Three years after taking in the little girl Inimffon and her younger brother, Sister Matylda Iyang finally heard from the mother who had abandoned them.
“Their mother came back and told me that she (Inimffon) and her younger sibling are witches, asking me to throw them out of the convent”, said Sr. Iyang, who runs the Mother Charles Walker Children Home at the Handmaids of the Holy Child Jesus convent. Such an accusation is not new to Sister Iyang.
Since opening the home in 2007, Sr. Iyang has cared for dozens of malnourished and homeless children from the streets of Uyo, the state capital of Akwa Ibom, in South Nigeria; many of them had family who believed they were witches. Witch profiling and the abandoning of children are common on the streets of Akwa Ibom.
If a man remarries, Sr. Iyang said, the new wife may be intolerant of the child’s attitude after being married to the widower, and as such, will throw the child out of the house.
“To achieve this, she would accuse him or her of being a witch”, Sr. Iyang continued. “That’s why you can find many children in the streets and when you ask them, they will say it’s their stepmother who drove them out of the house”. She said poverty and teenage pregnancy can also force children into the street.
At the Mother Charles Walker Children Home, where most of the children are sheltered and sent to school on scholarship, Sr. Iyang demonstrates the Catholic Church’s commitment to protecting child rights. She said most of the malnourished youngsters the order receives are those who lost their mother during childbirth “and their families bring them to us for care”.
One of the important activities for Sr. Iyang is tracing and reunification. The process begins with parental verification by gathering information about each child and their location prior to separation. With the information in hand, an investigator drives to the child’s home village to verify what has been learned.
The process involves community chiefs, elders and religious and traditional leaders to ensure that each child is properly integrated and accepted in the community. If that fails, a child will be placed in the adoption protocol under government supervision.
Since opening the Mother Charles Walker Children Home in 2007, Sr. Iyang and the staff have cared for about 120 children. About 74 have been reunited with their families, she said.
“We now have 46 left with us”, she said, “hoping that their families will one day pick them up or that they will have foster parents”.