Downturns Spark 'Witch Hunts' Against Elderly

People lash out during tough times, researchers explain
By Wesley Oliver,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 20, 2008 8:07 PM CDT

(Newser) – "Witch-hunting” is a hot term these days as angry Wall Street investors pine for revenge—but in some countries they take it literally, Tim Harford writes in Slate. In Tanzania, Bolivia, and India, elderly women are often targeted as witches when resources are scarce. Tanzanian women are killed by their own families: "The machete is the weapon of choice," Harford writes.

To prevent the killings, advocates are seeking pensions for the elderly, which have helped in South Africa but may be too pricey for Tanzania. There, healers offer witchcraft “cures,” shaving women and smearing their head with “anti-witchcraft paste.” One economist says it's no coincidence that healers also shelter women during famines—for a price. "Spiritual ceremony meets social insurance," writes Harford. "It's a solution, of sorts."