Superstition, bigotry and prejudice, ghosts though they are, cling tenaciously to life; they are shades armed with tooth and claw. They must be grappled with unceasingly, for it is a fateful part of human destiny that it is condemned to wage perpetual war against ghosts. A shade is not easily taken by the throat and destroyed. - Victor Hugo
In anticipation of my favorite holiday, I try to cover as many spooky or horror-oriented subjects as possible in October; it was thus fortunate that I discovered this article on the topic of African witchcraft beliefs a couple of weeks ago. Alas, it’s not one of the sort we can have fun with; instead it’s just another “sex trafficking” hysteria piece. What makes it interesting, however, is that the entire article is a perfect and extended example of “pot calling kettle black”.
In parts of Africa, witchcraft is becoming increasingly linked to a modern form of slavery: human trafficking. Through ritual “oaths of protection”, witchcraft provides a convenient way to traffic and mentally dominate victims, who are easily silenced with the threat that any disobedience will be punished by the spiritual world. This has left the phenomenon hard to detect. The International Labour Organisation (ILO) has recently almost doubled its 2005 estimate, and revealed that there are currently 20.9 million victims of trafficking in the world. 3.7 million of these victims reside in Africa. Yet in 2011, there were only 257 prosecutions, 218 convictions and 10,094 victims identified on the continent.
It’s obvious from the very first line that the writer of this story is every bit as credulous as the superstitious Africans about whom she writes; like them, she accepts fantastic claims on the word of “authorities” without asking for any proof whatsoever, and in fact considers the lack of proof to be “evidence” that dark forces are at work. It does not even occur to her to compare the small convictions-to-claimed-victims ratio in Africa with not-dissimilar ratios in Asia, Europe and North America, places where belief in black magic is far less common or profound; had she done so she would have noticed that this supposed “growing trend” has almost no demonstrable effect.
…belief in child witches in Nigeria cuts across all facets of society…For those who live in abject poverty, something that promises to explain their predicament can be very alluring…Consequently, a number of pastor‐prophets…have found their calling…In the European witch hunts of 400 years ago, victims tended to be of lower social status and elderly women. The demographic profile of the contemporary witch-accused are also mainly older women, but include successful younger women and increasingly children…
I think any comment I could make about this paragraph would be wholly superfluous, don’t you?
Over 95% of the children on the streets of Akwa Ibom State in Nigeria have been stigmatised as “witches” by pastors…According to UNICEF, “Living in the street is one of the common consequences of witchcraft accusations and is also an indicator of the scale of the phenomenon”…UNESCO notes that “poverty is the most visible cause of the vulnerability of women and children to trafficking in Nigeria”. An ILO report revealed that of the children who were released to traffickers by their parents in Nigeria, over 72% did so because they could not afford school fees. Half of those children never returned home…
If that first figure is even close to accurate, it’s a true tragedy…yet not so different from American culture, where about half of all homeless teens identify as homosexual or transgendered and another large fraction leave their homes due to some other sexual issue (such as incest). Given that similarity, do we really need “traffickers” to explain why many of these young people take up survival sex work or accept deals to get the hell out of Nigeria to some European country where they might be able to earn a living away from superstitious fanatics? And if the so-called “traffickers” do indeed get them to Europe, do we really need mumbo-jumbo to explain why they don’t want to betray those facilitators to the tender mercies of the same kind of self-important, persecutory authority figure who got them thrown out of their houses in the first place? The reporter also claims in this section that “One Nigerian study revealed that 19% of school children and 40% of street children surveyed had been trafficked,” but since that’s a clear absurdity (if they were “trafficked” how are they still in school?) I’m going to presume the term “trafficked” is being used as a catch-all which includes the sort of child labor which was common in the West until just over a century ago.
…In 2008, the Nigerian National Agency for Prohibition of Traffic in Persons (NAPTIP) advised that 90% of girls that had been trafficked to Europe were taken to shrines to take “oaths of secrecy”…[Detective Andrew] Desmond explains: “…The strong belief in the spirits makes this a powerful weapon for modern day slave traders”…These deeply-held…beliefs…cause huge problems for law enforcement officials who want victims to testify against their traffickers. Symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) incurred by a trafficking victim will often seem to them to confirm that the spirit world is inflicting retribution upon them…
The strong belief in the “innocence” of “children” makes this a powerful weapon for modern day witch hunters; these deeply-held beliefs cause huge problems for human rights advocates who want law enforcement officials to stop using “sex trafficking” as an excuse for increased persecution of sex workers and our clients. Furthermore, stress incurred by migrant sex workers as a result of police harassment will often seem to officials to confirm that invisible “traffickers” are inflicting fad-diagnosis “psychological” disorders upon them.
I have absolutely no doubt that some clever and manipulative criminals use widespread and entrenched cultural beliefs to control the gullible, but this is true of clever and manipulative people in every culture, including the criminal conspiracy we call “government” and the prohibitionist social engineers behind “sex trafficking” hysteria. And anyone who explains social problems or demonizes people he doesn’t like with unprovable claims of invisible, malevolent forces is the exact moral and intellectual equivalent of the juju men this narrative demonizes and the migrant women it patronizes in order to accomplish its xenophobic, prohibitionist goals.