|Children tortured as witches in Angola|
|Published:Nov 26, 2007|
Domingos Pedro was only 12 when his father died. The passing was sudden; the cause was a mystery to doctors in Uige, Angola.
But not to Domingos’s relatives.
They gathered that afternoon in Domingos’s mud-clay house, he said, seized him and bound his legs with rope. They tossed the rope over the house’s rafters and hoisted him up until he was suspended headdown over the hard dirt floor. Then they told him they would cut the rope if he did not confess to murdering his father.
“They were yelling, ‘Witch! Witch!’” Domingos recalled, tears rolling down his face. “There were so many people all shouting at me at the same time.”
Terrified, Domingos told them what they wanted to hear but his relatives were not appeased.
Ferraz Bulio, the neighbourhood’s traditional leader, said seven or eight villagers were dragging Domingos down a dirt path to the river, apparently to drown him, when he intervened.
“They were slapping him and punching him,” he said. “This is the way people react towards someone accused of witchcraft. There are lots of such cases.”
Bulio is right. In parts of Angola, Congo and the DRC, a surprising number of children are accused of being witches and beaten, abused or abandoned.
Child advocates estimate that thousands of children living in the streets of Kinshasa, Congo’s capital, have been accused of witchcraft and cast out by their families, often as a rationale for not having to feed or care for them.
The officials in one northern Angolan town identified 432 street children who had been abandoned or abused after being called witches.
The notion of child witches is not new here. It is a common belief in Angola’s dominant Bantu culture . Adult witches are said to bewitch children by giving them food, then forcing them to reciprocate by sacrificing a family member.
But officials attribute the surge in persecutions of children to war — 27 years in Angola, ending in 2002, and near constant strife in Congo. The conflicts orphaned many children; other families were left intact but destitute and unable to feed themselves.
“The ‘witch’ situation started when fathers became unable to care for their children,” said Ana Silva, who is in charge of child protection for the children’s institute.
“So they started seeking any justification to expel them from the family.”
Since then, she said, the phenomenon has followed poor migrants from the northern Angolan provinces of Uige and Zaire to the slums of Luanda.
Two recent cases horrified officials. In June, Silva said, a Luanda mother blinded her 14- year-old daughter with bleach to try to rid her of evil visions. In August, a father injected battery acid into his 12-year-old son’s stomach because he feared the boy was a witch, she said.
Angola’s government has campaigned since 2000 to dispel notions about child witches, Silva said, but progress comes slowly.
“We cannot change the belief that witches exist,” she said. “Even the professional workers believe that witches exist.”
Instead, her institute is trying to teach authority figures — the police, teachers, religious leaders — that violence against children is never justified.
The Angolan city of Mbanza Congo has blazed a trail. After a child accused of witchcraft was stabbed to death in 2000, provincial officials and Save the Children, the global charity, rounded up 432 street children and reunited 380 of them with their relatives.
Villages formed committees to monitor children’s rights. The authorities say the number of children who are abused or living on the streets dropped drastically.
Uige is another story . In this region, said Bishop Emilio Sumbelelo, of St Joseph’s Catholic Church, persecution of children is rising.
“ We know that some children have been killed.”
His church runs the town’s only sanctuary for children victimised as witches, a shelter barely bigger than a three-car garage. Thirty- two boys, including Domingos, occupy bunks stacked a foot apart. There is no shelter for girls .
Afonso García, 6, took the shelter’s last empty cot in July.
“I came here on my own because my father doesn’t like me and I was not eating every day.”
Angola: Benguela – MPLA Defends Execution of Programmes for Street Kids
Angola Press Agency (Luanda)
28 June 2007
Posted to the web 28 June 2007
The board of the ruling MPLA party in the southern Benguela province, Thursday defended the implementation of programmes for street children and youths, by local institutions and NGOs.
This view was expressed in Lobito district, by second secretary of MPLA’s provincial committee, Eliseu Epalanga, during a visit to the centre accommodating street children and youths called "Pousada das crianças".
According to the politician it is necessary to outline programmes to accommodate all children who for various reasons are scattered in the streets.
