Children accused of witchcraft: abuse cases on the rise in UK (2014)

Whereas the criminal practice of ritualistic murders is a revolting and sad one, another phenomenon also draws our attention.  Both phenomena relate to superstition. Of course I know that fearing witches or, rather, fearing persons who people believe are possessed by an evil spirit or are thought to be witches is a universal superstition that can be found on all continents of the globe. Moreover, I certainly do not want to stigmatize a particular group of people or race. However, the focus of this website being on ritualistic practices notably ritual murders in Africa, I cannot ignore the occurrence of ritualistic murders committed by Africans that take place outside the continent.
For this reason I drew attention to the high profile case of the torso of a small black boy (‘Adam’) that was found floating in the river Thames in 2001. It proved to be a case of ritualistic murder, very likely committed by persons originating from West Africa. Unfortunately, also reports exist of ritual practices – even killings – of persons of African descent in other European countries (more later on this site).

The inclusion of the cases reported below is justified by the same reason – though these cases do not represent ritual murders. The ’cause-in-common’ of these distinct but related crimes is: superstition. Whereas the battle against superstition should be fought with all strength and conviction that we have, the rule of law should be strictly applied to those who commit these heinous crimes, be it murdering or torturing innocent people, notably children. Their suffering in the hands of the perpetrators of these crimes should end as soon as possible. Each new case is a case too much.
(Webmaster FVDK).

Children accused of witchcraft: abuse cases on the rise in UK (2014) 

Victoria Climbié (left) and Kristy Bamu (right), tortured to death by relatives
who were sentenced to life imprisonment (UK)

Published: October 16, 2014
By: RELIGION NEWS BLOG

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 Climbié  (link added by the webmaster FVDK) 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. Evidence strongly suggests the boy was sacrificed in a Muti ritual.
(See elsewhere on this site, ‘The unsolved case of the torso in the Thames’. The murder boy was ‘named ‘Adam’ by the investigators. Information added by the webmaster FVDK).

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.” 

Screen shot – the link to the source (below) gives acces to the video ‘Witch Child Documentary’

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.

 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

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

Related articles:

Rise in ‘witchcraft’ child abuse cases
Published: October 8, 2014
By: BBC
(extensive coverage of Victoria Climbié’s murder)

Rise in cases of ritual child abuse linked to witchcraft beliefs reported, say police 
“Threefold increase in allegations, say police, including two claims of rape and of children beaten ‘to drive out the devil’” 
Published: October 8, 2014
By: The Guardian
(with numerous articles on Kristy Namu’s murder)

Child abuse linked to witchcraft on the increase
“Met reveals it has investigated allegations of children having chilli rubbed into their eyes and being forced to drink noxious liquids in order to rid them of evil spirits.”
Published: October 8, 2014
By: Martin Evans, Crime correspondent, The Telegraph

AfriKids: Ghana’s haven for ‘spirit’ children marked for murder

Further to my previous post – on Seth Kwame Boateng’s breathtaking account of a journey to an orphanage in Sirigu, in Ghana’s Upper East Region, in 2011, I find it heart-warming to read about the valuable work which is being realized by the non-governmental organization AfriKids. In Northern Ghana, AfriKids runs a centre in the village of Sirigu and another in nearby Bongo district. Though I am not sure, it looks as if Afrikid’s Sirigu center for disabled children and pregnant women is the same as the Mother of Mercy Babies Home visited by Seth Kwame Boateng in 2011. Joseph Asakibeem is AfriKids project manager in the Upper East Region. He and his team are doing a great job. Read about their work below (‘AfriKids: Ghana’s haven for ‘spirit’ children marked for murder’).

Joseph Asakibeem hails from the Kassena Nankana district (in the Upper East Region) where the superstition in the power of spirit children is most widespread. AfriKids and OrphanAidAfrica have been fighting against infanticide for many years.

In 2013 the two non-governmental organizations were joined by Anas Aremeyaw Anas, an investigative journalist and filmmaker. Anas’ film Spirit Child ‘promised’ to become a U-turn in the fight against infanticide. In the aftermath of his investigation, local leaders in the Kassena Nankana region banned the ritual killing of ‘spirit children‘. However…., a recent follow-up to Anas’ 2013 investigative report – see my post dated June 4, 2018 – shows that the practice of infanticide still exists in the region.

