Child snatching for rituals on the rise in Nigeria

Child abduction for ritual killings is on the rise in the Nigerian city of Kano, say officials and advocacy groups who blame the trend on greed for political power and quick wealth in this northern commercial center.

Body parts from toddlers and pre-schoolers are prized ingredients for lucky charms thought to make people rich or rise up on the political ladder.

In the last few months, kidnapping of young children has increased in Kano -- the second largest city after the capital Lagos and long the economic heart of the north -- raising concern among parents and officials.

"Ritual killers are now on the prowl in the city on an increasing scale, abducting children for rituals for wealth and positions," said Ibrahim Abullahi, spokesman for the state government's Societal Re-orientation Directorate. The agency is charged with improving public morals in this predominately Muslim city.

"This trend has been on the rise in the last three months as the number of complaints we receive from parents about their missing children has more than doubled," Abdullahi told AFP.

"The abducted children are usually between two and five years old," he said.

Radio transmissions are replete with announcements about missing children, say radio staffers.

"An average 50 parents placed announcements with us on their missing children every week in the last three months, compared to 20 such complaints before," Aisha Kabir of Freedom Radio told AFP.

Kabir is in charge of receiving announcements on "lost and found" items and missing people, on the popular privately-owned station in Kano.

Aliyu Mashi of a Kano-based child welfare advocacy group called the General Improvement of Persons Initiative GIOPINI blamed the alleged upsurge in the rituals on greed, in a city that revolves around commerce in a country notorious for corruption.

"We are always bombarded with reports of child abductions, which have become a daily occurrence in Kano, and such children are invariably used for human rituals to make money," Mashi said.

"People are desperate for wealth and power, and ...they feel they have no other choice but killing children for black magic to achieve their aim," Mashi said.

Sadiq Isah Radda, a sociologist at Bayero University in Kano, said fetish priests here are known to favor children's body parts for get-rich-quick potions.

"Although human sacrifice has been part of the tradition of many African societies," said Radda, "in the case of this society, children are what the priests prescribe..."

In some African societies, albinos are targeted.

Mashi said children are easy prey in Kano as parents burdened by poverty and illiteracy are not always attentive to their brood and let them roam. The child captors then lure unattended youngsters using candies, biscuits and in some cases magic.

In March, 16-year-old banana hawker Awwalu Baffa confessed to a Kano court of working for ritualists to abduct children for ritual murders.

"Residents in every community have to work together in monitoring strange faces that show up in their neighbourhood," he said.

Wuppertal in Germany. REUTERS/Ina Fassbender