Headless corpses raise ritual killing fear in Togo (2007 articles)

Published: September 21, 2007
By: John Zodzi – Reuters

LOME (Reuters) – Six grisly murders in Togo in which the victims were decapitated and drained of their blood have raised fears of a resurgence of ritual killings ahead of parliamentary elections in the West African state next month. 

The serial killings occurred last weekend in the southern Vo and Lacs prefectures, east of the capital Lome. The victims included a 12-year-old boy and a 63-year-old woman and their severed heads were carried off by the killers. 

The discovery of the headless corpses has shocked Togolese and triggered a wave of speculation that the killings were ritual murders. This is a practice still found in parts of Africa in which people kill to obtain body parts and blood in the belief they will bring social success and political power. 

Police announced the arrest of four suspects, including one from neighboring Benin, the West African home of the ancient Voodoo religion, who confessed to killing the 12-year-old boy. 

Togo holds legislative elections on October 14, and international observers hope they will strengthen the weak grip of democracy in the small former French colony, which like Benin is wedged between Nigeria and Ghana on the Gulf of Guinea. 

In a society where traditional beliefs still have influence, some Togolese saw a link between the killings and the ambitions of aspiring candidates for next month’s polls. 

“Some of these deputies are ready to do anything to keep their seats and you hear that they’re carrying out sacrifices,” said Joel Attigan, a geography student. 

Others saw the murders as linked to a desire for social advancement. 

“There are too many young rich people in Togo these days. These crimes are linked to these kind of people, who sometimes use human sacrifices to obtain their goals,” said Da Mensa, the manager of a bar and restaurant in Lome. 

Togo’s media have joined the feverish debate, blaming shadowy religious sects in Togo and Benin. 

“We are in Africa, and spilled human blood can reveal many things,” the newspaper Le Magnan Libere said, referring to the witchcraft practice of using blood or body parts for divining or influencing the future. 

The police have been cautious about confirming the ritual killing hypothesis. 

But they said the arrested Benin citizen, Roger Kodjo Hounguiya, had confessed that he was working for a fellow countryman, Jean Goudjo, wanted in Benin for grisly murders involving mutilation. 

The European Union, which froze most of its aid to Togo in 1993 citing the poor democratic record of then President Gnassingbe Eyadema, is sending electoral observers to the polls next month. Eyadema died in 2005 and his son is now president.

Source: Headless corpses raise ritual killing fear in Togo

Related article:

‘Gang behind’ Togo’s beheadings

Published: September 28, 2007, 10:34 GMT 11:34 UK 
By: BBC

Togolese police say they are probing what could be a cross-border network of killers after six beheadings in Togo and one in Benin earlier this month.

One of four suspects has admitted he belongs to a gang wanted in Benin for similar crimes, Togolese police say.

The victims were all attacked over a two-day period and their decapitated bodies were drained of blood.

A BBC correspondent says there are fears these are ritual murders for witchcraft purposes ahead of Christmas.

In some traditional practices, human body parts are used in the belief that they make charms more powerful.

According to Togo’s police chief Col Damehane Yark, one of the four suspects in custody has also admitted to killing the youngest victim, a 12-year-old schoolgirl.

The BBC’s Edow Godwin in the Togolese capital, Lome, says the killers struck in the southern districts of Vo and Lac, in Maritime province that borders Benin.

At the same time a teenage girl was beheaded in Benin, 65km from the city of Cotonou in similar circumstances.

Source: ‘Gang behind’ Togo’s beheadings

The unsolved case of the torso in the Thames (2001) 2004-2005 articles – Part III

People-smuggler to be quizzed over boy’s body in Thames
Published: July 27, 2004
By: RELIGION NEWS BLOG

A child trafficker who may have helped smuggle the River Thames “torso boy” into Britain was jailed for four-and- a-half years yesterday.

Kingsley Ojo headed a “substantial” network thought to have brought hundreds of youngsters and adults into the country to work in the sex trade, as domestic slaves or for benefit fraud. Now police hope he can shed some light on the ritual murder of the five-year-old boy they named Adam.

Southwark Crown Court in London heard that Ojo was arrested last year during a co-ordinated series of raids in the capital. He claimed to be Mousa Kamara, 30, from Sierra Leone but was soon identified as a 35-year-old Nigerian, originally from Benin City, where Adam used to live.

The court heard that Ojo had come to Britain in 1997 posing as an asylum seeker from Sierra Leone.

When police searched his flat, they found a video mock-up of ritual killings, a shot of what appeared to be a decapitated head in a basin and a voodoo artefact in the form of a rat’s skull, pierced by a long metal spike and bound in black thread.

Ojo, of Devonshire Close, Stratford, east London, admitted four charges. Two involved dishonestly obtaining a British passport in July 1999, and using a forged driving licence with intent to deceive, while two related to assisting illegal entry into this country in November 2002 and February last year.

Judge Neil Stewart said the offences were so serious that prison was inevitable. He told Ojo: “I’m satisfied your continued presence would be to the detriment of this country and I make a recommendation that you be deported upon your release from prison.”

Detective Chief Inspector Will O’Reilly, the head of the investigation into the unidentified boy’s death, said later that Ojo had been detained because of his close association with a woman, Joyce Osagiede, who was arrested in Scotland. “We believe she is closely involved in the Adam case … we also believe he assisted with her entry into the country,” he said.

He went on: “I firmly believe he [Ojo] can assist us with our inquiries and we will be looking to speak to him as soon as possible.”

Osagiede, who has since been repatriated to Nigeria, also came from Benin City, and the pair lived together for a while at a London address.

