In the African country of Nigeria, what most would call a teen's "rebellious phase," is sometimes labeled witchcraft. Many Nigerian children accused of being witches are often held responsible for causing illness, death and destruction resulting in tortuous punishment under the guise of "cleansing."
A pre-teen Nigerian boy, Christian Eshiett, was often in trouble with his grandfather, also his caretaker, for running away from home for days, skipping school and cavorting with friends. His grandfather recalled his measures of punishment and the day he decided his grandson was a witch.
"I beat him severely with canes until they broke, yet he never shed a tear," said 76-year-old Eshiett Nelson Eshiett. "One day, I took a broom to hit him and he started crying. Then I knew he was possessed by demons... Nigerian witches are terrified of brooms," the man stated in a report from CNN.
Since that day two years ago, the now 14-year-old Christian was branded a witch. The torture and abuse has worsened.
The teen told CNN in a telephone interview,"they would take my clothes off, tie me up and beat me." He is one of thousands of Nigerian teenagers that have suffered severe punishment for being labeled a witch.
Christian's grandfather, a theater instructor at a university in Nigeria, has since allowed his grandson to return home because he said he loves him and is an advocate for his education. However, he still believes Christian is clenched by the demons of witchcraft.
"When you are possessed, you are possessed; no one can deliver you from Satan," Eshiett said.
Gary Foxcroft, program director of Stepping Stones Nigeria, a non-profit organization that helps alleged witch children in the region said, "children accused of witchcraft are often incarcerated in churches for weeks on end and beaten, starved and tortured in order to extract a confession." He noted that children who are stubborn, have learning disabilities and medical conditions such as epilepsy are often targeted and later considered witches.
Christian leaders are also guilty of perpetuating the cycle by claiming they have the God-given power to exorcise the demons from witch children for a fee. Reverend Albert Aina, a pastor at Four Square Gospel Church in Nigeria will perform the exorcism for free.
"Sometimes, we get a dream that shows us a certain person is suffering from witchcraft. Sometimes, you have a child who has inexplicable body marks because of struggling in the night. They are easy to identify, but why charge when you have been given a gift by God?" Aina said.
"The role of the international Christian community in this cannot be underestimated," Foxcroft said. "Unfortunately, the fact remains that this belief system is being spread by so-called Christians."
In the Nigerian states of Akwa Ibom and Cross River, more than 15,000 have been branded as witches, most them have been abandoned and abused.
Foxcroft is planning a global conference in 2010 to raise public awareness of the growing issue in Africa and other parts of the world.
"It is a growing issue worldwide, among not just African communities, but in countries such as Nepal as well. We are trying to see whether it is a neglected protected issue," said Jeff Crisp, head of policy development and evaluation for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.
"It is not the belief in witchcraft that we are concerned about," Foxcroft said. "We acknowledge people's right to hold this belief on the condition that this does not lead to child abuse."