Children accused of Witchcraft: abuse cases on the rise in UK

London’s Metropolitan Police reports that cases of abuse where the child is accused of being a witch or possessed by an evil spirit are on the rise.

Thus far this year 27 allegations have been received — up from 24 in 2013.

There were 19 such cases reported in 2012, and 9 in 2011. Some 148 cases have been referred to the Metropolitan Police since 2004.

The rise in the number of reports is likely due to greater awareness among social workers, healthcare staff, teachers, pastors and others.

However, police believe many more cases are kept hidden in families and communities.

Parents, other guardians, and in several cases pastors and church members who believe a child is possessed often resort to physical abuse in order to try and get the spirits to leave.

New guidance has now been issued on how to spot children at risk of abuse linked to witchcraft.

On October 8, the Metropolitan Police Service and CCPAS, the Churches’ Child Protection Advisory Service, hosted a multi-agency event at London’s City Hall to raise awareness of child abuse linked to faith or belief.

Speaking ahead of the conference, Det Supt Terry Sharpe explained

“Abuse linked to belief is a horrific crime which is condemned by people of all cultures, communities and faiths.

“A number of high-profile investigations brought the issue of ritual abuse and witchcraft into the headlines but it is important that professionals are clear about the signs to look for.

“Families or carers genuinely believe that the victim has been completely taken over by the devil or an evil spirit, which is often supported by someone who within the community has portrayed themselves as an authority on faith and belief.

“Regardless of the beliefs of the abusers, child abuse is child abuse. Our role is to safeguard children, not challenge beliefs. We investigate crimes against children, but our main aim is to prevent abuse in the first place. This is a hidden crime and we can only prevent it by working in partnership with the community. Project Violet aims to build trust with communities and emphasise that child protection is everyone’s responsibility.”

A training film aimed at all front-line professionals who work with children was launched at the event. The DVD, commissioned by our Project Violet team in conjunction with CCPAS, advises how to recognise the signs that a child may be suffering, or is likely to suffer, significant harm from abuse linked to witchcraft and spirit possession.

According to CCPAS the training DVD will be made provided to Local Safeguarding Children Boards (LSCBs) so they may make it available to social workers and other front line staff.

High-Profile Cases

Victoria Climbié
High-profile cases include Victoria Climbie, whose great-aunt and her boyfriend — along with their pastor — believed the girl was demon-possessed.

Beaten, burned with cigarettes and forced to sleep in a bathtub, the 8-year-old girl died in February, 2000 — with 128 injuries on her body.

In 2001 the headless, limbless body of a boy aged between five and six was found floating in the river Thames.
Kristy Bamu
Evidence strongly suggests the boy was sacrificed in a Muti ritual.

In 2010, 15-year-old Kristy Bamu was tortured for three days by his sister and his boyfriend after being accused of witchcraft, and was subsequently drowned in a bathtub during an exorcism ritual.

Human Trafficking

In 2005 a leaked police report revealed that children are being trafficked into the country in order to be killed as human sacrifices:

A confidential report into the sacrifice and abuse of children at African churches describes how pastors are profiting from the trafficking of black boys into Britain.

Uncircumcised boys are being smuggled into the country for human sacrifice by fundamentalist sects whose members believe that their ritual killing will enhance spells.

Types of Witchcraft

Most reported cases involve what is known as “traditional witchcraft” as opposed to “contemporary witchcraft.”

  • Traditional Witchcraft, such as performed by shamans or witch doctors, is a magical practice — not a religion. However, it can have religious elements.
  • Contemporary Witchcraft is one of many types of neo-Paganism. It is religion within the broader context of occultism.

Many Countries

The problem of children who are accused of witchcraft is not limited to England. But after several high-profile cases there is a greater awareness — and official response — that highlights such cases.

Immigration also plays a role in the rise of reports — as many immigrants bring along various beliefs and superstitions.

Many Christian churches in Africa are part of the problem as well — as traditional beliefs are mingled with Christian theology regarding demons and exorcism.

In 2009, the Associated Press reported

An increasing number of children in Africa accused of witchcraft by pastors and then tortured or killed, often by family members. Pastors were involved in half of 200 cases of “witch children” reviewed by the AP, and 13 churches were named in the case files.

Some of the churches involved are renegade local branches of international franchises. Their parishioners take literally the Biblical exhortation, “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.”

In 2010 UNICEF, the United Nations’ children’s charity, said that accusing children of sorcery was a fairly new and growing trend in Africa, despite long-held traditional and mystic beliefs on the continent.

Where previously elderly women were accused, today the focus more often falls on young children, often some of the most vulnerable, such as orphans, disabled or poor.