AfriKids: Ghana’s haven for ‘spirit’ children marked for murder

Published on February 27, 2018, at 11:50 am
By MIldred Europa Taylor

Ghana, Upper East region – This Catholic Sister has dedicated her life to protecting babies and children and plays a precious role in the fight against infanticide in the region — Afrikids

The act of killing babies who were born with disabilities was until recently widely practised in some parts of northern Ghana. These children were labelled as “spirit children” with the belief that they brought bad luck. They were killed to “save the lives of their parents and family”.

These children were basically taken to medicine men who would give them a poisonous potion and lock them in a room. The belief is that if you die from the potion, it means you are indeed a spirit. The children are then buried in an isolated place far away from the village.

This traditional belief was highly practised in some parts of the Kassena-Nankana West District in the Upper East region but thanks to AfriKids, a child rights Non-governmental organization (NGO), the practice has declined even though it is believed to be still ongoing in some parts of northern Ghana. The NGO has so far been able to save a number of children perceived to be “spirit children” in some parts of the Upper East Region.

Joseph Asakibeem is the project manager at AfriKids. The 41-year-old was recently awarded the Bond Humanitarian Award 2018 for his work in saving many disabled children who would have been killed due to the traditional practice.

Growing up in the Kassena Nanakana district where the belief in spirit children was deeply entrenched, Asakibeem told Reuters that he and his team at AfriKids started talking to chiefs, parents, opinion leaders and medicine men about the need to change the perception they have about children born with disabilities.

Asakibeem explained to them that there were medical reasons for these disabilities – poor nutrition and health care during pregnancy, and the inability to get access to medical help during labour resulting in complications.

AfriKids has a centre in the village, Sirigu, and another in nearby Bongo district, where they provide help for disabled children and antenatal care for pregnant women. Mothers, through Afrikids, have also been able to acquire small loans to grow their businesses.

The main challenge for the child rights NGO has been trying to change the mindset of concoction men and other community members about “spirit children”, but interestingly, many of them have now joined the fight against the practice.

For 10 years, no child has been killed for being deformed in Kassena Nankana, but Asakibeem said the act is still being practised in other areas. Babies whose mothers die in childbirth, or who are born after the family has been hit with an unfortunate incident, have the risk of being labelled spirit children.

As AfriKids continues to expand its activities to the whole of northern Ghana, Asakibeem is hopeful that the practice would be effectively abolished in 15 years.

In 2013, Ghanaian investigative journalist Anas Aremeyaw Anas published “Spirit Child”, an undercover investigation film on the ritual killings of deformed children. Two concoction men were charged with attempted murder and another three men charged with conspiracy to commit murder. 

Source: Face2FaceAfrica, February 27, 2018

Ghana – Upper East Region

Shocking!…Ritual baby killing in Northern Ghana

On June 4, this year, I drew attention to Spirit Child, a film on infanticide in West Africa, made by Anas Aremeyaw Anas and Seamus Mirodan, and I reproduced a related article, published by Al Jazeera. The article, on infanticide in Ghana – and Burkina Faso, Benin and Nigeria – was a follow-up to a 2013 investigative report of the same journalist and filmmaker, Anas Aremeyaw Anas. The latter and his colleague, Seamus Mirodan, are to be commended for their fight against infanticide.

Fortunately, they are not the only ones who raise there voices against these age-old practices which have no reason to exist in the 21st century. While mentioning the names of others it is not my intention to belittle the activities and achievements of others, who work with them. Recently, I read an article on AfriKids, a non-governmental organization running an orphanage in northern Ghana, in the Upper East Region, in a village called Sirigu, to be more specific. Project manager at AfriKids is Joseph Asakibeem, who was recently awarded the Bond Humanitarian Award 2018 for his work in saving many children who would have been killed due to the gruesome traditional practice of killing disabled children and so-called ‘spirit childs’. More on Afrikids and its work in my next post.

When reading about the village of Sirigu I remembered an article, written by another outstanding Ghanaian journalist, Seth Kwame Boateng. In 2011 he visited Sirigu and made a breath-taking documentary for Ghana’s Joy 99.7 FM’s Hotline. Below the transcript.
Seth Kwame Boateng was named ‘journalist of the month‘ in July 2017 and can boast of an impressive list of awards and documentaries. Read here what he wrote in 2011 on infanticide in Northern Ghana:

SHOCKING!…Ritual baby killing in Northern Ghana

Originally published on April 1, 2011
by Seth Kwame Boateng

Joy FM reporter Seth Kwame Boateng visits an orphanage in the Upper East Region of Ghana called “Sirigu” to uncover the chilling practice of cultural murder; the killing of babies who are born with deformities, or whose birth coincide with a tragic incident in the family, such as the loss of a parent.

