Brutality to twins in south-eastern Nigeria: what is the existing situation?

West Afr J Med. Jul-Sep 1993;12(3):148-52.


Following rumors of some persistence of abuse on twins, a survey was conducted from January through June, 1991 in the rural areas of Efik, Ibibio and Annang tribes of South-Eastern Nigeria to determine the current attitude of the people towards twins and their mothers. Of the 619 women interviewed, 56% cherished having twins; 35% would not desire largely because of the economic and other minor difficulties associated with their up-keep but none of these would abandon the infants. The remaining 9% hold a taboo against twins: as babies derived from the devil, non-human and punishment from the gods for sinfulness. Consequently, 2.3% and 2.6% of the mothers would have their twins rejected and killed respectively and 6% of the twin mothers would be cast out but none killed by their husbands' families. The intention to perpetuate this form of abuse was elicited in all the three tribes but seemed relatively to be most pronounced in Annang people. The information generated, though limited to rural population, suggests that the rejection of twin births has actually not yet disappeared from this part of the country. Health workers in South-Eastern Nigeria who encounter twins with failure to thrive should consider rejection as a possible contributing factor. It would need intensive moral education and religious teaching to stem this brutal culture.

PIP: It has long been a taboo in some parts of Southeastern Nigeria to bear twins. Mothers who bore twins were thought to have had intercourse with the devil spirit and given birth to something monstrous and unnatural. The offspring were brutally killed and the mother was shunned by her husband and cast out of the family. These women were then relegated to live in "twin villages." Female twins who survived were shunned throughout life. By 1915, however, following intervention by the British Government, twins and twin mothers were assumed to have been fully integrated into their communities. Little outside attention has therefore since been given to cruelty to twins and their mothers. Recent rumors that twins continue to be abused in the region prompted the authors to conduct a survey January-June 1991 among the Efik, Ibibio, and Annang to determine their attitude toward twins and their mothers. 56.2% of the 619 women interviewed stated that they would be happy to have twins. Approximately 35% of the respondents would not want to have twins mainly because of the economic and other burdens associated with having two children at the same time, but none would abandon their infants. 8.9%, however, associated twins with taboo. Of these 55 mothers who associated twins with taboo, 25, 14, and 16 said they would accept, reject, and kill their infants, respectively. 6% of the twin mothers would be cast out, but none killed by their husbands' families. The intention to perpetuate abuse was seen in all three tribes, but appears to be most pronounced among the Annang. Health workers in the region who encounter twins with failure to thrive should consider rejection as a possible contributing factor. Study findings point to the urgent need for these populations to be taught that twins and their mothers are not associated with taboo.

MeSH terms

  • Child Abuse / prevention & control
  • Child Abuse / statistics & numerical data*
  • Cultural Characteristics
  • Data Collection
  • Ethnic Groups*
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Nigeria
  • Parents / education
  • Parents / psychology*
  • Rural Population
  • Taboo*
  • Twins*