Angola: Welfare Ministry Offers Professional Courses to Street Children
Angola Press Agency (Luanda)
April 17, 2007
Over 100 street children from Rangel district are being registered since Monday morning, here, by the Municipal Department of the Assistance and Social Welfare Ministry (Minars), to attend various professional courses.
ANGOP learnt of the information by the head of the referred department, Madalena Vieira Domingos, stressing that she is satisfied with the Ministry’s intention aimed at occupying, in a useful manner, children, teens, youths and adults, for over six months.
According to Madalena Vieira Domingos, the enrolment period will last for 15 days so that they later start the courses that will be lectured at São Paulo’s Social Centre.
The students are aged between seven to 29 years, with 10 being females from 13 to 20 years old.
The Independence Square, Avenida Brasil ward, inner regions of the wards of Vila-Alice and Rangel, are the priority zones for registration due to the large number of street kids.
Madalena Vieira Domingos, added that the Ministry’s project also aims at providing professional education to these disadvantage people and reintegrating them into the society.
Blog entry about a visit to Luanda….
"When we left, we were immediately besieged by a bunch of street kids. They chased after us as we got into the car, hoping to get a tip for “looking after” the car. As I had already agreed to pay an official guard to watch the car, I didn’t give the kids anything. They began yelling and insisting that we give them something. The guard was of course of absolutely no help when I actually had a need for security. He disappeared as soon as he got his tip. There must have been at least 8 of them and they were getting more and more aggressive. They started banging on the windows and yelling that they were going to break the windows or puncture the tires. Since other cars were blocking my exit, there was no escaping their little fists of fury. By this time, any sympathy I had for them as street children had evaporated, and there was no way I was giving the little fuckers a kwanza, although I was getting nervous that a window was going to shatter at any moment. Finally, somebody moved their car, and I drove off, with a couple of them hanging on to the car for a few seconds."
by Eric Beauchemin
"I didn’t like being on the streets. Life was very hard," says 8-year-old Fato. She doesn’t know how long she spent there before being taken in by a shelter in Luanda. The number of children living on the streets of Angola’s towns and cities is increasing. Some of the kids lost their parents during the war, others fled extremely poor or abusive families, and yet others had to run away after being accused of witchcraft.
A survey carried out in 2001 revealed that there are over 5000 children who make the streets of the capital, Luanda, their home. They range from babies to adolescents. Most are boys because girls are more likely to be taken in by foster families or as servants. The number of street children has been increasing in recent years, not only in Luanda but in towns and cities throughout Angola. Aid organisations hope that, with the return of peace and stability, the figures will start to decline.
There are a variety of reasons why so many children are winding up on the streets. "During the war," says Abubacar Sultan, the UNICEF child protection officer, "many children and adolescents fled the rural areas and conflict zones to join communities surrounding Luanda and the major provincial capitals. Others lost their parents during the fighting."Extreme poverty also forces many children onto the streets. "There is a lot of violence within families," says Father Horacio, "and many couples separate and get re-married. Step-parents tend to give preference to their own children when it comes to food and education. The step-children wind up having to do the hardest tasks, and many eventually run away."
"Street children," says Abubacar Sultan, "tend to organise themselves in small groups. They generally come from the same village or province and speak the same language. They develop their own self-support mechanisms."
There are many more children who are not officially considered street children, but who spend most of their time on the streets. According to Abubacar Sultan, "the majority of people in Luanda, a city of 4 million, are under the age of 18. We know that 50% of the city’s children are not attending school. That gives you an idea of how many children actually spend a good deal of their time on the streets, just trying to survive."
Everyone agrees that there are no easy solutions to the problem of street children. Providing services to these children is essential, believes Abubacar Sultan, "but we also need to address the root causes, and that is a complex challenge. We have to reduce poverty and re-establish the role of the family in Angolan society." That will require a much greater effort on the part of the Angolan government and the donor community, he admits, "but at least now with peace we can start rebuilding the lives of these children."
