The spirit child phenomenon is a belief that deformed or ailing children, births concurrent with tragic events, or children displaying unusual abilities, are spirits sent from the bush to cause misfortune and destroy the family. From the perspective of a Nankani community in Northern Ghana, spirit children are not human, but are bush spirits masquerading as such. In some cases, family members give suspected spirit children a poisonous concoction to confirm their spiritual status and return them to the bush. We can interpret the spirit child practice as infanticide, however, it is essential to note that not all spirit child cases involve death-causing activities. In some circumstances, families identify children that have died of a medical condition as a spirit child in an effort to better understand and explain the child’s origin, destiny, and brief residence in this world.
When considering the spirit child phenomenon it is important to understand it from two intersecting perspectives. As a form of discourse—namely, the talk, myth, or rumours that circulate throughout a community—and as a practice that is connected, for example, to the community’s beliefs about normality and abnormality and their broader contextual circumstances such as poverty and access to health resources. When seen as a discourse, the spirit child is a powerful way to talk about correct or moral behaviours, understand misfortune, make ambiguous circumstances meaningful, or to tell an entertaining story. As a practice, the spirit child enables families to make difficult decisions regarding vulnerable children that are often not likely to survive