What you need to know:
- In Kisii alone, at least six elderly women face violence every month, with some being murdered.
- In October last year, four elderly women from Mokona village in Marani ward, Kisii County, were lynched.
Rights organisations have raised the red flag over the increasing lynching of elderly women in Kisii over suspicion of witchcraft.
African Women Leaders Network, Echo Network Africa and UN Women on Wednesday condemned the violence meted out to elderly women on the pretext that they are witches.
Issuing a joint statement at a Nairobi hotel, the groups termed it sad that in Kisii alone, at least six elderly women face violence every month, with some being murdered.
“To imagine that such barbaric acts are happening in this day and age is indeed a tragedy of unimaginable magnitude. Such atrocities should be thoroughly investigated and the perpetrators brought to book to face the full force of the law,” the statement reads.
The rights groups said the trend must stop. The victims, upon being labelled witches, are normally isolated and lynched after which their land is possessed by the accusers.
In October last year, four elderly women from Mokona village in Marani ward, Kisii County, were lynched. They were aged 83, 62, 60 and 57 and were accused of bewitching a Form Four student.
According to police records, the student was unable to speak, prompting the villagers to initiate a process of identifying those behind her tribulations.
One of the victims had buried her husband two weeks before she met her end at the hands of the rowdy mob.
In November, 22 rights organisations, among them Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR) and the Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA), initiated a campaign against such killings.
In a joint statement, they demanded a thorough and speedy investigation into the killing of the four women.
They further challenged the Director of Public Prosecution to institute court proceedings against the perpetrators and Interior CS Fred Matiang’i to guarantee the safety of senior citizens in Kisii and Kilifi and other areas where the practice is rampant.
They further appealed to the Health CS to create awareness of mental illnesses affecting the elderly to stem the stigma associated with them.
“An analysis of most of the ‘witch’ burning cases shows a linkage between these horrendous acts and resource conflicts in the social, political, and economic arena. Most of the victims are widows whose accusers are relatives from the families of their deceased husbands. Witchcraft accusations against widows are traceable to land scarcity, greed and selfishness,” they said in the statement.
They observed the killings, which target widows, are also a symptom of deeper patriarchal beliefs by some people within the community that girls and women should neither inherit nor own land and other property.
“This needs to stop. The lynching of older women, and in some cases older men, has led to social exclusion, victimisation, and a repeat of heinous acts against the surviving families,” the statement read.
The groups also challenged the government to ratify and implement the AU Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Older Persons in Africa, which provides for the protection of the property, land and inheritance rights of older women.
This Protocol prohibits abuse from harmful traditional practices and calls on governments to eliminate them, including witchcraft accusations, which affect the welfare, health, life, and dignity of older people, particularly older women.
Witchcraft accusations and the resulting extreme violence meted out to women suspected of being witches have been on the increase in Kisii and Kilifi.
Kisii Governor James Ongwae in November appointed a 14-member taskforce to look into the witchcraft myth blamed for extrajudicial killings targeting senior citizens.
Launching the taskforce, the governor termed it unfortunate that in the 21st century, some people in the community are still stuck in mythical beliefs.
He gave the taskforce one month to identify the extent of the problem and come up with mitigation measures, which will be shared with the national government for necessary action.
"If they are able to identify the extent of this problem, then we will work with the national government to put in place very clear measures," said Mr Ongwae.