Society 07 October 2016 29 5161
The population of the Democratic Republic of the Congo is among the poorest on earth. For decades, the Congolese have been blighted by a chaotic political situation, bloody civil wars and an ailing economy. This instability has produced thousands of homeless children. Some lose their parents in armed conflicts, others run away from homes too impoverished to support them. More often than not, they are forced to survive by begging or stealing in the streets. There is, however, one more reason a child can become homeless here.
A shockingly large number of kids are thrown out of their homes after being accused of witchcraft. The accusation may come from a family member, a neighbour or even a local priest. Many Congolese are highly superstitious, and such accusations can be valid grounds for expelling their children. Priests carry out exorcisms on a regular basis, but, clearly, some “kid witches” are beyond help: whether they cry, steal, make mischief or their behaviour just seems uncanny – these are tell-tale indicators of a budding evil sorcerer.
Abandoned by their families, these kids are forced to beg and steal in the streets. The aim of the first homeless shelter in the country’s capital, Kinshasa, is to save them from vagrancy and bring them back to their families. The head of the shelter, known here as Ché Guevara, was once homeless himself. He knows of the struggles of street life – and the lure of easy money – that the kids face, and is working hard to give them a second chance.