By Okey Ndiribe
A child rights group has denied allegations of fraud levlled against it and published in the current edition of a national news magazine. This was contained in a press statement issued by Stepping Stones Nigeri- aÂ British based group was – signed by its Advocacy and Campaigns Officer, Lynda Battarbee.
The group furtherÂ stated that it remained as committed as ever to fighting for the rights of children stigmatised as witches.
According to the group: â€œ Since the multi-award winning documentary â€“ Saving Africaâ€™s Witch Children â€“ was first broadcast in 2008, allegations have arisen stating that these NGOs have been fraudulently soliciting funds from the public at the expense of children in Nigeria.â€
Responding to theseÂ allegations, Stepping Stones Nigeriaâ€™s Programme Director, Gary Foxcroft said,Â â€œI refute these allegations entirely. It is clear that our work with so-called child witches in Nigeria has upset many powerful people who would prefer that this issue had never been brought to the attention of the International community. Such people, some of them who have made a great deal of money from spreading the mythical belief in child witches, will often use everything in their power to protect their interestsâ€.
Foxcroft further stated: â€œStepping Stones Nigeria, as a UK registered charity, publishes annual reports and accounts which are all publicly available. We are committed to upholding the highest standards of transparency and accountability.
All funds donated to the charity are used to support the local partner organisations that we work with in the Niger Delta to bring about lasting changes in the lives of vulnerable and disadvantaged children. It is a pity that the fake apostles who have established churches in Nigeria and made fortunes from preaching about witchcraft are not also regulated and made to publish such reports. Such allegations are clearly being made in an attempt to distract us from our important day-to-day workâ€.
The Child Rights and Rehabilitation Network, CRARN, childrenâ€™s centre was established in 2003 in order to protect the lives of children that were stigmatised as witches in Akwa Ibom State. It is the only such project in Nigeria that provides care and support to such children. When Stepping Stones Nigeria began partnering with CRARN in 2006, there were around 30 children in the centre. Today, with support from Stepping Stones Nigeria, the centre provides refuge, education, healthcare and hope to over 200 children.
Sam Itauma, President of CRARN had this to say at Eket,Â â€œIt is a nonsense to state that donations made have not been used to help the children. Stepping Stones Nigeria currently provides funding for 20 staff wages at the centre, food, clothing and medical costs for the children. In addition to this they helped CRARN to build the CRARN academy school and boyâ€™s dormitory block, buy various plots of land and carry out our important advocacy work. I wonder why these child witch hunters are so rattled when there are multiple suits in court regarding the issue of child witches. Maybe they donâ€™t have confidence in the judicial process? As for CRARN and Stepping Stones Nigeria, we have no doubt that the truth will prevailâ€.
After having received threats to his life after the broadcast of the documentary in 2008, Itauma now has to sleep in different locations in order to protect himself from the forces of darkness that seem to be intent on destroying him and the work of CRARN.Â Despite this Sam said, â€œjust like our friend and supporter, Governor Akpabiox, we believe that all children are innocent and sacred. They should be loved and protected.
Unfortunately in Nigeria today, children are still being tortured, abused and killed on a daily basis due to the belief in child witches; a belief that many people have profited from. We are doing everything in our power to bring positive change to the lives of these needy children, despite the many obstacles in our way.
â€œCRARN and Stepping Stones Nigeria remain united in their commitment to upholding the rights of stigmatised children and refuse to be intimidated by such unproven and meaningless allegations of fraud. Both organisations vow to continue their work unabated and will not stop until the horrific abuse of children stigmatised as witches is eradicated once and for allâ€, he added.