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Last Updated: Sunday, 23 March 2008, 00:32 GMT
DR Congo's 'dangerous' superstition
By Angus Crawford
BBC News, Kinshasa

Gracia is traumatised by the witchcraft accusation
Gracia likes watching television - mostly soaps and cartoons, but sometimes the news.

The young woman, tall and thin with braided hair coiled on her head, is doing well at school and wants to be a doctor.

In the two-and-a-half years since I last saw her, her life has been transformed.

Then, she was living with 30 people in one house, too poor to afford school fees.

She had been sent back to DR Congo by her father and step-mother, after living with them in Tottenham, north London, for several years.

She is thought to be among hundreds of African children living in the UK and sent back to DR Congo or Angola after being accused of witchcraft.


The issue came to light in the summer of 2005, when a court in London heard the case of a young girl who was tortured after being accused of being possessed.

The jury learnt a new word, kindoki. It is what the Congolese call witchcraft.

After I first reported on Gracia's plight in Kinshasa, one listener was so moved she began sending money to support the girl.

Gracia's mother
She isn't happy, she always thinks of returning
Gracia's mother

Now, Gracia lives with her aunt and can afford school fees.

Inside her home there is a television and three sofas, and her mother has come to visit.

Gracia tells me how thankful she is for the financial help she has received, and talks about her favourite lessons, living with her aunt, and the holidays.

But when I ask her to tell me what led her father and step-mother to accuse her of witchcraft, she does not reply.

Often these accusations can be a way of ridding a family of an extra mouth to feed.

Gracia is "very traumatised", says Adolphine Kumbaki, who runs a charity called Bantu Cocorico, which has been helping to look after Gracia.

"To say a child is a witch is very, very dangerous," she says, and many such children are abandoned.

Aid agencies think that the most of the 13,000 children sleeping rough in Kinshasa have been accused of kindoki.


Gracia's mother says that even though life is much better for her daughter, her daughter longs to return to London.

Asked if London or Kinshasa feels like home, Gracia replies simply: "London."

"I don't like being here, I don't like the schools here, I don't want to stay here," she says.

Gracia's school in Kinshasa, DR Congo
Gracia is doing well at school, and wants to be a doctor

Her mother says she would like Gracia to return to the UK.

"She isn't happy, she always thinks of returning," she says.

But there is no prospect of return.

Kinshasa, desperately poor with its streets full of hawkers and smell of diesel and sewage, is alien, but Gracia has got to stay.

Though she feels trapped, she does talk of her future. She is doing well at school, especially in maths.

A good education then may prove to be her way out, by providing a cure for the stigma.

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