After an aid worker who helped a Nigerian boy accused of witchcraft posted a photo of the act on Facebook, people around the world were moved to donate and offer help.
The image shows Anja Ringgren Lovén, founder of the African Children's Aid Education and Development Foundation (DINNødhjælp), feeding a 2-year-old boy who was ostracized by his community in Nigeria.
In her photos she is shown giving food and water to the child and wrapping him in a blanket. She then brought him to a hospital, according to the New Zealand Herald, to be treated for ringworm.
"Thousands of children are being accused of being witches and we've both seen torture of children, dead children and frightened children,"Lovén says in the Facebook post. "This shows why I fight. Why I sold everything I own. Why I'm moving out in uncharted territory."
Her nonprofit, founded in 2012, helps children accused of witchcraft by bringing them to the organization's orphanage where they receive housing, medical care, food and education.
A week after uploading the original photo, Lovén posted an update featuring the child, who she named Hope, looking healthier and happier after being treated.
When it comes to helping children accused of witchcraft, the reality is more complicated than these photos may make it seem.
Belief in witchcraft, or the ability to harm others using supernatural powers, for example by causing illness or misfortune, is "widespread" across sub-Saharan countries, according to a 2010 Unicef report, Children Accused of Witchcraft.
Thousands of children are accused of witchcraft, and are subsequently abused, abandoned, or even killed. The exact number of victims is difficult to assess, but Unicef's report cites one expert in 2003 that estimated 23,000 children were accused of sorcery and living in the streets in the city of Kinshasa alone.
“These phenomena [related to beliefs in witchcraft] are often falsely associated with 'African tradition,'" says the report. "[They] are wholly or partially misunderstood by western observers.”
A variety of economic and political factors contribute to the perpetuation of witchcraft accusations today, according to the Unicef report. For example, political strife and civil wars can lead to fewer resources among families and a greater number of orphaned children, who are then vulnerable to accusations.
"Accusations of witchcraft against children can be a direct consequence of the inability of families to meet their basic needs," the report says.
The Unicef report was written specifically to inform “child protection agencies,” like Lovén's. It aims to improve the effectiveness of organizations' interventions by promoting a better understanding of local representations and beliefs.
Unicef recommends a systemic approach to change, rather than one focused on individual cases:
“Any response to accusations of witchcraft against children should strengthen national child protection systems that prevent and respond to abuse. Interventions should promote social change by raising awareness among community leaders and working with legal professionals.”
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