Throughout Africa, the vast majority of children accused of witchcraft are not murdered but — if torture has not helped remove the evil spirits — are expelled from their homes and communities.

Plan to Tackle Child Abuse Linked to Faith or Belief

In 2012 the National Action Plan to Tackle Child Abuse Linked to Faith or Belief was drawn up with faith leaders, charities, the police and social workers.

Additional Resources

Child Abuse Linked With Belief — Fact Sheet — Metropolitan Police Service

National Action Plan to Tackle Child Abuse Linked to Faith or Belief (includes many other resources)

Exploring Issues of Witchcraft and Spirit Possession in London’s African communities

Child Abuse Linked to Accusations of Possession and Witchcraft — Eleanor Stobart, Dept. of Education and Skills

Not Spefically About Witchraft-Related Issues:

Working Together To Safeguard Children — UK Government

National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) response

UK Government tackles abuse of children accused of witchcraft

The UK government has announced plans to tackle the “wall of silence” around the abuse and neglect of children accused of witchcraft, following the brutal murder of Kristy Bamu, who was tortured to death in London in 2010 by his sister and her partner after they said he was a witch.

According to The Guardian

Key charities say many cases of “ritual abuse” are under the radar and that the belief in witchcraft is on the increase in the UK.

Under the new plans, the government aims to identify and prosecute more offenders by raising awareness of faith-based abuse and its links to trafficking, missing children and sexual exploitation or grooming. The goal is also to help the victims give evidence.

Tim Loughton, the children’s minister, said: “Child abuse is appalling and unacceptable wherever it occurs and in whatever form it takes. Abuse linked to faith or belief in spirits, witchcraft or possession is a horrific crime, condemned by people of all cultures, communities and faiths – but there has been a wall of silence around its scale and extent.

“It is not our job to challenge people’s beliefs but it is our job to protect children. There can never be a blind eye turned to violence or emotional abuse or even the smallest risk that religious beliefs will lead to young people being harmed.”

Last March a couple convicted for torturing and murdering 15-year-old Kristy Bamu, whom they accused of using witchcraft against them, was jailed for life.

BBC Newsnight report on the torture murder of teenager Kristy Bamu, accused by his family of involvement in witchcraft.

Football coach Eric Bikubi, 28, has been ordered to serve at least 30 years. His partner, Magalie Bamu, 29, will serve a minimum of 25 years.

The pair was convicted for murdering the boy in what has been referred to as a ‘completely feral’ attack.

Believing that Kristy was trying to bewitch them, the couple beat and tortured him for three days, using used knives, sticks, kitchen tiles, metal bars, a pair of pliers, a hammer and a chisel. Then they drowned him in their bathtub.

National action plan to tackle child abuse linked to faith or belief PDF file

The Telegraph says

There is very little information available about the scale of such abuse.

In London there have been 81 recorded cases of children being abused as part of religious practice over the past 10 years but police and church groups are convinced it is under-reported.

Previous research suggests that the practice is not confined to African communities and exists in different forms across southern Asia and parts of Europe within some Christian sects but also some Hindu and Muslim communities.

Mr Loughton announced a new action plan drawn up after discussions between police, child welfare charities and faith groups including churches.

It calls for new social workers and teachers to be taught about the issue as part of their training as well as new measures to spread awareness within religious groups.

Police are being given guidance drawn up by specialists at Scotland Yard setting out some of the possible warning signs, including certain types of injuries children may bear.

Mr Loughton said it was clear the full extent of the abuse was being underestimated. […]

Cases investigated in London so far this year include one in which a boy was assaulted because his parents believed he was bringing bad luck and another forced to drink a noxious substance supposedly to rid him of evil spirits.

The BBC reports that

Scotland Yard says it has conducted 83 investigations into cases of faith-based child abuse in the past decade including those of Victoria Climbie who was eight when she was murdered in 2000 and the headless torso of “Adam”, a five or six-year-old boy, which was found in the Thames in 2001.

Ministers are concerned that although the investigations number just a few dozen, other abuse is going on, “under-reported and misunderstood”.

The National Action Plan to Tackle Child Abuse Linked to Faith or Belief was drawn up with faith leaders, charities, the police and social workers.

It urges closer engagement with local communities and churches, better training for social workers and police and better psychological and therapeutic support for victims.

It also aims to secure prosecutions through supporting victims to give evidence in court and more awareness of how faith-based abuse links with other crimes such as child trafficking and sexual exploitation.

The government admits more research is needed before it can act effectively to protect children – the last study was in 2006 and looked at 38 cases involving 47 children from Africa, South Asia and Europe, all of whom had been abused in the name of possession or witchcraft. So a key element of the action plan is to conduct further research.

