UK Archive

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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.

UK Government battles to stop Christians being able to wear a cross to work

Religion News Blog — UK Equalities Minister Lynne Featherstone has instructed Government lawyers to oppose the right of Christian workers to wear a cross. The Daily Mail says they will call on European human rights judges to dismiss the claims of Christian workers who have been banned from displaying the symbol of their faith at work.

The Strasbourg court this spring will take on the cases of Nadia Eweida and Shirley Chaplin. Mrs Eweida, a British Airways check-in clerk, was suspended from work in 2006 after refusing instructions to take off the cross she wore while at work. Mrs. Chaplin Christian is a Christian nurse who was moved to a desk job after refusing to remove her crucifix at work.

According to The Telegraph

It is the first time that the Government has been forced to state whether it backs the right of Christians to wear the symbol at work.

A document seen by The Sunday Telegraph discloses that ministers will argue that because it is not a “requirement” of the Christian faith, employers can ban the wearing of the cross and sack workers who insist on doing so. […]

The Strasbourg case hinges on whether human rights laws protect the right to wear a cross or crucifix at work under Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

It states: “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance.”

The Christian women bringing the case, Nadia Eweida and Shirley Chaplin, claim that they were discriminated against when their employers barred them from wearing the symbols.

They want the European Court to rule that this breached their human right to manifest their religion.

The Government’s official response states that wearing the cross is not a “requirement of the faith” and therefore does not fall under the remit of Article 9.

Lawyers for the two women claim that the Government is setting the bar too high and that “manifesting” religion includes doing things that are not a “requirement of the faith”, and that they are therefore protected by human rights.

They say that Christians are given less protection than members of other religions who have been granted special status for garments or symbols such as the Sikh turban and kara bracelet, or the Muslim hijab.

Referring to Mrs. Neweida’s case, in a Telegraph column titled, “It’s a huge mistake to forbid a tiny act of Christian worship,” Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, points out BA’s hypocrisy:

The entire British landscape is testament to Christian history, from the crosses in cemeteries to the churches that still dominate our villages. The last time I looked, British Airways still had a livery based on the Union flag — and it seemed the height of hypocrisy to indicate a socking great cross on the tailfin of every plane, but to forbid a teensy little crucifix around the neck of an employee.

Such was the general pop-eyed outcry that BA eventually caved in. After about a year of dither, it changed the rules so as to allow all members of staff to wear a discreet religious symbol. So I bet you were as stunned as I was to learn yesterday that the case is not over — and that the Government appears to be backing BA’s original decision.

The Yorkshire Post says the Archbishop of York accused Ministers of “meddling” yesterday after it emerged the Government plans to argue in a landmark court case that Christians have no right to wear the cross at work “My view is that this is not the business of government actually.

“They are beginning to meddle in areas that they ought not to.

“I think they should leave that to the courts to make a judgment.

“Article Nine of the Human Rights Act actually says that people should be able to manifest their faith in teaching, in worship and in belief.

“If someone wanted to manifest their belief as a Christian that they wanted to wear a cross – after all at their baptism they are sealed with a cross of Christ – so if they decided to say ‘I know I am sealed with it, but I am going to wear it’, I think that is a matter really for people and that we should allow it.

“The Government should not raise the bar so high that in the end they are now being unjust.”

But The Telegraph reports that Dr. Rowan Williams, the controversial Archbishop of Canterbury, says the cross has become a “religious decoration” “which religious people make and hang on to” as a substitute for true faith:

Speaking at a church service in Rome, where he met the Pope at the weekend, Dr Williams said the cross had been stripped of its meaning as part of a tendency to manufacture religion.

Taking as his text the account of Jesus driving the money changers from the temple in Jerusalem he said the temple had become a “religion factory” rather than a place of worship.

“I believe that during Lent one of the things we all have to face is to look at ourselves and ask how far we are involved in the religion factory,” he said.

“And the cross itself has become a religious decoration.”

Andrea Williams, director of the Christian Legal Centre, which is supporting part of the European Court claim, said the remarks were “unhelpful”.

Just last month The Telegraph reported that Britain is failing to protect the rights of Christians to follow their faith, as a committee of MPs and peers has concluded:

A report from a cross-party parliamentary group will this week warn that there is a widespread lack of “religious literacy” among the country’s judges, politicians and officials.

It also claims that the rights of homosexuals take precedence over those of Christians.

The study, by the Christians in Parliament group, follows a series of rulings by judges against Christians who had claimed that following their faith brought them into conflict with the law or with their employer.

The committee came to their conclusion after studying 33 instance, “mostly employment tribunals and court cases, where Christians claimed they had received unfair treatment under the law, and took evidence from more than 30 Christian organisations. ”

See also:
Outrage at move towards banning Christian crosses from workplace
Church fury as government denies right to wear cross
By calling the cross ‘religious decoration’, the Archbishop of Canterbury is helping secularists. Whose side is he on?
What is the meaning of the cross?
Should a Christian wear religious jewelry?