“Superstition ain’t the way”

Very superstitious, writing’s on the wall.
Very superstitious, ladder’s ’bout to fall.
Thirteen-month-old baby broke the looking glass.
Seven years of bad luck, the good things in your past.
When you believe in things that you don’t understand, then you suffer.
Superstition ain’t the way.

(Part of the lyrics to “Superstition” by Stevie Wonder)

I recently heard on BBC Radio 4 news a story about an effort by the AfriKids organisation located in Ghana. From the AfriKids Web site, they explain:

… a child born with deformities or defining characteristics in the area was considered a ‘spirit child‘ who must therefore not be allowed to live with humans, for fear they will bring bad luck into the lives of the family. Such children, the paper gathered, were subjected to various forms of inhumane treatment aimed at terminating their lives.

To prove their innocence, the deformed infants are given deadly locally prepared concoctions, which the people believe can only kill ‘spirit children’.The practice has been with the people for ages. Until the interventions of some NGOs including Afrikids, the people in the area generally accepted the practice as a traditional norm, which should be conserved and continued.

There are a number of reasons why a child may be born with various deformities, including random genetic chance, maternal malnutrition, and diseases such as polio or rubella. Of course, polio and rubella can be prevented by vaccination. Other news in recent years included Nigeria, where polio vaccines were strongly resisted by local authorities (this article from New Scientist, 18 November 2003):

Laboratory tests by Nigerian scientists have dismissed accusations that the polio vaccine given in a mass immunisation campaign in the country is contaminated with anti-fertility hormones and HIV.

The World Health Organization (WHO) drive to rid the world of polio hit a major obstacle in October when immunisations were suspended in three regions in northern Nigeria due to rumours that the vaccine was laced with the HIV virus and hormones to render women infertile.

Some Islamic clerics suggested the vaccine is part of a Western plot to depopulate Africa. However, test results from experts recruited by the Supreme Council for Sharia in Nigeria gave the all-clear on Tuesday.

“The vaccine is free of any anti-fertility agents or dangerous disease like HIV,” said Abdulmumini Rafindadi, at the Ahmadu Bello University Teaching Hospital in Zaria, according to the Nigerian newspaper The Guardian.

But before you start getting cocky from your ethnocentric place in some Westernised, “first-world” country, stop and remember: superstition isn’t just for the illiterate third-world masses. Cloaked in modern pseudo-science or religious devotion, it’s enabling our neighbors to abuse and kill children.

Consider Amy Burney, a five-year old girl from the Bronx (New York City) who was poisoned in April 1997:

Convinced that the child was possessed by demons, Angelee Burney and Ms. Downing forced her to drink a toxic brew of ammonia, pepper, vinegar and olive oil, the police said. The women wrapped her body in a floral sheet and tossed it in the garbage bin outside their apartment building in the Kingsbridge section, the police said.

Consider Terrance Cottrell, an eight-year old autistic boy from Milwaukee who was suffocated during an exorcism.

When Junior arrived at the Faith Temple Church he was asked by the minister to lie on the floor. The boy’s trainers were removed to lesson the blows of his kicks. Sheets were also wrapped around him to stop him scratching. During the “prayer” service, Hemphill reportedly used one hand to hold Junior’s head to the floor and one knee to press down on to the boy’s chest. Cooper, meanwhile, held one of Junior’s feet while Tolefree held the other. Another woman, Monica Carver, was lying across the boy’s chest. All the while, Hemphill whispered into Junior’s ear, ordering the demons to leave him. Junior apparently struggled throughout, with Cooper and Tolefree occasionally losing grip of the boy’s feet and the 157lb Hemphill having to bring Junior forcefully under control.

It was only after two hours, however, that the adults noticed Junior was blue in the face, soaked in his own urine and not breathing. When Hemphill heaved himself up, both he and the boy were drenched with sweat. But the boy’s body was lifeless.

Or an un-named 14-year old autistic boy who was severely beaten during an eleven-hour exorcism during August of this year.

Police say the exorcism turned violent and that Uyesugi, under the guise of ‘God’s work’, battered and beat the boy.

“Sticking fingers into the boy’s mouth while he was restrained on the bed, causing him to vomit. And this happened several times. Family said that Mr. Uyesugi told them this was to cast the demons out,” said Detective Swain.

Police say Uyesugi also punched the autistic teen in the face during the ritualistic beating that lasted for eleven hours.

And of course, there are plenty of well-intentioned but misguided parents in the US and UK who refuse to get their children vaccinated for fear they might “catch autistic”, thus allowing the recent outbreaks of measles and mumps, and the resulting disabilities and deaths as described in this previous post.

Oh sure, we’re all intelligent, well-educated peoples. No one does horrible things here like they do in other parts of the world.

Don’t you believe it.

When you believe in things that you don’t understand, then you suffer.
Superstition ain’t the way.