Tackling accusations of witchcraft

A new report released by A4ID development partner, HelpAge International, uses research provided by A4ID legal partners to look at ways legislation can be used to tackle accusations of witchcraft.

Pervasive problem

Accusations of witchcraft are widespread across Africa and Asia with the accused often the most marginalised in a community, such as the elderly, those living in extreme poverty, women living on their own or individuals suffering from mental health problems.

In many countries where women have a lower social status, older women are often ostracised when they are widowed. Many are then vulnerable to accusations of witchcraft which can see them subject to physical and psychological abuse, as well as further poverty.

Although it is difficult to know for certain how many women are affected it is estimated that in Tanzania alone 1,000 women are killed every year as a result of accusations of witchcraft.

In Burkina Faso research shows that 70 per cent of women banished from their communities because of witchcraft were over 40 years old at the time, and that 80 per cent of accusations were instigated by close family members. 

Legal response

HelpAge International have much experience of tackling and reducing accusations of witchcraft and related violence amongst older men and women. However, they approached A4ID for expertise on the use of legislation to address accusations of witchcraft.

Three of our legal partners – Allen & Overy, Dechert and Ogilvy Renault - reviewed relevant legislation for HelpAge International in nine countries; Burkina Faso, Cameroon, India, Cote d’Ivoire, Kenya, Malawi, Senegal, South Africa and Tanzania. They also provided guiding principles that helped inform HelpAge International’s position on the use of law in this area. 

HelpAge International’s report – Using law to tackle accusations of witchcraft – summarises the findings of the review and their position. 

Revising and enforcing

The report’s recommendations include using community-based interventions as the first approach to protect those vulnerable to accusations of witchcraft.

But it also stresses that offences related to accusations should be prosecuted under existing criminal law. And that law enforcement officials and the judiciary should be trained in using existing criminal codes to deal with alleged crimes related to witchcraft allegations. 

Consideration should also be given to revising the existing criminal code to introduce a criminal offence relating to an accusation of witchcraft where the accusation incites subsequent criminal behaviour. 

To download the full report, please click here

For more information about HelpAge International’s work, please visit www.helpage.org


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