EKET, Nigeria – The nine-year-old boy lay on a bloodstained hospital sheet crawling with ants, staring blindly at the wall.
His family pastor had accused him of being a witch, and his father then tried to force acid down his throat as an exorcism. It spilled as he struggled, burning away his face and eyes. The emaciated boy barely had strength left to whisper the name of the church that had denounced him — Mount Zion Lighthouse.
A month later, he died.
Nwanaokwo Edet was one of an increasing number of children in Africa accused of witchcraft by pastors and then tortured or killed, often by family members. Pastors were involved in half of 200 cases of "witch children" reviewed by the AP, and 13 churches were named in the case files.
Some of the churches involved are renegade local branches of international franchises. Their parishioners take literally the Biblical exhortation, "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live."
At first glance, there's nothing unusual about the laughing, grubby kids playing hopscotch or reading from a tattered Dick and Jane book by the graffiti-scrawled cinderblock house. But this is where children like Abigail end up after being labeled witches by churches and abandoned or tortured by their families.
There's a scar above Jane's shy smile: her mother tried to saw off the top of her skull after a pastor denounced her and repeated exorcisms costing a total of $60 didn't cure her of witchcraft. Mary, 15, is just beginning to think about boys and how they will look at the scar tissue on her face caused when her mother doused her in caustic soda. Twelve-year-old Rachel dreamed of being a banker but instead was chained up by her pastor, starved and beaten with sticks repeatedly; her uncle paid him $60 for the exorcism.
Israel's cousin tried to bury him alive, Nwaekwa's father drove a nail through her head, and sweet-tempered Jerry — all knees, elbows and toothy grin — was beaten by his pastor, starved, made to eat cement and then set on fire by his father as his pastor's wife cheered it on.
If you are a Christian grounded in the reality that your particular Sky Fairy left explicit instructions that Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live how do you go about combating the very real problem of witches? Like so: