In a recently released document of the African Child Policy Forum (ACPF), Revealing Our Hidden Shame – Addressing Charges of Witchcraft and Ritual Attacks, it is being reported that “hundreds of thousands of children in Africa are believed to be accused every year of what is widely regarded across Africa as a particularly heinous crime: witchcraft”.
In the document, 19 Sub-Sahara African countries are mentioned as the scene of cases of the commission of rural infanticide crimes, attacks against children with disabilities, ritual attacks against children with albinism and cases of violence against children accused of witchcraft.
The 19 SSA countries are scattered across the continent and it is believed – in view of the scarcity of data – that the cases which have come to light only constitute the tip of the iceberg.
It goes without saying that there is no place in the 21st century for these practices and crimes.
Warning: Some readers may find the following story disturbing (webmaster FVDK).
Cult-related attacks against children still occur in at least 19 SSA countries
Published: June 2, 2022 By: LUSA – Macau Business dot com
Angola is the only Portuguese-speaking African country mentioned in a report released on Wednesday by the African Child Policy Forum (ACPF) on the practice of ritual attacks against children.
In the document, “Revealing Our Hidden Shame – Addressing Charges of Witchcraft and Ritual Attacks”, presented Tuesday in a video conference from Addis Ababa, “hundreds of thousands of children in Africa are believed to be accused every year of what is widely regarded across Africa as a particularly heinous crime: witchcraft”.
ACPF executive director Joan Nyanyuki argues in the introduction that “across the African continent, much has been done to improve laws and policies aimed at ending violence against children.”
“Some progress has been made in establishing the systems and structures needed to implement and enforce these policies and laws. These efforts, however, have not sufficiently addressed an important dimension of violence against children: accusations of witchcraft and ritual attacks,” it adds.
In the document, 19 countries are referenced as the scene of cases of the commission of rural infanticide crimes, attacks against children with disabilities, attacks against children with albinism and cases of violence against children accused of witchcraft.
“The report documents, to the extent possible in light of the scarcity of data, how widespread accusations of witchcraft are across the continent (although they vary in extent over time and from place to place). Best estimates suggest that hundreds of thousands of children face accusations every year in Africa and subsequently suffer serious violations.”
Examples given by the document point to reported cases of ritual infanticide in Benin, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Ghana, Madagascar and Niger, while Angola, Benin, Burkina Faso, Essuatini, Ethiopia, Ghana, Liberia, Madagascar, Rwanda and Zimbabwe have reported ritual attacks on children with disabilities.
Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali and Tanzania have reported attacks on children with albinism and in South Africa, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Liberia, Nigeria and Tanzania cases of violence against children accused of being witches are reported.
“To protect children from the harm of witchcraft accusations, it is not necessary to deny that ‘witchcraft’ exists. Instead, it is important to prioritise child protection while preventing child abuse by addressing the belief that such abuse can somehow protect communities from perceived danger,” the document argues.
The research that resulted in the report found that with the exception of work done by some non-governmental organisations, “few organisations and states in Africa make systematic efforts to prevent such abuse”.
“Few prohibit accusations. Services for children who have suffered harm and violence related to accusations are few and far between. This area needs urgent attention,” argues the report.
Joan Nyanyuki argues “a comprehensive and coordinated effort by state and non-state actors is needed to uncover the nature, magnitude and impact of violence related to accusations of witchcraft and ritual attacks. This approach will ensure that child protection systems, laws and policies are enhanced to adequately address these forms of violence against children.”
Saving Africa’s Witch Children (dated June 22, 2009) reporting on how thousands of small children in Nigeria are branded witches. The web page also contains a large number of news reports and articles (2005-2009) including websites of organizations fighting against these cruel and illegal practices.
Due to circumstances I haven’t posted any article on this site for nearly four weeks. The reason for this silence on my part was certainly not the lack of ritual murder cases reported in this period. In the past four weeks African newspapers reported on ritual murder cases and related ritualistic acts in a number of SSA countries, notably in the Gambia, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Uganda, Zimbabwe (in chronological order), with Nigeria leading this ugly list and Zimbabwe ranking second.
Having said this, two observations merit specific mentioning. First, as the list shows, the countries mentioned are all English-speaking countries (a heritage of their colonial past). This creates a distortion in the observation or analysis with a bias creating the impression that in non-anglophone countries ritual murders would not occur. Far from that! It is just a consequence of the fact that the collection of articles and reports on these heinous acts based on superstition is too narrow based. I have also reported this problem in a distinct section of this site (see under ‘Methodology’).
