Hidden behind a nondescript compound with mud huts in Sang in Ghana’s northern region are some 30 children who presumably should have been dead long ago.
But thanks to Catholic nun Sr Stan Terese Mario Mumuni, they are alive today. One of them who is now at school even hopes to become a doctor when she grows up.
Known simply as Issabelle, the ten-year-old girl was born with a deformity in her legs. For that, a medicine-man in her village pronounced that she was tied to witchcraft and must be killed.
Unlike many before her, Issabelle was lucky to have people from the community who reported her case to the Catholic nun.
She is now part of the 30 children who live happily at the Nazareth Home for God’s Children at Sang, which is over 400 km from Accra in the north.
There is another four-year-old boy who wants to become a teacher and teach in the school he now belongs. “I like to teach because my teacher has taught me a lot of new things,” he told Africa Review.
These young children would have died with their dreams years ago because of a cultural practice that defies any modern understanding. Unfortunately, it is still being practiced away from the public glare and the purview of state authorities.
The ages of the children in the Nazareth home range from eight months to 12 years. They are lucky to be alive today because they were rescued from cruel murder by communities that rejected them on the suspicion that their birth was linked to witchcraft.
The “crimes” of these children was only to be born deformed or to have their mothers die soon after they were born.
Many like them who could not be rescued are now dead. No one knows where they were buried because even their parents do not want to know.
Sister Terese told Africa Review the chilling tales of how she came to be the adopted mother of these unfortunate children:
“The people believe that a child acquired witchcraft from birth when he or she is born with deformities. In addition, a child who is not able to talk two years after birth is deemed to be a witch and in other situations, when the mother dies soon after the birth, the child is declared a witch.”
Sister Terese went on: “Those children who are not able to talk are considered to be communicating with spirits and these must not be allowed to live. At three if you are not able to talk, you are doomed.”
Even children who are born during periods of famine are also said to be connected with witchcraft, according to Sister Terese.
The communities engaged in this practice generally border or are part of the Sahel zone. The main culprit is said to be the Kokomba ethnic community.
There are limited education facilities up in the north, unlike in the southern parts of Ghana where belief in witchcraft no longer carries weight.
The Catholic nun says she started the shelter for these rescued children in 2009. But the centre is running out of space to accommodate more children, says Fr Cletus Akosah, who has been involved in the centre’s work. “It’s a sad situation.”
The cases of children needing to be rescued are usually communicated to the Church people by fellow Christians. “When we hear of any case, we rush in to talk to the people involved and offer to take the children away from them,” explains Fr Akosah.