Such babies are called spirit children or siri sirigu, and are thought to be bad omen for the community.

Below is a transcription of his documentary for Joy 99.7 FM’s Hotline.
I have come to the Upper East Region on an assignment, a very different assignment. The job has tight time frames. I’m rushing to meet deadlines.

I hear a stranger chatting with a friend on the streets of Bolgatanga. He mentions a Babies’ Home in the area.

The conversation reminds me of a story somebody once told me about this town and a very strange kind of orphanage.

Most children who end up in an orphanage have lost their parents. But in the Sirigu facility in Bolga, the children’s fate is much more tragic. If the child is born with deformities, the child is killed.

The first time I heard this story, I could hardly believe it. I’ve always lived in a community where great merry-making accompanies childbirth, no matter the condition of the baby or the mother.

So at first I didn’t pay too much attention to the story.

{They put the child on the hill and put plenty rocks on the child.}

Since coming to Bolgatanga I feel this story is following me. I see goose pimples all over my body and my eyes are heavy with tears when people tell me the details.

I have a very busy schedule. I tell myself I won’t have time to go to this place of horror. As I reach for my pillow one night to sleep, I can’t help myself. I make a firm resolution to travel to Sirigu the next morning no matter the consequences. It’s as if I have been possessed, I feel so uncomfortable.

I reach a friend at dawn the next day who agrees to take me on his motor bike to Sirigu. It takes about 45 minutes to drive from Bolgatanga to Sirigu and it’s not easy. The road is barely passable.
We have done only 10 minutes of the journey, and I have already regretted embarking on this trip. I don’t have a helmet. In the side mirror, I see my hair color has turned brown as if I’ve applied a dye.
I don’t have any protective cloth, so I’m shivering as if I’ve been beaten by heavy rain as I sit behind my friend on his bike.
But the story of those babies and a drive to understand the dark side of cultural practice keeps me going.

After 45 minutes of a bone-shaking journey, we finally reach Sirigu.

{Some come healthy, some come sick, some almost dying.}

At the Mother of Mercy Babies Home in Sirigu a Catholic Sister, a caretaker and a community leader are in front of the fading, brown iron gate of the home to welcome us. I look at the children and wonder what stories they would tell if they could find the words and exchange it with me. There are 16 babies in this 26-year-old home and the youngest is only two months old.

In an orphanage in Sirigu, in Ghana’s Upper East region. This Catholic Sister has dedicated her life to protecting babies and children. Now in 2018 the orphanage is being run by Afrikids.

The caretakers tell me the babies in the home are not considered ‘real’ human beings by their families. They have been cast out as evil spirits… either because they were born physically deformed or their mothers died during childbirth. And, according to an ancient cultural practice that survives in this area the babies must die to save the families from evil.

In some situations there were strange events at the time of their birth. All of the children except one, are motherless.

The caretaker, Sister Innocentia Depor tells me how some of the children are rescued and arrive on their doorstep.

{Because of the education, family members of the babies bring them themselves. The moment they get to know that the child can be termed a spirit child, they rush them here. So come very hefty, sick and weak.}

I decide to go to the nearby town to delve deeper into this story. Perhaps I will find some fathers or family members.

I meet the assemblyman for the area, Azokulgu Azotipelba, and he makes a shocking admission.

{it happened within our house, our family and within our community so I have witnessed it several times. And when that type of child dies, they don’t use a proper thing to carry him for the burial, they will take a rough mat and put the child there and hold it just like anything and go and throw it away. They normally don’t take the baby to the hill alive. They will use something like a stone, stick, or a cutlass to hit the child and kill him}

Once again, my entire body is shaking. My mouth is wide open and I’m close to tears as I visualize the events the Assemblyman is describing.

Trying to understand innocent blood being shed in the name of culture, I talk with an elder in the town, John Ayamaga. He takes time as he explains.

