The story of toddler, Edrine Muguluma who was recently kidnapped and murdered in ritual sacrifice has shocked the nation. He is one of many children that are increasingly being killed in cold blood on the orders of witchdoctors and traditional healers that we must find a solution to.
To illustrate what I am talking about, I would like to share with you some stories that have made headlines in Uganda.
Shammim Muhammad, aged 5
On April 4, 1999, Jalia Katusiime, a hair dresser from Njeru town, Mukono district left her five-year-old daughter Shammim Muhammed with a neighbour, Francis Muwanga, to go and attend to a customer.
When she returned, both Shammim and Muwanga were missing. There followed a search for her . Her decomposing body was found on Namiya hill. Two of her fingers had been chopped off, her neck cut off and her tongue plucked out.
Her private parts were also missing. Police arrested Muwanga as the chief suspect. Later, he and his wife confessed that they had been advised by a witchdoctor, Yunus Samanya, that if they sacrificed a child to the spirits, they would become rich.
Muwanga, his wife and the witch doctor were sentenced to death on July 29, 1999 and are in prison.
Milly Nsonyiwa, aged 1
One-year-old Milly Nsonyiwa of Mukono district disappeared from her mother, Esther Nakachwa on January 22, 1999.
A month later, Milly’s remains were found in a shrine belonging to Kizito, a traditional healer in the same district. Her body had been cut into pieces – symbolic of sacrifice to the gods.
Reuben Mugabe, aged 12
40-year old James Kareju Mugisha of Kagando, Nyabushozi, Mbarara district was arrested on October 9, 1998, attempting to sell his 12-year-old son Reuben Mugabe to Strabag Construction Company for Shs3m for ritual sacrifice.
Mugisha, a father of 13 children had hoped to escape poverty by selling one of his sons. The above cases are a few of the children sacrificed or who narrowly escaped being sacrificed that have made it to the newspapers.
There is suspicion that the problem is much more widespread, especially in remote rural areas where there is minimal media coverage.
The New Vision reported 15 cases of child sacrifice in 1999 alone. The discovery of over 500 bodies of people who were killed and buried at various sites by the Joseph Kibwetere cult and who nobody had reported missing is an indication of how many children could go missing and are not reported.
In the cases that have been reported, children are kidnapped or stolen from parents or guardians, lured off by promises of sweets, biscuits or toys or sold off or offered by parents or guardians who believe in witchcraft and who are greedy for money and riches.
What are the factors leading to child sacrifice? What suggestions can be made on the way forward?
Almost all the cases of child sacrifice have revolved around witchcraft. The child sacrifices were carried out by witchdoctors or by their clients who have been advised or ordered to do so by witchdoctors, traditional healers, astrologists, traditional medicine men or cult leaders. (It is important to note that all witchdoctors are traditional healers but NOT all traditional healers or herbalists are witchdoctors and many of them do not sacrifice children).
Such sacrifices are purportedly to appease and invoke gods or spirits or ancestors to use their supernatural abilities to carry out the wishes of the witchdoctor or his or her clients. Such wishes could be the need for healing, protection against enemies or calamities or for riches, prosperity and success.
A number of children have been kidnapped from school.
They are then taken to a witchdoctor’s shrine.
The children are then killed and sacrificed. Most of the bodies have been found decapitated.
Some witchdoctors believe that ritual child sacrifice makes their magic more powerful. Body parts like fingers, genitals, or the heart are mixed with herbs or they are used to make charms or talismans that are given to clients.
Witchcraft, wherever it has occurred, has tended to go with human sacrifice and usually, children have been victims of such rituals.
In the 15th Century, witchcraft thrived in many parts of Europe and was in many instances linked to child sacrifice. For instance, during the reign of King Louis XIV in France, witch trials were held. In one trial of a High Priestess named la Voisin, the following evidence was given:
“The child was held over the altar, a sharp gash across the neck, a stifled cry, and warm drops fell into the chalice… The corpse was handed to la Voisin, who flung it callously into an oven fashioned for that purpose which glowed white in its fierceness. It was proved that regular traffic had been carried on for years with beggar women and the lowest prostitutes, who sold their children for this purpose. At her trial, la Voisin confessed that no less than 2,500 babies had been disposed of in this manner.”
In many traditional African religions linked with ancestral worship and the fear of malicious spirits, child sacrifice to appease the spirits was common.
However, there has been a re-insurgence of African-traditional culture, and religion, which has given witchcraft a new brave lease of life.
More people are openly coming out in the media, both newspapers and radio to associate with witchcraft under the guise of traditional medical practice and associated rituals. Consulting of traditional healers, diviners, witchdoctors, astrologers is touted as fashionable and nothing to be ashamed of.