March 1, 2005
Forty Four Street Kids Reunited With Families
Malanje, 01/03 – At least forty four street kids have been reintegrated in their families in 2005, in the Northern Malanje province, by the provincial management of the National Institute of Children (INAC), Angop has learnt.
According to INAC provincial director, Moises Muhongo, this was only possible due to inquiries conducted by his institution that enabled to locate the relatives of the street kids.
Similar work will be developed this year so that more street kids be reintegrated in their families.
IN THE fading evening light, the wide boulevards of Luanda are virtually silent but for a ragged army of filthy street children running barefoot down the central reservation of Avenida de Commandante Valodia.
As they skip nimbly through petroleum-slicked puddles, the flickering neon de Beers sign in the skyline above them momentarily illuminates the palm-lined malecón. They are heading home to the sewers.
Towering over them, in the pristine skyscrapers and apartment blocks of the Angolan capital, government ministers, US oil-men and Lebanese diamond brokers look down from the comfort of their air-conditioned offices and homes.
In Luanda, the government is known to the poor as "el donos" – "the owners" – an apt description for there are few places on earth where the void between the rich and the poor is so terribly apparent. Western aid workers call Luanda "the city of a thousand smells". Public buildings stink of stale urine, water supplies are fouled and the stench of rotting rubbish piled by the roads is pervasive.
Below the streets, too, in complex sewers laid by the Portuguese settlers a century ago, a Dickensian nightmare is being played out as street children and rats desperately compete for scraps of food.
By 9pm, the rambling downtown area of Zinga is in darkness, thanks to another powercut. In a sewer deep beneath the streets, Pazinho stares through candlelight with glazed eyes and slurred speech. In his hands is a cloth dipped in petrol, "ngue", he slurs. The concoction is foul, a mixture of raw sewage and petroleum. It’s used not only to give him a high, for the starving children it suppresses the appetite and dulls the pain and cold they experience in the sewers each night. "We’re lucky it’s so cheap," mumbles Pazinho.
Pazinho is ten and has lived and slept in this sewer beneath Luanda’s streets since 1999. He’s originally from Caxito, 40 miles away, but is unsure where his parents are. He is very small for his age and constantly looks up to the older boys for confidence.
"I want to leave this place," he says. "I lost my parents during the war, I don’t know where they are. I came here with my brother to hide from the army but I don’t know where he is now."
In times of war or peace, Luanda’s most distinguishing feature remains the Ilha, the sandy peninsula that acts as a breakwater between the south Atlantic and the Angolan capital.
At the height of the country’s devastating 15-year civil war, a favourite way for the army to clear the city of street children was to herd them in droves at night and take them in helicopters out to sea – before dropping them hundreds of feet into the ocean.
Today, the punishment for the street children rounded up by the police is less deadly but still draconian, with youngsters regularly imprisoned and "Sjamboked" – whipped on the soles of their feet and palms with police batons. The pain is unimaginable and unforgettable. The merest sight of police causes the children to flee to the sewers, wincing in pain at the very real memory of torture.
Yet for most of the children there are few options but to run this gauntlet of intimidation. Faced with starving to death in the countryside, rummaging through rubbish and eking a bare living in the towns and cities is the only way to survive.
For UNICEF, one of the few agencies to work with Luanda’s growing army of street children, their plight is one of the greatest tragedies of all in a city that simultaneously boasts more wealth and poverty than almost anywhere else in Africa; beyond the skyline, buried deep beneath the Atlantic, is a vast reservoir of oil.
According to James Elder, a field officer with UNICEF, the organisation provides two types of support to the children. He said: "UNICEF gives financial support and training to existing groups who focus on the most vulnerable of all street children, the very youngest boys and the girls. Likewise, as a way of breaking the cycle and offering street children an alternative future, we provide basic education and skills training to groups of street children.
"This is a big task for us. Millions flocked to Luanda during the war and many arrived with nothing. But we are committed to ensuring these children have a peace worth living."
These appalling scenes of lost youth can be found across Angola. In the provincial town of Lubango, 400 miles north of Luanda, I meet eight-year-old Antonio Saca, who has been on the streets since he was six. Barefoot, in ragged jeans and an oil-stained Mickey Mouse T-shirt, he leaves the pungent stench of malnutrition and sweat on my palm as he nervously shakes my hand.