Secondly, and as I have also repeatedly stated on this site, we must fear that reported ritual killing cases are just the tip of the iceberg. Many cases of disappeared children, men and women remain unresolved, the bodies of the victims have successfully been hidden by the murderers. The effort of perpetrators to wipe out all traces of their crimes reveals an important aspect of nowadays ritualistic murders. The murderers know very well that their act is illegal, and constitutes one of the worst crimes one can imagine: to take the life of an innocent person for personal gains. Ritualistic acts may have been based originally – in the past – on traditional beliefs serving the interests of a community, in the course of the 20th century these practices have become criminal activities fed by a desire to become rich, famous or another selfish goal.
The focus of today’s posting is not on ritualistic murders or comparable and related crimes, such as kidnapping, torture a.s.o. However, the topic is related: in more than one African country, the public and also the authorities want the introduction and the carrying out of the death penalty for convicted perpetrators of ritual killings both as a deterrent to prevent future crimes and as a justified revenge of the community for the senseless loss of life of one of its members.
It is a controversial topic, as will be clear from the article below. Whereas many African countries have abolished the capital punishment, there seems to be a resurgence of the death penalty in various parts of Africa, notably in southern Africa (Botswana, Malawi, South Africa, Zimbabwe), but also in West Africa (Nigeria e.g.). Recently, Catholic officials across the continent have rejected the increasing calls for the introduction of the death penalty, saying “The death sentence cannot be a solution, especially considering how poor our justice system still is across most of Africa.”
The latter argument makes sense. There are more reasons to defend the abolishment of the death penalty. However, supporters hold the opposite view for reasons cited above.
Whatever the position is, in favor of or against the death penalty, the article reproduced below shows one more time the ugly practice of ritualistic murders in Southern Africa.
More on the killing of people with albinism in Malawi in a few days time (webmaster FVDK).
Catholic officials decry resurgence of death penalty in southern Africa
HARARE, ZIMBABWE — Catholic officials and human rights campaigners across Africa are reiterating their opposition to capital punishment after Botswana carried out two executions for murder convictions in February.
Botswana, located north of South Africa, confirmed the executions of 33-year-old Wedu Mosalagae and 29-year-old Kutlo Setima on Feb. 8. Both had been found guilty in separate cases of killing a woman.
Oluwatosin Popoola, a legal advisor for Amnesty International on death penalty issues, told NCR that the organization is “very concerned” about the executions, especially as they are the fifth and sixth since President Mokgweetsi Masisi came into office in 2019.
This as “a high number for Botswana within a 16-month period and an indication that the country is not relenting in its adherence” to the use of the death penalty, said Popoola.
“The recent executions are regressive and they slow down Africa’s push against the death penalty,” said Popoola. “There is no unique imperative for any country to use the death penalty.”
Although many African nations have abolished use of the death penalty in the past decade — including Guinea, Benin, the Republic of the Congo and Madagascar — Botswana’s government claims it can be a good deterrent to prevent violent crimes.
In nearby Malawi, proponents say it prevents the murdering of people with albinism for ritual purposes. Amnesty international said earlier in February that more than 20 murders of people with albinism have been committed in Malawi since 2014.
In 2019, three Malawians were sentenced to death for the killing of a person with albinism. (See tomorrow’s posting – FVDK). But the country has not carried out any death sentence since 1994, joining other countries such as Zimbabwe that have been imposing death sentences but not carrying out executions.
Boniface Chibwana, coordinator for the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace of Malawi’s bishop’s conference, told NCR he thinks African Catholic officials can be doing more to drum up support for the dropping of the death penalty across the continent.
“To deter crimes such as murder, the church needs to progressively and actively socialize the young using the human rights approach, so that many of its followers should grow in Christ while respecting the human rights culture to build societies where such rights as the protection of life are a norm,” he said.
In 2019, there was a 53% jump in death sentence convictions across sub-Saharan Africa compared to 212 convictions a year earlier. These death sentences resulted from murder convictions in Kenya, Malawi, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sudan, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
Popoola said Chad, which borders Libya, Niger and Sudan, was the latest country in Africa to abolish the death penalty for all crimes.
Fr. Dumisani Vilakati, director of the regional conference of Catholic bishops across southern Africa, told NCR that the church is often blamed for not being vocal enough against the death penalty. But he said the church “is part of the solution” for the promotion of the right to life, from conception to natural death.