This mentality has encouraged more people to openly consult witchdoctors some of whom are encouraging them to sacrifice children as part of the ritual to make the magic work or appease the gods or spirits.
Gone are the days when consulting witchdoctors would be done at night and in secrecy. Witchdoctors now are well organised and are using advertising a lot by putting up cloth banners near their shrines.
Advertisements with fantastic claims are aired on radio announcements and commercials as well as in the newspapers.
Senior people involved
Occasionally, one hears that senior government officials and politicians are attending official functions organised by traditional healers.
This has enhanced their popularity and encouraged more people to consult them thus increasing the chances of witchcraft-related child sacrifice.
Whenever human sacrifice has been required, children are more likely to be the victims than adults. This is because children are more easily persuaded and lured away than adults. They are weak and vulnerable and can easily be kidnapped and carried away.
Many witchdoctors also believe that children are pure, undefiled and therefore a preferred sacrifice for the spirits and gods, according to a testimony of Maji Moto, a former witchdoctor who turned Christian in 1999.
Whereas the law in Uganda emphasises child protection, child sacrifice as such is not specifically mentioned. This makes it difficult for convicted child murderers to be given maximum punishment.
For instance, the 1999 Children Statute of the Republic of Uganda states in Sec.6.3 that, “A child has the right to be protected from violence, ill-treatment and any behaviours that might show lack of care or interest in the child”.
Local authorities are charged with the duty of protecting the rights and well-being of children in their areas of jurisdiction.
Sec.II.9 of the Children’s Statute says, “The Secretary for Children’s Affairs, chosen from the members of the Council, is responsible for all matters concerning children”.
However, the above is still far from being regularly and satisfactorily implemented and practiced by local councils in Uganda.
Though there is a law against witchcraft, it is not known by many people and it has hardly been used in Uganda’s law courts. Moreover, it does not specifically mention child sacrifice.
Sections of The Witchcraft Act of 1957 state: “Any person who directly or indirectly threatens another with death by witchcraft or by any other supernatural means shall be guilty of an offence and on conviction shall be liable to imprisonment for life”.
It adds, “Any person who practices witchcraft or who holds himself out as a witch, whether on one or more occasions, shall be guilty of an offence and on conviction shall be liable to imprisonment for a period not exceeding five years.”
Those who participate in witchcraft are also covered.
“Any person who hires or procures another person to practice witchcraft or who for evil purposes consults or consorts with another who practices witchcraft shall be guilty of an offence.” When convicted shall be liable to imprisonment for a period not exceeding five years.
As mentioned earlier, though there is a law against witchcraft, it is hardly ever used. Many witchdoctors are doing their practice openly under the guise of traditional healers and herbalists.
There is a big need to set up a mechanism for distinguishing bona fide herbalists from witchdoctors who practice witchcraft and magic and cause a lot of harm including child sacrifice, child abuse, rape and defilement.
There is no doubt that child sacrifice is a most horrendous crime that we all need to participate in preventing and wiping out.
There are a number of ways we can contribute towards eliminating child sacrifice in Uganda.
Awareness campaign against witchcraft. Carry out awareness campaigns against the practice and involvement in witchcraft.
Those involved in witchcraft can easily be manipulated and blackmailed by witchdoctors to participate in child sacrifice. The campaigns can be carried out through the media, local councils, seminars, workshops, posters etc.
Differentiate between traditional healers and witchdoctors. A lot of witchcraft, including child sacrifice goes on under the guise of traditional healers and herbalists.
The government should set up mechanisms for differentiating who is who. For instance a Traditional Healers Act could be enacted. This would include a Board similar to the NGO Board or Medical Board.
Its duty would be to scrutinise, register and monitor the operations of traditional healers and herbalists. This would assist in weeding out witchdoctors including those who sacrifice children.
Strengthen the law and law enforcement so that cases of suspected child sacrifice are investigated and the culprits convicted and punished in a speedy manner. This would convince those who are tempted that they will be dealt with.
Encourage Local Councils, parents, neighbours and religious leaders to be more vigilant in inquiring about children who go missing.
Teach and warn children at home and in schools and religious institutions about child kidnapping and child sacrifice like they are being warned against sexual abuse and HIV/Aids. This would make them alert against being lured away or being kidnapped.
The fight against child sacrifice and the protection of our children against this heinous crime needs the concerted efforts of all; the government, civil society, religious leaders, the media, law enforcement officials, teachers and parents.
I believe we can eventually win it.
Aug. 14, 2006 Opinion