Chima Agazue https://orcid.org/0000-0002-2995-0179 is a UK-based British-Nigerian scholar with teaching and research interests in the areas of psychology, criminology, and criminal justice. He has taught criminology and criminal justice at the Blackpool University Centre and psychology at Bath Spa University. His research interests include sexual exploitation and abuse of vulnerable women and children; child cruelty and homicide by mothers and female caregivers; witchcraft-motivated violence and homicide; ritually motivated crimes; the perception of children as spiritual entities or possessed by certain mischievous spirits; bystander intervention in violent emergencies; the changing patterns of female criminality, particularly criminal violence and homicide; and the Nigerian notion of "one-chance" robbery.
The belief that certain humans are spiritual entities and the belief that some people are spiritually possessed can be found across histories and cultures. While these individuals are not always viewed in the negative or treated inhumanely, cases abound whereby degrading and inhumane treatments are meted out to some of them. In the African continent, certain groups of people, particularly children are linked to certain mischievous spirits due to their unusual appearance, aberrant behavior, disability, chronic illness, psychopathology or exceptional ability. Some are also suspected and consequently mistreated due to events surrounding their birth. Such children are known by different names in different parts of Africa. In this article, three groups of children (ogbanje, abiku and spirit children) considered as partly spirits and one group (child witch) considered as spiritually possessed, were explored. Each of these groups was described based on the traditional lore of the particular society where they are so labeled. The abuses, neglect and in some cases homicide against the children connected to the belief, were critically discussed. The article explored how the children are abused, neglected or killed due to the genuine belief that they pose a spiritual threat to their parents or carers and in some cases, the entire community. However, the article also provided insights into how such belief also serves as justification for parents with children present with any of the aforementioned characteristics to eliminate such a child through filicide for altruistic purposes. The article also explored how some parents and guardians exploit the belief to eliminate children seen as a burden. The cases of adult relatives who exploit the belief to eliminate orphans in their care for the purposes of inheriting properties belonging to the orphans’ parents were also explored. Recommendations were made on how to address these social problems.
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"Children as Mischievous Spirits: Legitimizing Child Cruelty and Filicide in Contemporary Africa,"
Dignity: A Journal of Analysis of Exploitation and Violence:
3, Article 3.
Available at: https://digitalcommons.uri.edu/dignity/vol6/iss3/3
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