Dozens of children are being abused by religious groups who believe they are possessed, The Times has learnt.
Nineteen children have been rescued by police and social workers from beatings and mental abuse by church members, and senior officers fear many cases are still going unreported. The children’s plight was uncovered in a drive against “faith-based ritual abuse”. A report by Scotland Yard’s child abuse specialists shows that 12 cases involving 19 children were recorded by police in London between May and October.
Although police say most of the cases involve minor injuries, they include beatings, actual bodily harm and neglect involving starving children, abandoning or ignoring them. Many revolve around practices in black African churches.
The cases were uncovered after Scotland Yard, social services agencies and government departments began a campaign to halt the “deliverance rituals” and beliefs within some churches aimed at exorcising children denounced as witches. These rituals are not only condoned but encouraged by many churches, whose pastors are often the ones to denounce young worshippers as witches. The unshakable belief in ndoki (witchcraft) has become a tenet of certain evangelical churches.
Concerns were heightened after the case earlier this year of an eight-year-old girl who was tortured in exorcism rites. Sita Kisanga, 36, Sebastian Pinto, 33, and the child’s aunt, who cannot be identified, were found guilty and jailed for subjecting the child to 15 months of beatings and starvation.
The girl, who testified at the Old Bailey trial via a videolink, is believed to be among hundreds of African children in Britain subjected to ritual abuse.
As a result of the case — and the murders of Victoria Climbie and Adam, the boy whose torso was found in the Thames after a black magic ritual murder — the Yard established Project Violet. Directors of Social Services have been alerted and told to take a proactive approach with fringe churches.
Detective Superintendent Chris Bourlet, who heads the Scotland Yard team dealing with abuses, said: “I am sure cases are under-reported. Spirit possession is almost certainly under-reported.”
Mr Bourlet said police had begun to examine police reports of child abuse over the past five years in London in a bid to uncover how wide the abuses may go. Police are also targeting London boroughs including Haringey, Hackney, Newham and Southwark, which have African evangelical churches.
This autumn 37 pastors from Congolese churches met police to talk about the problem and 600 leaders of other black churches are due to attend a conference with officers.