“Here in Africa, we have to put the death penalty in the pro-life scheme that has been espoused by Pope Francis,” said Vilakati.
“We are a church that preaches conversion of human beings, and we believe that people can change for the better,” said the priest. “The death sentence cannot be a solution, especially considering how poor our justice system still is across most of Africa.”
Vilakati explained that there have been numerous wrongful convictions across the continent, and inmates are increasingly having to wait longer and longer for their trials to be conducted.
“What we need to do as a society is to educate people, and the church should play its role in espousing the sanctity of life [rather] than having society eliminating people through death penalty,” said Vilakati. “We should be pro-life and give people a second chance.”
Today, a voice from Kenya: the voice of Isaac Mwaura, senator for persons living with disabilities (PWDs). He is the first Member of Parliament (MP) in Kenya with albinism. It is important to emphasize the fact that Isaac Mwaura himself is a person living with albinism, so he knows what he’s talking about. He knows the constraints which people living with disabilities have to face in society, he knows what discrimination means in practice, he knows the dangers which notably people living with albinism have to confront.
You’ll find his impressive Wikipedia page here. Isaac Mwaura can be followed on Twitter where he tweets as @MwauraIsaac1
In the message reproduced below senator Isaac Mwaura sumps up what he has been able to achieve since he was elected in parliament. It is an impressive list, though far from complete. Still much has to be done to protect the interests of people living with albinism which forms a broad and varied group. It is significant that – inter alinea – he mentions that he has been able to rescue Kenyans with albinism, including children, from ritual killing.
In several countries in Sub-Saharan Africa people with albinism are being hunted, kidnapped, mutilated and killed for obscure reasons based on superstition. The example of Isaac Mwaura merits to be duplicated in other SSA countries. Let his voice be heard! (webmaster FVDK).
People have been asking me what has been achieved so far in representing people living with disability in Parliament and politics in general.
My answer is simple: A lot has really been achieved, against all odds.
It’s important to note the marginalisation, stigma and discrimination against persons with disabilities has been going on for thousands of years. This is largely because of the way many societies perceive the functional, and indeed, utilitarian aspects of a human being, especially a child who is born differently.
Disability in many societies has been seen as a taboo, a bad omen or even a disease. Therefore, very few people are socialised to embrace it. This means a lot of the work we do is to ‘deconstruct’ these notions on one hand, and also to increase equal opportunities for PWD.
In my journey for eight years since the constitutionally recognised representation of PWDs, the first thing I did upon assumption of office was to form an association of all MPs with disabilities.
I formed the Kenya Disability Parliamentary Association (Kedipa) with 13 members, five of whom were nominated to represent persons with disabilities, six directly elected by the people in single member constituencies, and one being a parent.
Kedipa became the first caucus of its kind in the history of Parliament. The aim was to create synergy amongst MPs for the disability agenda to be promoted in Parliament.
For example, Parliament wasn’t as accessible to wheelchair users and people with other mobility difficulties. In this regard, we pushed for the modification of the chamber and provided an extra aide to assist those with mobility difficulties.
Through legislative proposals, I have been able to to increase the retirement age of PWDs from 60 to 65 years to compensate for years lost due to lack of employment.
I have also been able to help hundreds of PWDs secure jobs in the public and private sectors. I have also ensured several of them were appointed to constitutional offices such as constitutional commissions.
A very interesting innovation is the enrollment of youth with disabilities into the National Youth Service. This paramilitary training was perceived as not attainable by PWDs, yet hundreds have since graduated with useful skills for the nation. This is the world’s first programme of its kind.
In terms of education, I have successfully pushed to increase funding to special schools, helped create a full directorate of special needs education from a division at the Ministry of Education.
I pushed to create a special allocation of funds to education assessment resources centres and ensured all boards of management in all public schools include a representative of PWDs.
For the first time in the history of Parliament, special schools learners have visited the House to follow live proceedings, and I have enabled some of them to get school buses.
I have also visited special schools across many counties in far-off places such as as Lisa Hola School for the Deaf in Tana River.
PWDs are now represented in the NGCDF from the constituency level to the national board. They are also represented in all the Uwezo Fund committees.
Kenya Sign Language has now been elevated to to English and Kiswahili to ensure the deaf have an equal chance, over and above ensuring TV stations provide this critical service.
In government budgeting, I pushed to increase the funds allocated to the NCPWD from Sh700 million to Sh1.8 billion to cater for amongst others, cash transfer for Kenyans with severe disabilities.