I ask him if he wants to go to school. Through blackened teeth he smiles and nods vigorously. He tells me: "I lost my mum in the war. All I know is she died when I was a baby. My brother brought me to the town from the countryside but abandoned me. I want to go to school and learn to read, but I need to feed myself. I’ve been working the streets, washing cars and selling lighters since I was six."
As he speaks, I know that without consistent help and guidance, Antonio will never see the inside of a classroom. His future is on the streets, whether as a child prostitute or a modern-day slave condemned to blackening shoes. The "Candonga", the black market, is the only thing that keeps the nation’s street children alive – standing in the gutter they sell everything from rotting fruit to individual aspirins. The disturbing reality in this devastated country is the fact that almost one in three children will not live to the age of five.
• To support The Scotsman/UNICEF Angola Children’s Appeal, send donations to FREEPOST 1501, Glasgow G2 6ZZ, quoting reference 33642033
Date: 22 Aug 2002
By Manuel Muanza
LUANDA, Aug 22 (AFP) – Every year, some 200 Angolan children are taken off the streets of Luanda and gently reintroduced to family life at the Arnaldo Janssen centre.
"We give these children a home and help to get them back on the straight and narrow," said Roman Catholic priest Pedro Caballero Horacio, who runs the centre.
"At the same time, we look into the reasons why they were on the streets, look for and re-educate their parents, and then return the children to their families," he said.
Like many of the children at the centre, 13-year-old Julio says he feels "at ease here, because no one hits you."
"It’s cool living here," he adds, as he leads a group of his housemates through their morning task of cleaning the dining hall.
Outside, other children sweep the courtyard before all of them meet in the classroom in the afternoon.
The centre, founded in 1992, has specialist staff whose chief task is to root out groups of abandoned children on the streets of Luanda.
"When we find the children, we try to find the root causes of their situation," Father Horacio says.
"That allows us to decide what to do next with them — whether to take them back to their parents immediately or give them a home at the centre."
Often, the centre’s staff finds babies, less than one year old, abandoned on the streets of the Angolan capital.
"They are taken in by families who are part of our Catholic parish, and we provide the necessary aid to help them to raise them," Father Horacio explains.
Every year, the centre helps some 200 children return to a normal family environment.
"They are only returned after they have undergone a full process to re-establish their emotional stability and their parents, who have to accept being reconciled with their children, have been re-educated," Horacio explains.
Children who are originally from regions far from the capital often have difficulty finding their parents again.
To help them, the Arnaldo Janssen centre has "launched a search programme, and we are in the process of locating some of the parents."
Children who have been orphaned — and they are numerous, with Angola just emerging from a 27-year civil war which ended in April — and others who cannot return to their families because of economic or psychological problems remain at the centre, where they receive professional training to prepare them for adult life.
Every year, the centre awards at least 140 diplomas to the apprentices it has trained, notably in carpentry and as electricians.
The Angolan authorities estimate that some 100,000 children have been abandoned by their families and live rough in the southwest African country.
Child abuse and extreme poverty help to explain "why so many children flee to live on the street or are abandoned by their parents," Father Horacio says.
And he laments, "It looks as if the situation will persist in the Angolan capital because the families’ economic situations have not improved" since the official end of the civil war on April 4.
Copyright (c) 2002 Agence France-Presse
SITUATION REPORT: ANGOLA’S CHILDREN – BEARING THE GREATEST COST OF WAR
Jenny Clover, 2002
Countrywide there are thought to be over 10,000 street children in Angola, of whom an estimated 5,000 are in Luanda, driven to the urban areas by both poverty and the civil war over the past eight years. Conditions in Luanda are appalling – in the past 40 years a city with a population of 300,000 has become a sprawling mass of squalid slums with a population of over three million. There is no electricity, sewerage, or clean water in these shantytowns surrounding the central city.
