He knows that I study well and has even started sending me money for school fees and uniforms," says Munga.

Encouraging results

"We preach the Bible and advocate children's rights," says Mozambe. For him, the Church is a place that embodies and transmits moral values. And, as such, it has to encourage followers to protect the rights of children, including those that are accused of witchcraft.

He is proud of the results his group has obtained after only two years. "We've managed to bring home 205 children accused of witchcraft and who were forced to live on the streets," he says. "That's a big deal!"

He believes that the thousands of children accused of sorcery are society's scapegoats. Struck with unemployment, death, accidents or poverty, families blame these children --with the help of unscrupulous pastors-- for their troubles.

"Hence," he says, "the need for this campaign to encourage members of the clergy to protect children, parents to be more responsible, children to speak out, and political and judicial authorities to enforce the law and punish anybody who mistreats children."

Read more from Syfia in French.

Photo - luc56

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Economy

European Debt? The First Question For Merkel's Successor

Across southern Europe, all eyes are on the German elections, as they hope a change of government might bring about reforms to the EU Stability Pact.

Angela Merkel at a campaign event of CDU party, Stralsund, Sep 2021

Tobias Kaiser, Virginia Kirst, Martina Meister


-Analysis-

BERLIN — Finance Minister Olaf Scholz (SPD) is the front-runner, according to recent polls, to become Germany's next chancellor. Little wonder then that he's attracting attention not just within the country, but from neighbors across Europe who are watching and listening to his every word.

That was certainly the case this past weekend in Brdo, Slovenia, where the minister met with his European counterparts. And of particular interest for those in attendance is where Scholz stands on the issue of debt-rule reform for the eurozone, a subject that is expected to be hotly debated among EU members in the coming months.

France, which holds its own elections early next year, has already made its position clear. "When it comes to the Stability and Growth Pact, we need new rules," said Bruno Le Maire, France's minister of the economy and finance, at the meeting in Slovenia. "We need simpler rules that take the economic reality into account. That is what France will be arguing for in the coming weeks."

The economic reality for eurozone countries is an average national debt of 100% of GDP. Only Luxemburg is currently meeting the two central requirements of the Maastricht Treaty: That national debt must be less than 60% of GDP and the deficit should be no more than 3%. For the moment, these rules have been set aside due to the coronavirus crisis, but next year national leaders must decide how to go forward and whether the rules should be reinstated in 2023.

Europe's north-south divide lives on

The debate looks set to be intense. Fiscally conservative countries, above all Austria and the Netherlands, are against relaxing the rules as they recently made very clear in a joint position paper on the subject. In contrast, southern European countries that are dealing with high levels of national debt believe that now is the moment to relax the rules.

Those governments are calling for countries to be given more freedom over their levels of national debt so that the economy, which is recovering remarkably quickly thanks to coronavirus spending and the European Central Bank's relaxation of its fiscal policy, can continue to grow.

Despite its clear stance on the issue, Paris hasn't yet gone on the offensive.

The rules must be "adapted to fit the new reality," said Spanish Finance Minister Nadia Calviño in Brdo. She says the eurozone needs "new rules that work." Her Belgian counterpart agreed. The national debts in both countries currently stand at over 100% of GDP. The same is true of France, Italy, Portugal, Greece and Cyprus.

Officials there will be keeping a close eye on the German elections — and the subsequent coalition negotiations. Along with France, Germany still sets the tone in the EU, and Berlin's stance on the brewing conflict will depend largely on what the coalition government looks like.

A key question is which party Germany's next finance minister comes from. In their election campaign, the Greens have called for the debt rules to be revised so that in the future they support rather than hinder public investment. The FDP, however, wants to reinstate the Maastricht Treaty rules exactly as they were and ensure they are more strictly enforced than before.

This demand is unlikely to gain traction at the EU level because too many countries would still be breaking the rules for years to come. There is already a consensus that they should be reformed; what is still at stake is how far these reforms should go.

Mario Draghi on stage in Bologna

Prime Minister Mario Draghi at an event in Bologna, Italy — Photo: Brancolini/ROPI/ZUMA

Time for Draghi to step up?

Despite its clear stance on the issue, Paris hasn't yet gone on the offensive. That having been said, starting in January, France will take over the presidency of the EU Council for a period that will coincide with its presidential election campaign. And it's likely that Macron's main rival, right-wing populist Marine Le Pen, will put the reforms front and center, especially since she has long argued against Germany and in favor of more freedom.

Rome is putting its faith in the negotiating skills of Prime Minister Mario Draghi, a former head of the European Central Bank. Draghi is a respected EU finance expert at the debating table and can be of great service to Italy precisely at a moment when Merkel's departure may see Germany represented by a politician with less experience at these kinds of drawn-out summits, where discussions go on long into the night.

The Stability and Growth pact may survive unscathed.

Regardless of how heated the debates turn out to be, the Stability and Growth Pact may well survive the conflict unscathed, as its symbolic value may make revising the agreement itself practically impossible. Instead, the aim will be to rewrite the rules that govern how the Pact should be interpreted: regulations, in other words, about how the deficit and national debt should be calculated.

One possible change would be to allow future borrowing for environmental investments to be discounted. France is not alone in calling for that. European Commissioner for Economy Paolo Gentiloni has also added his voice.

The European Commission is assuming that the debate may drag on for some time. The rules — set aside during the pandemic — are supposed to come into force again at the start of 2023.

The Commission is already preparing for the possibility that they could be reactivated without any reforms. They are investigating how the flexibility that has already been built into the debt laws could be used to ensure that a large swathe of eurozone countries don't automatically find themselves contravening them, representatives explained.

The Commission will present its recommendations for reforms, which will serve as a basis for the countries' negotiations, in December. By that point, the results of the German elections will be known, as well as possibly the coalition negotiations. And we might have a clearer idea of how intense the fight over Europe's debt rules could become — and whether the hopes of the southern countries could become reality.

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