Witchcraft-based child abuse: Action plan launched

Shadow of child on swing Perpetrators sometimes believe they are driving out evil spirits possessing a child

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The government has launched an action plan to tackle child abuse linked to witchcraft or religion in England.

High-profile cases include the murders of Kristy Bamu and Victoria Climbie but experts fear much more abuse is hidden.

The key aims are to raise awareness and set out "urgent practical steps to identify and protect children at risk".

Children's Minister Tim Loughton said: "Child abuse is appalling and unacceptable wherever it occurs and 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.

"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."

The government says that cases of adults inflicting physical violence or emotional harm on children they regard as witches or possessed by evil spirits occur across the world, often in sub-sects of major religions, such as Christianity.

The action plan follows the murder of 15-year-old Kristy Bamu in Newham in December 2010 for which his sister Magalie and her boyfriend Eric Bikubi were convicted.

Kristy, was accused by Bikubi of practising "kindoki" or witchcraft and casting spells, during a visit over Christmas. He suffered appalling abuse and torture for three days before drowning in a bath.

'Unreported, misunderstood'

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.

'Cruelty not culture'

Mor Dioum, director of the Victoria Climbie Foundation UK, welcomed the plan: "By bringing the issue into the open... we can better protect and support members of our communities when they seek to highlight their concerns.

"However we need to work more effectively with families to achieve better outcomes for children and young people affected by this type of abuse."

Andrew Flanagan, chief executive of the NSPCC, said: "The vast majority of people in communities where witchcraft is practised are horrified by these acts and take no part in this atrocious behaviour. So we must not be afraid to raise this issue so the offenders can be exposed.

"Most importantly, everyone must play their part by watching out for unusual activity and reporting it as early as possible. We must never forget this is about child cruelty not culture and we cannot afford to wait until another child is murdered before decisive action is taken."

Pastor Jean Bosco Kanyemesha of the London Fire Church International, Peace International and Congolese Pastorship in the UK said he believed the plan would "contribute effectively to the protection of children within faith organisations... and resolve issues troubling our local communities."

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