Further, persons with albinism receive free sunscreen lotion, protective gear and skin cancer treatment from the government, thanks to my work.
I also started the Mr & Miss Albinism beauty pageantry to create awareness. Then other African countries have adopted this.
I have also lobbied for the creation of the position of the Africa Union Special Envoy on the rights of persons with albinism. I have also lobbied the EU Parliament to adopt fair treatment of albinism as a human rights issue.
Additionally, I have also rescued Kenyans with albinism, including children, from ritual killing. In 2019, I helped PWAs to be counted for the first time, including the intersex persons who heretofore hadn’t been recognised in Kenya.
Through the AT2030 project, I have pushed for the production of a local electric wheelchair that is affordable and durable in our terrain.
I have sponsored the highest number of bills in the Senate.
A lot remains to be done but we have progress to build upon for a better tomorrow for all of us. As someone said, disability is a club, anybody can be a member.
The ritualistic infanticide practiced by the Kara, Banna and Hamar tribes of southern Ethiopia is as old as their cultures. The Kara, Banna and Hamar are not the only ethnic groups in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) that kill ‘cursed’ or ‘mingi’ infants. Also in e.g. Ghana, Burkina Faso, Benin and Nigeria tribal elders decide that the well-being of their clan or ethnic group is best served by the killing of young, innocent and often defenseless life – and I am certain that infanticide is practiced in more SSA countries.
As with other ritualistic killings (murders!), superstition ‘is the root of all evil’. Ignorance, superstition, AND the lack of law enforcement keeps this ugly practice alive. Let’s all work hard to eradicate these practices from society. Today is 2020. We’re living in the 3rd millennium!
I highly recommend the article below. CNN is to be commended for its publication! (webmaster FVDK)
Is the tide turning against the killing of ‘cursed’ infants in Ethiopia?
Published: November 5, 2011 By: CNN – Matthew D. LaPlante
His top teeth came in before his bottom teeth. That is how elders of the Kara tribe determined that a healthy baby boy needed to be killed.
The child was “mingi” — cursed, according to their ancient superstitions. With every breath, they believed, the boy was beckoning an evil spirit into their village.
Murderous though it was, the decision to kill the boy was the easy part. It was the sacrifice of one infant for the good of the entire tribe — a rite that some of the elders had witnessed hundreds of times throughout their lives in Ethiopia’s remote Omo River Valley.
The tribe’s leaders were less certain of what they should do about the boy’s twin brother, who had died of sickness shortly after birth. After some debate, including a pensive examination of a goat’s intestines, they decided the dead child must have been mingi, too.
So they dug up the corpse, bound it to the living boy, paddled a canoe into the center of the Omo River and threw them both into the murky brown water.
That was five years ago — a time before many outside of this isolated basin had ever heard of mingi.
Today, nudged out of acquiescence by a slow-growing global condemnation of the ritualistic infanticide practiced by the Kara, Banna and Hamar tribes of southern Ethiopia, regional government officials have begun to take action — threatening prison for those complicit in mingi killings.
Meanwhile, a small band of Banna Christians has taken it upon itself to give sanctuary to the mingi children of their tribe; an enlightenment among some young and educated tribesmen of the Kara has spawned an orphanage for the condemned; and global Samaritans, drawn by the plights of these defenseless children, have offered money and adoptive homes.
The combined efforts have saved scores of children.
But none of the interventions has brought an end to the deep fear that stokes the slaughter. And so it is estimated by some government officials, rescue workers and village elders that hundreds of children are still being killed each year, by drowning, suffocation and deliberate starvation.
‘All the people’ Bona Shapo steers a dugout canoe through crocodile-infested waters, guiding the craft ashore where the Omo River bends at the bottom of a crumbling precipice near the tiny stick-and-thatch village of Korcho.
The sun is setting into the ravine. Across the river, a troop of colobus monkeys whoops and howls, stirring a flock of gangly marabou storks from their perches on a stand of flat-topped acacia trees.
“This is where they do it,” says Bona, who stood upon these same muddy banks on the day the twin boys were thrown into the river. “Sometimes they take the babies out in a boat. Other times, they just take them to the edge of the water and throw them in.”
The mingi rites of the Kara are slightly different from those of the Banna, which are, in turn, different from the Hamar. But common among all is a profound fear of what might happen if the killings were to stop.
