Exploring the Magnitude, Characteristics and Socio-economic Contexts of Witchcraft-Related Eldercides in Kenya

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Many eldercides in African societies are motivated by witchcraft beliefs. Yet, witchcraft-related eldercide remains an understudied criminological subject. The present study explores the scale, features and socio-cultural and economic contexts of witchcraft-related elder homicide in Kenya. A total of 94 media articles reporting the witchcraft-related killings of 136 older people in Kenya between January 2012 and December 2021 were perused. Key information about the victims and perpetrators and the circumstances surrounding each event/eldercide was collected and critically analysed. The data suggest that approximately 75% of witchcraft-related homicide victims in Kenya are 60 years old and above. Most victims were females (mainly widows) of low socio-economic backgrounds. All the cases occurred in rural communities, and the perpetrators were largely young adult males. Arson, slashing with a machete and clubbing/beating were the dominant methods used to kill alleged witches. Most killings were motivated by the belief that the victims caused misfortunes/calamities by witchcraft. However, witchcraft allegations and concomitant killings were sometimes weaponized to obtain the victims' property/land. Because witchcraft beliefs are deeply entrenched in the culture and philosophy of the Kenyan people, the use of a multifaceted approach may be the most appropriate way of curtailing the problem.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)328-354
Number of pages27
JournalInternational Annals of Criminology
Issue number3-4
Early online date28 Sept 2023
Publication statusPublished - 28 Dec 2023


  • eldercide
  • Kenya
  • older adults
  • witchcraft beliefs
  • witchcraft-related eldercide
  • witches


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