Of all the children in Angola, perhaps none struggle harder or live such a tenuous existence as the children living on the streets of this overcrowded capital. The coastal cities of Benguela and Lobito, and the inland town of Luena have also seen an increase in the number of street children. Separated from their families and unable to rely on kinship networks, they tend to organize into smaller groups with an older child protecting younger children, socially isolated in ghettoised buildings. Many are orphaned or abandoned; some have left starving families or abusive environments. Survival necessitates washing cars, carrying water, scavenging in dustbins, or prostituting themselves. Even for those children who do have a family the options are limited – the economies of provincial cities are so weak and job opportunities virtually non-existent so that children often make more money than adult family members by working on the streets hawking merchandise, washing cars, or as domestic workers. They do not have time to play and are easy prey for falling into delinquency and drugs (petrol, glue and other solvents are sniffed), and extremely vulnerable to diseases and abuse. The majority have never attended school, and very few receive any help.
By BARRY HATTON – Associated Press Writer
LUANDA, Angola (AP) — The evening rush-hour traffic lurches along a busy street in Angola’s capital when suddenly a boy pops his head out of a hole in the road and takes a look around.
Cars swerve away as he and a few others nimbly wriggle out of the sewers where they live to begin scavenging for dinner in Luanda’s garbage cans. The ragged, barefoot boys scuffle playfully on their way to the trash outside grimy apartment blocks.
More than a dozen boys live underground at Antonio Barroso Street, just a handful of the estimated 5,000 children in the city left homeless by the Angola’s civil war.
A 12-year-old who says his name is Fender has lived underground for three years. He says he enjoys the freedom of his life on the streets but is reluctant to give details of what he does all day.
“We go out for walks around town seeing what we can find to eat,” he said.
Although Luanda is heavily protected by the army and removed from battles raging in the countryside between government troops and UNITA rebels, the children are still victims of the fighting.
Aid workers say parents who see the conflict headed their way send their children on the last flights to the rundown coastal capital in hopes of saving them.
But the city of several million people is often "the end of the line" for the children, aid workers say. Unless they can find family or are picked up by social institutions, they must fend for themselves in a city already overburdened by tens of thousands of people displaced by the war.
The children grow up in filthy, garbage-strewn streets rarely visited by refuse trucks. They spend their time looking for scraps to eat or hustling for change. Fun is hanging onto the back of a truck for a hair-raising ride along the city’s potholed roads.
Public reaction to the homeless children ranges from complaints that they are delinquents to the charitable exchange of food for small chores.
Elena, 14, and Mangota, 15, are prostitutes who work on a murky side street. Elena looks younger than she claims. Both orphaned, the miniskirted girls say they make $35 a night that helps feed the numerous brothers, sisters and cousins with whom they share a hut.
"We usually have three or four clients a night," Elena said.
They have a modest ambition: to save enough money to invest in beer to sell at the side of road, competing with dozens of other beer vendors throughout the city.
In the Cassenda neighborhood near the airport, 17-year-old Belita cradles her 1-year-old baby, Carlos, outside their home – the rusted shell of a wrecked car that was left to decay.
The shell, where Carlos was born, is covered with strips of cardboard and cloth. Inside there is a mattress and blankets. There are no toys, no books, no television.
Aninha, 16, Belita’s friend who shares the car, says all the kids help raise Carlos.
"He’s a good boy. He doesn’t keep us awake at night," she said.
An Irish non-governmental organization called GOAL is trying to help the street children, although it is overwhelmed by a surge of new arrivals since the civil war in the southwest African nation, which began in 1975, resumed in December after a four-year pause.
GOAL has set up makeshift classrooms around the city. On weekday evenings, four volunteer teachers give 90-minute classes in reading and writing.
In a dirty car lot wedged between two 12-story apartment buildings, teacher Paulo Domingos props a blackboard against the skeleton of a long-abandoned car and starts his class under the dim streetlights.
Twelve young boys sit on old tires or rusting engine blocks, or lean against cars, as they recite the alphabet within view of an old Volkswagen van, picked clean of anything removable, which is their home.
GOAL also tries to reunite family members, but aid workers say the job is getting more difficult because of the flood of new arrivals.