There has been little academic scholarship on the subject, but some observers have speculated that it might have started many generations ago as a way to purge people who are more likely to become a burden or who cannot contribute to the propagation of their people. That might explain why children who break a tooth or injure their genitals are among those singled out for death. Others are killed because they are born out of wedlock or to married parents who have not completed a ceremony announcing their intention to have children — a brutal enforcement, perhaps, of the deep-rooted duty that members have to the tribe first, their family second.
As far as the Kara elders are concerned, these rules are as old and unyielding as the Omo River — and every bit as crucial to their survival. Allowing a mingi child to live among the Kara, they believe, could cause the rains to stop falling and the sun to grow hotter.
“If they have the mingi, there will be no water, no food, no cattle,” Bona says. “But when they throw the baby away, everything is good again.”
Elders bitterly recall times in which their sympathy for mingi children prevailed over their fear. They believe that heedlessness cost the tribe most of its cattle and many of its members. Today, Kara leaders say, a more respectful adherence to the brutal obligations of their beliefs has allowed their tribe to thrive.
“So yes, it is sad, but we are thinking about the village, the family, all the people,” Bona says. “We tell the parents, ‘don’t cry for your baby, because you will save everyone. You can always make another baby.’ ”
‘No other option’ She wasn’t permitted to nurse him, hold him or even see him. But Erma Ayeli still clings to an image of the baby she lost — fantasy though it may be.
“I think he must have been a beautiful boy,” Erma says as she rests on a pile of sticks, surrounded by a playful mob of younger children. “I wanted to keep him.”
Her chin sinks into the tornado of colorful beads draped around her neck.
Apparently sensing her sorrow, a young boy rests his half-shorn head playfully on her lap. Erma tugs at his ear, smiles and reclaims her composure.
She still mourns. But she does not question why her son was killed. “There was no other option,” she says.
Sex outside of the confines of marriage is acceptable among the Kara.
But if a woman becomes pregnant before participating in a marriage ceremony, her child is considered “kumbaso,” a mingi curse that occurs when parents fail to perform the appropriate series of rites before conceiving. Erma cannot marry, though, until her older sister has first been wed. Her hands fall to her swollen stomach; she is pregnant once again.
“It was an accident,” she laments as she rubs her bare waist. “I don’t want to lose this baby, too.”
There is a potion she can take; the village medicine man can mix a concoction of roots and herbs that will make her sick and might cause her body to reject her pregnancy, taking her baby’s life before others can take it from her.
Many women choose this path. Erma won’t. Because this time, at least, she has some reason to hope that her child might be spared a violent death. Far away from her village, she has heard, there is an orphanage for mingi babies. She has pleaded with village leaders to let her child go there.
Either way, though, she won’t be allowed to see her baby. Once again, she’ll be left to dream about what her child might look like. “This time, I think, I might have a girl,” Erma says. Again, her head hangs low. Again, the boy next to her drops his own head into her lap, glancing up with a wry smile.
This time, though, Erma doesn’t smile back. She gently strokes his smooth brown cheek.
‘This was our culture’ They have taken her tribal clothes. Her beads, her animal skins and her jewelry have been replaced by a tattered shirt and loose-fitting skirt. In that and most other visible regards, Mashi Lamo is indistinguishable from the other inmates at the Jinka Prison Institute.
Yet everyone in this ragtag penitentiary knows who she is. “The mingi mother,” says one guard, a woman whose crisply pressed khaki uniform seems to stand out in defiance of this dirty, dilapidated jail, cut into a hillside in the South Omo region’s administrative capital. “Yes, we all know what happened to her. It is very sad.”
It is not typical for Kara mothers to be asked to kill their own mingi children — and none are known to have done it of their own volition. In any case, fellow Kara say Mashi could not have killed her baby; she was far too weak after the birth to have done such a thing. It was other women who took the child away, they say.
But when police arrived, Mashi took the blame. Within days, she had been sentenced to three years in prison. She had no attorney, and there was no trial.
She may be a prisoner today, but her past and future are inexorably Kara. Mashi can speak and understand only her native language. She’s never been to school. When she is finally released, there will be only one place to go.
And so, under the watchful eyes of several other Kara prisoners, Mashi stands by her story.
“What they say is false,” she says of those in her tribe who have proclaimed her innocence. “I did it all myself.”
But asked if she deserves to be in prison, the teenager sinks her face into her hands. “I hate it here,” she says.
“I wanted to keep my baby, but that was not allowed. This was our culture.”
A few feet away, another young prisoner — girlish in figure and demeanor — hides behind a corrugated metal wall and listens in. Prison guards say she is the only other person serving time here for a mingi killing, and they say she shares Mashi’s plight.