{when you give birth and the mother dies instantly, the myth is that it is the baby that has killed the mother so the child must also go so when there is no intervention, the baby is sent to the hill there for that rituals. If the child is born with some deformities either with some teeth or some of the hair being white, that child is termed a spirit child and that baby is not accepted in that community. We have a very big hill; they take them there and put a stone on that spirit child so that it will not get up again. The family will not fail to do that because they think if that baby has killed the mother, it can kill the rest of the family.}

I listen carefully to the stories of the people who have seen this horror first hand. I try to put myself in their shoes, to understand the fear and ignorance that leads to the slaughter of innocent children.

As I watch the kids of the Sirigu orphanage playing, I think of those who didn’t make here… Lying in shallow graves under a pile of stones on the hills in the distance.

Then a breeze blows through the window and this place of safety feels vulnerable. What if frightened family members hunted down these kids who have found refuge here. The assemblyman Azokulgu Azotipelba says this frightening possibility exists.

{At times the children will grow up to 10 or 15 years and they will still manage and go and kill that particular child. If a baby like this escape, the whole family and the entire community will come out and go and search and kill that baby. Because it is a culture for that community and the whole community believes that whatever the soothsayer says is for all so they have no reason to defy it.}

But despite these dangers the children will be discharged when they are three years old, according to the caretaker, sister Innocentia.

And, the local community has started taking advantage of the facility, bringing children who are not endangered but merely because they cannot afford to raise them.

{It was before that they don’t want the children that they always want to kill. But now with the education, they want their children but how to take care of them, very tiny, they prefer to bring the children here so that after three years when they can eat anything then they come for their child. When they bring the babies we always tell them not to come and throw the babies here like that. They should always visit them. And when they are bringing the babies, here, each child with a caretaker so that when the baby is discharged, he will have somebody he is familiar with. He will not feel like a stranger in somebody’s house.}

Poor people from the surrounding villages, outside Sirigu, have heard about the home and now bring their babies here because they are struggling to make ends meet. One child was recently brought from Bongo, a town in the Upper East Region. Little Marilyn as they’ve named her is only a month old but motherless. She is fortunate to have been spotted and saved by Hajia Mary Issaka, a midwife in-charge of the Anafubisi health center.

{Last week Friday we went to a community to run a clinic then we saw a pregnant woman holding this baby at the outreach point then we ask of the mother and she said the mother died at Bolga hospital. We ask what they were given and they told us that some people came to the funeral and donated some money and bought some lactogen and they are giving to the baby. So when we saw her, we knew that they cannot take care of the baby in the house so I sent this nurse to go the house and meet the community members and speak to the people about this orphanage. If they agree, we will arrange and bring the baby to Sirigu and they agreed.}

But little Marilyn is one of the more fortunate.

Everywhere I go in this town people have stories about baby killing that make my blood run cold.

{there are certain things they don’t even want to mention it. There was a community like that when a woman died after delivery and they gave the baby to another woman who died when there was an outbreak of CSM. And they are saying that it is the baby that has killed both the mother and the caretaker so they brought the baby out and knock the child on the tree and it died. So some of these things they are silent}.

The services of the Sirigu home is made possible by donations from foreign NGO’s like Friends of African Babies (FAB), based in the region.

Mary Kaglan is from Ireland and a member of the NGO. She tells me what motivated her organisation help the home.

{I think it was to see these sisters working so hard looking after so many babies thus the least we could do as we live in the area and that any help we could give them would be a bonus. The sisters of course take very good care of the babies so it is not that the case that the babies are looking after. But I think it is that people would be aware there is a home in Sirigu so people can visit and assist with the little they have}

But even with the assistance of the FAB NGO, sister Innocentia Apor and the staff here struggle to raise these children.

{The NHIS does not cover all the sickness so when you have a child that sickness surpasses the national insurance, it is difficult and to take a child like this, you would have to start the child with artificial food and all these are very costly. They are all the challenges. Right now we have one who has hydrocephalus and if it had not been FAB, it would have been difficult for us to take care of him. So medical wise it is a challenge}

The world is full of orphanages. And, I’ve done my fair share of stories about pain and suffering.

But the faces of the children of this place and the silent cries of the ones buried on the hill will remain with me for a long time to come.

Seth Kwame Boateng; for hotline in Sirigu.

Source: Modern Ghana, April 1, 2011

Upper East Region – Ghana