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Nigerian governor says abuse of child 'witches' exaggerated

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Nigerian official on 'child witches'
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Gov. Godswill Akpabio says his government has taken action to limit abuse
  • He casts doubt on whether the problem is widespread
  • A recent CNN story said children are being abused and killed as witches in Nigeria
  • The governor says the real problem in his state is poverty, not witchcraft
RELATED TOPICS
  • Nigeria
  • West Africa
  • Africa
  • Child Abuse

(CNN) -- A Nigerian governor said on Monday that reports of child abuse associated with witchcraft in his state are greatly exaggerated.

Akwa Ibom State Gov. Godswill Akpabio spoke after CNN aired a story that found evidence of children being accused of practicing black magic. Some of the children had been beaten, burned with boiling water and showed scars that appeared to be from being cut with machetes. Other children said they were cast out of their homes.

"Like I said, it's a very, very minimal situation," said Akpabio about the incidence of witchcraft-related abuse in Akwa Ibom.

Since being elected, the governor said he has been aware of the issue and has taken steps to rectify it.

He said he signed a bill into law in 2008 that makes it a criminal offense, punishable by up to 15 years in prison, to label a child a witch.

"That brought the situation immediately under control," said Akpabio.

Akpabio said nobody has been convicted of witchcraft-related abuse so far under the new law. He said five people have been charged and are making their ways through the legal process.

The governor said the real problem in his state is not witchcraft, but poverty. He said his government has established centers for orphaned children, cast out either because they are accused of practicing magic or because their families are too poor to care for them.

The governor attacked a report sent to the United Nations from Stepping Stones Nigeria, a group that works with local street children. The study uncovered evidence of a large number of children in Akwa Ibom accused of witchcraft being taken to forests and killed, washed in acid, burned and buried alive.

"That report is part of the media propaganda against the state and it was done for pecuniary reasons," said Akpabio.

He also cast doubt on whether various reports, made by the media and nongovernmental organizations, were using different children to tell their stories.

"I need to know why the same set of children are being shown all over the world with the same story," he said. "These children are being used for monetary reasons," Akpabio said.

The governor said he does not believe in witchcraft. Many people do in Nigeria, where preachers identify possessed children and will perform exorcisms for a price. Nor does Akpabio think thousands of Nigerian children are being abused because people suspect them to be a witch or wizard. But he said he took such accusations seriously.

"There is no government alive that would see children burned alive and killed without taking action," Akpabio said.