Spirit Child (Ghana)

Al Jazeera, 2013

About the Investigation

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Spirit Child is an in-depth investigation into the ritual killing of disabled Ghanaian children deemed to be possessed by evil spirits. They are killed with a poisonous drink by village elders known as “concoction men.”  Sometimes, babies born at the same time as a family misfortune were also accused of being “spirit children” and similarly done away with.

Ghanaian investigative journalist Anas Aremeyaw Anas, who has gained a worldwide reputation for his undercover reporting, set off to document how easy it was to make a deal to kill a child. Following his motto of “naming, shaming and jailing,” he gathered powerful and undeniable evidence.

The killing of spirit children is an ancient tradition. The number of those murdered is unknown, but its practice has persisted in northern Ghana, Burkina Faso, Benin and parts of Nigeria. Anas was unable to find any evidence of previous arrests for these crimes.

The investigation took three months of research and reporting, and the filming for the documentary was done in two weeks. During that time, Anas came across 10 men who were willing to kill a baby for spiritual reasons. “They were easy to find,” he recalls, “yet when I asked a senior police officer why no arrests have been made, his response was: ‘It is a very difficult thing to do.’”

Impact

Spirit Child stirred outrage in Ghana and abroad. The investigation gave new momentum to two local NGOs — Afrikids and OrphanAid Africa — which for years had battled in frustration against this practice.  Anas’ story was credited with being the turning point: Soon after the story’s release, local leaders in Ghana banned the practice of ritual killing. Those caught by Anas’s investigation were arrested by Ghanaian police and are believed to be the first ever prosecuted for the ritual killings.

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