Akua Denteh was beaten to death in Ghana's East Gonja District last month — after being accused of being a witch. The murder of the 90-year-old has once more highlighted the deep-seated prejudices against women accused of practicing witchcraft in Ghana, many of whom are elderly. Human rights and gender activists now demand to see change in culture in a country where supernatural beliefs play a big role. in Ghana, where nonagenarian Akua Denteh was bludgeoned to death last month, certain communities blame the birth of children with disabilities on witchcraft.
But the case of Akua Denteh is far from an isolated instance in Ghana, or indeed the world at large. In many countries of the world, women are still accused of practicing witchcraft each year. They are persecuted and even killed in organized witch hunts — especially in Africa but also in Southeast Asia and Latin America.
Historian Wolfgang Behringer, who works as a professor specializing in the early modern age at Saarland University, firmly believes in putting the numbers in perspective. He told DW that during these three centuries, between 50,000 and 60,000 people are assumed to have been killed for so-called crimes of witchcraft. But he says that in the 20th century alone, more people accused of witchcraft were brutally murdered than during the three centuries when witch hunts were practiced in Europe:
"Between 1960 and 2000, about 40,000 people alleged of practicing witchcraft were murdered in Tanzania alone."
In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, it is usually the younger generations who are associated witchcraft. So-called "children of witchcraft" are usually rejected by their families and left to fend for themselves. However, their so-called crimes often have little to do with sorcery at all:
"We have learned of numerous cases of children suffering rape and then no longer being accepted by their families. Or they are born as illegitimate children out of wedlock and are forced to live with a parent who does no longer accepts them," says Thérèse Mema Mapenzi, who works as a mission project partner in the eastern DRC city of Bukayu.
Mapenzi's facility was initially intended to be a women's shelter to harbor women who suffered rape at the hands of the militia in the eastern parts of the country, where rape is used as a weapon of war as part of the civil conflict there. But over the years, more and more children started seeking her help after they were rejected as "children of witchcraft." There is a whole social infrastructure fueling this hatred against these young people in the DRC: Many charismatic churches blame diseases such as HIV/AIDS or female infertility on witchcraft, with illegitimate children serving as scapegoats for problems that cannot be easily solved in one of the poorest countries on earth. Other reasons cited include sudden deaths, crop failures, greed, jealousy and more.