Other measures include greater efforts to listen to the voices of young people in the affected communities and to build up networks of faith leader and community “champions” against this kind of abuse.

The Daily Mail writes

According to police and migrant advisory services, witchcraft ceremonies are spreading because of the increasing number of unregulated back street churches and mosques that have broken away from the mainstream places of worship to cater for millions of new immigrants from Africa, South Asia and the Caribbean countries, providing a link to their birth countries, cultures and customs.

Many of these horrific events are filmed and can be found on videos selling for a couple of pounds in ethnic shops and market stalls in London. What they show is terrified children, accused of witchcraft, being freed of ‘demons’. In one video I bought, a white-robed pastor is shown hitting a five-year-old boy with a long stick as the congregation chants approval.

His mother cries, but is held back from freeing her son because it is thought — by the prayergoers — to be the best thing for the family and their child. They are scenes which police believe are being repeated week after week in cities such as London, Birmingham, Leicester and Manchester.

But where do these cultural practices become blatant child cruelty punishable by the law?

Rachel Takens-Milne, from Trust For London, a charity that works to combat child abuse linked to witchcraft, says that cases such as that of Kristy Bamu are still rare.

But she added: ‘It doesn’t have to be at this extreme to be abuse. Calling a child a witch and publicly humiliating them is itself a form of abuse.’
And, worryingly, Detective Superintendent Terry Sharpe of Scotland Yard says that witchcraft-linked crime is ‘far more prevalent’ in this country than official figures suggest.

‘Children have been physically beaten and forced to drink unknown liquids in rituals to rid them of evil spirits. They have been starved and deprived of sleep.

‘Children have been blindfolded and had their hair cut off. They have had liquid poured on their genitals and been murdered,’ he said after the Kristy case.

eGov Monitor reports

“Child abuse is appalling and unacceptable wherever it occurs and in whatever form it takes. Abuse linked to faith or belief in spirits, witchcraft or possession is a horrific crime, condemned by people of all cultures, communities and faiths – but there has been a ‘wall of silence’ around its scale and extent. It is not our job to challenge people’s beliefs but it is our job to protect children,” Children’s Minister Tim Loughton. “There can never be a blind eye turned to violence or emotional abuse or even the smallest risk that that religious beliefs will lead to young people being harmed.”

However the Minister pointed out that there is no “silver bullet” in resolving this. “This plan will help people recognise and know how to act on evidence, concerns and signs that a child’s health and safety is being threatened. Everyone working with children has a responsibility to recognise and know how to act on evidence that a children is being abused,” he added.

National action plan to tackle child abuse linked to faith or belief PDF file

Key Messages: child abuse linked to faith or belief

Key messages from the national action plan to tackle child abuse linked to faith or belief:

Child abuse is never acceptable wherever it occurs and whatever form it takes. Abuse linked to belief, including belief in witchcraft or possession, is a horrific crime which is condemned by people of all cultures, communities and faiths. [The Government / my organisation] applauds the work being done in communities to tackle this form of abuse and to stand up to the perpetrators.

• Child abuse is condemned by people of all cultures, communities and faiths, and is never acceptable under any circumstances. Child abuse related to belief includes inflicting physical violence or emotional harm on a child by stigmatising or labelling them as evil or as a witch. Where this type of abuse occurs it causes great distress and suffering to the child.

• Everyone working or in contact with children has a responsibility to recognise and know how to act on evidence, concerns and signs that a child’s health, development and safety is being or may be threatened, especially when they suffer or are likely to suffer significant harm.

• Standard child safeguarding procedures apply and must always be followed in all cases where abuse or neglect is suspected including those that may be related to particular belief systems.

•The number of cases of child abuse linked to a belief in spirits, possession and witchcraft is small, but where it occurs the impact on the child is great, causing much distress and suffering to the child. It is likely that a proportion of this type of abuse remains unreported.

Research commissioned by the DfE in 2006 reviewed child abuse cases that had occurred between 2000 and 2005 to identify any cases where the abuse was linked to accusations of possession or witchcraft. 38 cases involving 47 children were found to be relevant and sufficiently well documented. The children came from a variety of backgrounds including African, South Asian and European.

• Child abuse linked to faith or belief may occur where a child is treated as a scapegoat for perceived failure. Whilst specific beliefs, practices, terms or forms of abuse may exist, the underlying reasons for the abuse are often similar to other contexts in which children become at risk. These reasons can include family stress, deprivation, domestic violence, substance abuse and mental health problems. Children who are different in some way, perhaps because they have a disability or learning difficulty, an illness or are exceptionally bright, can also be targeted in this kind of abuse.