The Telegraph reports on the danger to children who are named witches by religious leaders in their villages.
Ostracised, vulnerable and frightened, she wandered the streets in south-eastern Nigeria, sleeping rough, struggling to stay alive.
Mary was found by a British charity worker and today lives at a refuge in Akwa Ibom province with 150 other children who have been branded witches, blamed for all their family's woes, and abandoned. Before being pushed out of their homes many were beaten or slashed with knives, thrown onto fires, or had acid poured over them as a punishment or in an attempt to make them "confess" to being possessed. In one horrific case, a young girl called Uma had a three-inch nail driven into her skull.
Yet Mary and the others at the shelter are the lucky ones for they, at least, are alive. Many of those branded "child-witches" are murdered - hacked to death with machetes, poisoned, drowned, or buried alive in an attempt to drive Satan out of their soul.
[They] are "identified" by powerful religious leaders at extremist churches where Christianity and traditional beliefs have combined to produce a deep-rooted belief in, and fear of, witchcraft. The priests spread the message that child-witches bring destruction, disease and death to their families. And they say that, once possessed, children can cast spells and contaminate others.
Some Nigerians are trying to help the children find safety, shelter and a future:
The children's shelter was started five years ago when Sam Itauma, a Nigerian, opened his house to four youngsters accused of witchcraft. Today, he and his five staff are caring for 150 youngsters. "Every day, five or six children are branded as witches," he says "Once a child has been stigmatised as a witch, it is very difficult for someone to accept that child back. If they go out from this community... there is a lot of attacks, assault and abuses on the children." Children often arrive at the shelter with severe wounds, but few clinics or hospitals will treat a child believed to be a witch.
The government has passed laws about the treatment of children but they are widely ignored. Churches do not seem to be in leadership against this practice.
Read it here.