But she cannot bring herself to speak of what happened. “This one prefers to forget” the shipshape guard says.
Unevenly executed as it might be, the government’s effort to crack down on mingi killings has had an effect on the Kara. Combined with other interventions, the fear of prison might be helping to save some children.
But not all of them.
“Before, they did it in the open,” says Solomon Ayko, a gangly young Kara man who has witnessed several mingi killings. “Now, it just happens in secret.”
‘They are human’ The Kara don’t count the passing years as outsiders do, but by Ari Lale’s recollection, it happened about 15 years ago, when he was a young man, eager to prove himself to the rest of his tribe.
A kumbaso baby had been born. Leaders asked Ari to supervise the child’s execution.
“The baby was crying,” Ari says, “so we put sand in its mouth and he was still trying to cry but couldn’t anymore.”
Soon, the child was dead, and Ari escorted a group of women away from the village to throw the tiny boy’s body into the bush.
What became of the child’s remains? “The hyenas or other animals took it away,” Ari says with a shrug.
Today, Ari is the leader of Korcho village, and he counts his participation in the boy’s death as one of his proudest memories.
“All the families would thank me for throwing away that baby,” he says.
“If I had not done it, they would have been angry.” It is extremely uncommon for police officers to make the arduous trip from Jinka to any of the Kara villages, but Ari says he and other leaders are nonetheless wary of the threat of prison. At some point, he says, the government will want to make an example out of someone of his stature.
But Ari, who wears his hair taut under a hard, red clay bun in the way of his tribe’s warriors, has not stopped believing in the dark magic of mingi. And so he and others have found a different way to carry out the killings.
They will not drown or suffocate the children, as they once did.
But they have forbade anyone from the village to have contact with a cursed baby.
“If a mother was to give the baby her breast, she would also become mingi,” he says. “After the baby is born, we keep it alone in the house and we do not give it water or milk.”
Without nourishment, the infants quickly die, and there is little that can be done to prove that a baby wasn’t simply stillborn.
Ari appears to be pleased about this solution. Yet he balances his pride with a lament for the dead.
“They are human,” he says of the mingi children.
For all of the praise he got for carrying out that first killing, Ari says, he would have much preferred to let the child live, if only there had been another way.
For some, now there is.
‘A sickness in our culture’ Kara children die all the time.
Many succumb to disease. Others are killed by wild animals. And some are sacrificed in the name of mingi.
For Shoma Dore, that was simply part of life.
“This is something that came down from generation to generation,” Shoma says. “If a baby comes with the top teeth before the bottom teeth, it must be killed. If it comes without the ceremony, it must be thrown away. … I didn’t realize there was anything wrong with it.”
Not, that is, until Shoma left the tribe to attend school in his early teens. In Jinka, he says, he realized for the first time the evil that was being done by his tribe. And when he returned, two years later, he found that others among the Kara’s more educated youths had come to the same realization.
“There are many important and good parts of our culture — there is also a sickness in our culture, and we have to change ourselves,” says Aryo Dora, who decided a few years ago to go with Shoma and about 30 other young Kara to plead with tribal elders to stop the killings.
Their plan, developed with the assistance of a team of Westerners, was simple: If mingi children could be sent far away from the village, they would pose no risk to the tribe.
“Once we explained the plan, they agreed quite easily,” Shoma recalls.
And that is how the orphanage began.
It wasn’t long before Webshet Ababaw was drawn into the fight. The professional tour guide and driver was in Jinka when he received a call from the orphanage. Leaders there had received word that a kumbaso girl was about to be born in the Kara village of Labuk. They needed someone with a four-wheel-drive vehicle who wasn’t afraid to race across the axle-breaking savannah to get to the village in time to save her.
No one seemed inclined to help find the child when Webshet and an official from the orphanage arrived in the village, but they finally found the infant lying on the ground behind a stick hut. Her mouth was filled with dirt and sand, but she was alive and seemed to be in relatively good health, Webshet says.
Piecing together a newborn first-aid regimen from what he’d seen in the movies and in a high school health class, Webshet unstrung a lace from his shoe and tied it around the baby’s broken umbilical chord. When no one in the village would give him a blanket, he wrapped the shivering child in his jacket. And when no one would give him milk, he found a goat, crouched beside it, and took a small amount for the girl.
None of the Kara had helped him on that day, but as he raced back to Jinka, Webshet looked at the small bundle in the passenger seat beside him and smiled.
