London – Police fear that dozens of children may be victims of black magic in Britain and a case last week of three adults found guilty of torturing a young girl whom they believed to be a “witch” is just the tip of the iceberg.
The ordeal suffered by the eight-year-old from Angola at the hands of her aunt and another woman and man is now over. Her abusers are due to be sentenced on July 8, and criminal court judge Christopher Moss warned on Friday that their prison term would be “lengthy”.
But the case – in which the child was cut with a knife, beaten with a belt and shoe and had chilli peppers rubbed in her eyes to beat the devil out of her – has shone the spotlight on the issue of sorcery, a practice that is little documented by the police and the British justice system.
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“There is a lack of understanding around this belief and the resultant abuse,” said a recent police report by Scotland Yard, calling for cases of “ritualistic abuse” to be better recorded and treated in a specific manner.
The target in this document on “ndoki”, the term used in western Africa to describe all forms of sorcery, is hundreds of churches, some of them tiny, which practice exorcism in London and around the rest of Britain.
The churches serve a variety of animist sects and more general forms of fundamental Christian beliefs.
“I think one of the things that should be looked at is whether these churches should be registered,” said Richard Hoskins, an expert of African religion at King’s College in London.
“Some of these churches go hand in glove with witchcraft,” he said, fearing that “potentially there are hundreds of children at risk in London alone.”
Scotland Yard, which has assigned a special team to explore the phenomenon of black magic – so called “Project Violet” – has only identified some 31 cases of ritual crimes since 2000, and of them only five have gone to court.
But the investigators fear that the problem is much larger. The police have said that some 300 African boys have disappeared from schools in London in recent years. While a majority of the children simply returned to their home countries, others are still missing.
In the latest abuse case, the eight-year-old victim, known in court as B, managed to survive repeated torture.
Another child however, named by the police as Adam, was not so fortunate.
His headless and limbless body was found in the River Thames in September 2001 in what is suspected as being a ritualistic killing.
Evidence found in the lower intestine of Adam – aged between four and six from Nigeria – was identified as being the highly poisonous calabar bean which police think may have been used to subdue him before his death.
Other contents in his stomach, including crushed bone, and clay pellets impregnated with gold and quartz, were also discovered.
Similarly Victoria Climbie, an eight-year-old from the Ivory Coast, was beaten to death in February 2000 after her aunt accused her of being a witch.
The belief that a child is possessed by the devil is regrettably “widespread”, said Abdul Mohammed, a London-based member of an association for children in Africa.
Debbie Ariyo, another campaigner against child torture, claims to know of at least two dozen cases similar to that of child B.
Hundreds of churches “believe they need to inflict physical pain to make the body uncomfortable for the devil or spirit inside,” she said.
Britain’s social services, however, are also at fault.
In the case of Victoria Climbie, they had numerous opportunities to uncover the girl’s suffering. Similarly with child B, a first medical check failed to spot 43 wounds.
An official version of events from the doctor in charge put the oversight down to the fact that the examination took place late in the afternoon, the light was bad and the doctor did not see the injuries.