The heat turned on child-abusers under the disguise of child-witch exorcism by the Akwa-Ibom State Child Rights Bill has been exacerbated recently by the prosecution accord signed by five organizations, namely, Basic Rights Counsel, Calabar; Child Rights and Rehabilitation Network, Ikot-Afaha; Stepping Stones Nigeria, UK; Stepping Stones Nigeria Child Empowerment Foundation, Eket and Young Humanistas Network (for Secularism, Leadership and Neglected Rights), Ibadan. Since the said agreement came into existence, in 2009, formidable efforts have been made to arrest, detain and prosecute those investigated (no matter their status) and confirmed to be involved in child abuse, abandonment and stigmatization/labeling.
Unfortunately however, this dream (of sending offenders according to the Child Rights law) has remained largely a pipe dream for many of us seeking justice for these kids. Parents and concerned citizens who most often than not are willing to narrate ‘how it all happened’ and are only WILLING to speak in CONFIDENCE with us, the police and legal team. None of them, so far, is willing to confront these ‘accused’ persons we have arrested and hold them accountable for their deeds. The dilemma here is that WITHOUT these WITNESSES, we cannot successfully prosecute any of the cases; and now, we have gone too far to ever imagining taking a break. The pertinent question then is: what is the way forward?
The foregoing question was our compass on 17th July, 2010 as we gathered the police, legal team and the social workers working on the childwitches menace to brainstorm on the way out of the seemingly irredeemable quagmire. The meeting among others, sought answers to three questions:
1. Are there categories of witnesses and which among can best serve our purpose?
2. What methods or ways can we adopt that can guarantee access to quality, nay dogged, witnesses cum prosecution?
3. How best can we assure and reassure our witnesses of their safety for the sake of justice?
It was, indeed, a rewarding meeting/seminar.