There she was, improbably cooing as he bumped along the rugged dirt road.”
At least someone decided to contact us,” he says. “That is the only reason why she was alive.”
Orphanage officials later named the baby Edalwit, which means “she is lucky.
“Today, more than 30 mingi children live together in a small single-story home in a quiet Jinka neighborhood. Aryo, who is co-director of the orphanage, won’t grant permission for outsiders to check on the children — a rule intended to protect the orphans from potential exploitation, he explains. But, he says, they are loved, cared for and schooled with the hope that one day, they will be allowed to return to their families.
“These children are the future leaders of their tribes,” Aryo says. “They are going to grow up big and strong. They are the ones who will end mingi.”
‘We did our best’ It is a bright May morning in Korcho. In the communal spaces between the round, grass-topped huts, dozens of women are on their knees, vigorously thrusting their body weight into stone hand mills, grinding sorghum into flour.
Zelle Tarbe, though, is working inside. It has been just six days since she gave birth to her baby boy. Her breasts are still swollen — full of milk that will not nourish her child. The shock of losing him is still plastered across her face.
Zelle, who is unmarried, knew she would have to give up the child, but it was harder than she expected. “I wanted to keep him with me,” she says.
But she is nonetheless feeling very fortunate, “because my son is alive.”
Zelle was able to spend a few short moments with her baby before orphanage officials spirited him away.
“He was so sweet and beautiful,” she says from the shadows of the hut as a friend butchers a goat and hangs its carcass on the wall beside her. “But I did not give him a name because he was mingi and could not stay with me.”
Already, though, she is dreaming of a day in which she might make the journey to see her boy.
“Someday, I hope, I can visit him in Jinka,” she says.
No one, least of all Zelle, would argue that the rescue mission isn’t preferable to death for mingi children. But the orphanage has nonetheless been a controversial solution. A Christian group that supported the effort for two years withdrew its backing this spring after accusing the orphanage’s director of stealing money donated by American benefactors.
Orphanage officials counter-accused the Americans — who had helped arrange the adoptions of four mingi babies — of stealing the children from their families. The adoptions were, in fact, all legal under Ethiopian law, which treats mingi children as abandoned. But the orphanage leaders have argued that the biological parents surrendered their babies under cultural duress and should have the right to reclaim those children if their situation were to change.
Either way, adoptions and orphanages don’t address the root causes of mingi. And even when it had the support of a determined and resourceful team of Westerners, the rescue and shelter system was able to save only a fraction of the endangered children.
“At one point, there were six women we knew about who were pregnant with mingi children,” recalls Jessie Benkert, one of the Americans who supported the rescue effort. “We only got one.”
Geography is as much an obstacle as tradition. The Kara tribe is separated into three main villages, and the only telephone able to reach the outside world is in the main village of Dus, an hours-long hike from the other communities. Hundreds of other Kara live deep within the bush and, tribe members say, are more likely to carry out mingi killings there without notice.
Getting from Jinka to any of the Kara villages in a four-wheel-drive vehicle is, in the best of situations, a half-day’s trip across soft savannah sands and muddy river beds. A light rain can delay the trip by days. And during the rainy season, which lasts for up to eight months each year, the route can be washed away entirely.
Tribal leaders in Korcho say about 20 mingi children have been born into their small village since the orphanage opened. Orphanage workers have arrived in time to save only about half of them, they say.
Last year, rescue mission leaders learned that a Kara woman had given birth to a mingi boy whom tribal elders had promptly attempted to kill by ripping out his umbilical cord. The wounds had quickly gone septic, and there was no time to send a car to retrieve the child. Evacuation by air was the only solution; chartering the aircraft cost $3,500.
“That was the sum of all the money we had,” said Levi Benkert, Jessie’s husband. “And we couldn’t be certain that, even if we did it, he was going to live.
“They did it anyway — and saved the boy. An online fundraising effort quickly recouped the costs of the evacuation, but rescue mission officials knew they couldn’t sustain those sorts of expenses. And, in any case, they’ve since been pushed out of the Omo River Valley by local government officials who have sided with the orphanage’s Ethiopian director.
“We did our best,” Levi Benkert says. “We saved as many children as we could. And we continue to pray for them every day.”
‘Out of fear’ The people of the Omo River Valley love their children.
That is what Andreas Kosubek has come to believe over six years of organizing medical mission trips into the Kara heartland.
