“It is impossible that a child has made a pact with the devil.” These are the words of Father José Luis de la Fuente, a Salesian missionary working on behalf of marginalized children in Kara, Togo. Sadly, too many adults in his community believe just that -- and as a result, hundreds of precious girls and boys are brutally tortured -- and even killed -- each year.
The work of Fr. de la Fuente is featured in a recent documentary called “Yo No Soy Bruja” (“I Am Not a Witch”), produced by the Salesian Mission Office in Madrid, Spain. In it, he outlines a heartbreaking phenomenon that occurs not just in Togo -- but across communities in Africa, Asia and elsewhere where poverty is endemic and tribal beliefs run deep.
In these communities, during times of sickness, misfortune, natural calamity and death, locals become convinced that an evil spirit has deliberately planned to harm them. Far too often, they also believe the vessels for these evil spirits are children who, once accused, are robbed of their basic human rights. In fact, conventional wisdom dictates that children believed to be possessed by the devil are not human beings at all.
“Sadly, it’s very easy to understand,” says Fr. de la Fuente, director of the Don Bosco Center in Kara and co-author of a recent report, Minors Accused of Witchcraft in the Region of Kara. “The greater the poverty, the greater the number of deaths; and the more deaths, the more culprits that need to be found.”
One such unfortunate victim is a young girl named Georgette, who was just four years old when her father first accused her of sorcery. Beaten, left in the hot sun for days, emotionally battered and accused of “eating souls,” Georgette finally gave up. “Yes! I am a witch!” she pleaded, hoping to halt the torture and abuse. It was then that her stepmother poured boiling water on Georgette’s hands . . . an act that ultimately disfigured the child, and came very close to killing her.
Fortunately, Georgette is now under the care of Fr. de la Fuente’s staff. She is not alone. The Don Bosco Center houses more than 100 abandoned children, close to half of whom have been accused of witchcraft -- and those numbers are only expected to rise. As social and economic conditions deteriorate in Togo -- a country that ranks near the bottom of the United Nations’ Human Development Index -- more and more innocent children are targeted. In Kara alone, close to 775 girls and boys were newly branded as witches last year.
Further complicating the issue is the widespread existence of charlatans, or witch doctors, who claim to cure children believed to be possessed by the devil. Often, these charlatans have 30-40 children under their “care,” for which they charge parents a hefty fee. In fact, this is an elaborate graft that enriches the charlatans at the expense of children’s innocence and, in many cases, lives.
It is for these reasons that our Salesian missionaries in Togo -- and wherever children are robbed of their basic human rights -- are committed to addressing the root causes and conditions that lead to accusations of witchcraft and other heinous abuse.
From offering a loving home where youth can recover from their physical and emotional wounds, to providing pathways out of despair and hopelessness through education and job training, and to advocating on their behalf for lasting societal change, our Salesian missionaries will be there for these children.
For deeper insight into the work Salesian missionaries are doing in this realm, please watch “I Am Not a Witch”.
Our mission brings new dignity and hope to children robbed of their basic human rights and victimized by abuse and exploitation. What’s your mission?