A starving toddler was rescued from the streets of Nigeria after his parents abandoned him because they thought he was a witch.
Anja Ringgren Loven found the two year old alone and naked. Horrified by his condition, she immediately offered him food and water. After wrapping him in a blanket, she rushed him to a nearby hospital.
“When we heard that the child was only 2 to 3 years old, we did not hesitate,” she told Huffington Post UK. “A child that young cannot survive a long time alone on the streets. We immediately prepared a rescue mission.”
The boy, now called Hope, was emaciated and suffered with worms. For the last eight months, he had been living on scraps tossed to him by passersby.
At the hospital, he was given medication to remove the worms and daily transfusions to increase the number of red blood cells in his body.
Loven is a Danish woman who now lives in Africa. She and her husband, David Emmanuel Umem, run a children’s foundation and have begun the process of building an orphanage. They provide medical care, food and schooling, with a focus on children who have been abandoned or even tortured after being labeled as witches.
Two days after finding Hope, Loven asked her Facebook followers to help with his costly medical bills. She was touched and inspired by receiving over $1 million in donations from around the world.
“Hope’s condition is stable now. He’s taking food for himself and he responds to the medicine he gets,” Loven reports, adding that Hope has even been playing with her own young son, David, Jr.
“Today, he has had powers to sit up and smile at us. He’s a strong little boy.”
Loven and Umem were moved to start the African Children’s Aid Education and Development Foundation three years ago after seeing firsthand the treatment of children that had been accused of witchcraft.
“Many social and economic pressures, including conflict, poverty, urbanization and the weakening of communities, or HIV/AIDS, seem to have contributed to the recent increase in witchcraft accusations against children,” explained UNICEF Regional Child Protection Adviser Joachim Theis. “Child witchcraft accusations are part of a rising tide of child abuse, violence and neglect, and they are manifestations of deeper social problems affecting society.”
In many parts of Africa, witches have historically been held responsible for misfortune or tragedy in a community. Targets were most frequently the elderly, the disabled, albinos, or anyone else who seemed different. Economic decline and the HIV/AIDS epidemic have increased accusations, and now defenseless young children are often singled out for blame.
“Thousands of children are being accused of being witches and we’ve both seen torture of children, dead children and frightened children,” Loven wrote on Facebook.
Nigeria’s wealthy Pentecostal – Charismatic pastors have incorporated witchcraft into their version of Christianity, and sometimes subject the children to violent and expensive exorcisms. The service could cost a year’s wages, so an impoverished or unemployed family may feel they have no choice other than to abandon the child.
Thanks to Loven and her supporters, Hope is one child who now has the hope of a healthy, happy childhood.
“With all the money, we can, besides giving Hope the very best treatment, now also build a doctor clinic on the new land and save many more children out of torture!” she said.
In Nigeria, 14 out of every 100 live born children die before their fifth birthday. A 2015 study of orphans and other vulnerable children found that more than half of the children suffered from an untreated medical problem.
The study also revealed that 60 percent were either homeless or living in a dilapidated building, almost 20 percent had never been to school, and 17 percent were the victims of abuse and exploitation.
Loven, Umem, and other caring volunteers are making a difference in the lives of Nigeria’s most vulnerable citizens.