“These people are really good people,” says the German missionary, who recently gained permission from tribal elders to build a home on Kara lands. “They are not doing this because they are evil, wild, dumb monsters. They’re doing it out of fear. They fear for the lives of others in the tribe.”
From Kosubek’s point of view, the fear will end only if the Kara come to believe in something stronger than mingi. In his way of thinking, that means introducing them to Christianity.
“But we cannot do that,” the 29-year-old evangelist says, “unless we approach them with humility and a dedication to service.”
And Kosubek says he has often failed in that regard.
Not long ago, a Kara man brought his sick daughter to Kosubek, who was on tribal lands to work on his home and not accompanied by anyone with medical training.
The toddler was breathing rapidly and not responding to her father’s words or touch.
“She was the same age as my daughter and, you know, if my daughter had been sick like that, there is nothing I wouldn’t have done to save her,” Kosubek says, noting that he would have immediately evacuated his own daughter to a hospital. “But so many things crossed my mind: It’s difficult, it’s expensive.”
The girl later died, probably of simple pneumonia.
“I could have helped her,” Kosubek says. “And I am ashamed.”
Kosubek recognizes the need to end mingi killings, but he doesn’t feel entitled to condemn those deaths.”
Far more children are dying in other ways,” he says. “These are ways that we can address and prevent immediately if we just cared enough. Before we judge, we have to ask ourselves what we have done to help these children.
“In that question, he believes, is a model for truly bringing an end to the slaughter — through genuine selflessness and compassion.He’s seen it, firsthand, among the people of the nearby Banna tribe.
‘My children are also mingi’ In a smoke-filled mud hut in the village of Alduba, Kaiso Dobiar dips a ladle into a tar-black pot of coffee, filling her home with the aroma of the brew as she stirs the simmering liquid.
Kaiso is proud to be Banna, and she follows many of her tribe’s customs and beliefs. But she is also Christian and, wary of false idolatry, she and her husband refused to perform the rites mandated by tribal leaders before they conceived.
“So my children are also mingi, in that way of thinking,” says Kaiso, who is fostering two additional mingi children in her home.
A tiny girl crawls onto Kaiso’s lap, reaching over to help stir the pot. “This is Tarika,” Kaiso says. “She is 2 years old, and she is mingi.”
The girl was born without the appropriate Banna ceremonies, but her birth mother hid the child for six months. “Then the rains stopped for a short time,” Kaiso says. “The people rose up and said, ‘You must get rid of her. Throw her into the bush.’ But I said, ‘do not throw your child into the bush, give her to me.’ ”
Also sharing this small hut with Kaiso’s family is Tegist, another mingi child who guesses her age at 7 or 8 years. Kaiso says her foster daughters cannot play with other Banna children and must remain in her family’s small compound.
“They will have to stay here until they are older,” Kaiso says. “After that? God, he knows.”
Missionaries first came to the Banna decades ago, and the Christian church here is larger than any other among the tribes of this region. Still, their numbers are small; Banna’s Christians make up just 1 or 2 percent of the tribe’s population.
But their collective efforts have been enough to almost eliminate mingi killings within their tribe. With little money or other means of support, Banna’s Christians have accepted responsibility for nearly all of the tribe’s mingi children. Many, like Kaiso, are already caring for one or more mingi boys and girls. One family has taken in 17 foster children.
They do so at great potential risk to their own families. As she steps outside her home, the precariousness of Kaiso’s situation becomes clear.
“Kaiso, why are you protecting those children?” an angry neighbor screams from beyond a stick fence. “Tell us why!”
The Banna have not faced drought or a significant bout with deadly disease for many years. That, local Christians say, has kept much of their neighbors’ anger at bay.
But if the tribe’s fortunes were to change, its leaders would be swift to identify a culprit, Banna tribesman Andualem Turga says.
“What you need to understand is that, to these people, these babies are like an influenza,” he says. “If it is not stopped, it can kill many people. That is what they believe. … And when things go badly, the people believe this more than ever.”
Another foster mother, Uri Betu, tries not to think about such things. Her faith, she says, is clear on her responsibilities to the two mingi children who live in her home — and any others that need her care.
“For now, we do not worry,” Uri says as she watches her pair of 2-year-old foster daughters, Tariqua and Waiso, play in her yard.
ver time, Uri prays, the Banna will see that the presence of mingi children in their midst is unrelated to the patterns of rain and sun that sometimes cause their crops to fail.
Still, she laments, “there is a long way to go to change the beliefs we have had for so long.”