The woman, who had Ojo’s address among her belongings, told immigration officers that she had fled her country due to being caught up in a ritual cult.

She claimed her husband, who was arrested in Dublin last year and later deported to Germany, had been involved in a group which carried out “demonic rituals”. He had, she said, played an active part in the deaths of 11 children, one of whom had been their eldest child.

In her flat, police found chicken feathers and a number of other items used in west African curses. They also found clothes believed to have come from the same shop in Germany as the orange shorts found on the headless, limbless body of the child which was found floating near Tower Bridge in central London almost three years ago.

Osagiede’s two daughters are still in foster care in Scotland.

Source: People-smuggler to be quizzed over boy’s body in Thames

Related article:
Jail for torso case people smuggler
Published: July 27, 2004
By: RELIGION NEWS BLOG

A man suspected of having smuggled into the UK an African boy whose torso was later found in the Thames was jailed for four years and six months for people trafficking yesterday.

Kingsley Ojo, 35, from Stratford, east London, admitted four charges: bringing two men, whom he provided with false papers, into Britain in November 2002 and February 2003, and using a forged driving licence and passport.

Ojo headed a “substantial” network that is thought to have smuggled in hundreds of children and adults to work as prostitutes or domestic slaves.

Scotland Yard detectives do not think he killed the boy, named Adam by police, whose headless and limbless torso was recovered from the Thames in September 2001. But they believe he could hold the key to the horrific ritual murder.

Officers were initially baffled by the gruesome find. But painstaking forensic analysis of the boy’s bones established his diet, which narrowed down his place of origin to the region around Benin city in Nigeria.

Ojo, who was arrested with 20 others in a series of immigration-linked raids across London last July, is also from Benin city. He had falsely claimed to be Mousa Kamara, 30, from Sierra Leone.

Detective Chief Inspector Will O’Reilly, who heads the investigation, said Ojo was not thought to have murdered Adam, but police wanted to interview him again about his links with a woman arrested in Scotland.

Children’s clothes found in her Glasgow flat came from the same German shop as the orange shorts on Adam’s torso. She also comes from Benin city, and she and Ojo lived at the same address in London for a time.

“We believe she is closely involved in the Adam case,” Mr O’Reilly said. “Her main associate in this country was Ojo. We also believe he assisted her entry into the country. I firmly believe he can assist us with our inquiries and we will be looking to speak to him as soon as possible.”

The woman has since been “repatriated” to Nigeria and Mr O’Reilly said he could not comment further on her as a file had been submitted to the Crown Prosecution Service.

When officers searched Ojo’s flat in London, they found a video of mock-up ritual killings and a rat’s skull, thought to be a voodoo talisman.

Southwark crown court heard that Ojo came to the UK in 1997, posing as an asylum seeker, and was granted leave to remain, but forbidden to travel abroad. But when he discovered his girlfriend, Barbara Bourne, had lost a newborn son a few years previously, he used the dead boy’s birth certificate to obtain a driving licence and passport.

He then brought in illegal immigrants on cheap flights from Naples. Police think those smuggled in may have paid up to 20,000 each for a new life in Britain.

Judge Neil Stewart said he was satisfied that Ojo had an organizational role and had profited from the enterprise, and recommended that he be sent back to Nigeria when he had served his sentence. 

Source: Jail for torso case people smuggler

Five witchcraft inquiries
Published: June 17, 2005
By: RELIGION NEWS BLOG

Police and social services in London are investigating five new suspected cases of child abuse involving witchcraft. 

Britain’s leading expert on witchcraft, Dr Richard Hoskins, is working with social services on allegations about fundamentalist churches in Haringey and Hackney.

They involve two boys aged 11 and 14 and three girls aged 10, 12 and 13. They were all allegedly abused after being accused by their family of being “witches”. 

A Metropolitan Police report, leaked yesterday, unmasked a “trade” in young African boys brought to London to be murdered as human sacrifices. 

An inquiry in which members of the African community in Newham and Hackney were questioned found a number of sects that believe in powerful spells requiring the ritual killing of male children.

It also identified cases of children abused and killed after family members accused them of being possessed by “evil spirits”.

Dr Hoskins, a chief adviser to the Met, said almost all the cases he is investigating have similar features. The children have been accused of being “possessed” and allegedly abused and tortured. 

Social services took them into their care after parents called for the children to be exorcised in fundamentalist churches. 

Dr Hoskins said: “We are dealing with real cases here. I have got seven cases on my books of children nationwide who have been abused in the name of witchcraft. When you actually talk to them, these are hard and fast facts. But the issue as a whole has to be dealt with very sensitively.” 

Dr Hoskins worked with police on the inquiry into “Adam“, the torso found in the Thames, which he is convinced was a ritual sacrifice. 

In the Adam case, detectives also spoke to Tussan le Mante, a voodoo priest or hougan, who carries out rituals in his west London flat. 

Le Mante was able to tell them accounts of child abuse of which he was aware through his connection with voodoo. 

Police also found children are being sold to traffickers on the streets of African cities such as Lagos, Nigeria, for under ?10 then smuggled into the UK.

They arrive in London with false documents and accompanied by adults who believe they will bolster their asylum claims. 

Dr Hoskins said: “We know this through work we have been doing on the Adam inquiry. It’s the same in Kinshasa. These children are ripe for people to abuse. They are easy prey.” 

The 10-month study was commissioned by the Met following the death of Victoria Climbié who was starved and beaten to death after relatives said she was possessed.

Its aim was to create an “open dialogue” with the African and Asian community in Newham and Hackney. In discussions with African community leaders, officers were told of examples of children being murdered because their parents or carers believed them to be evil. 

Earlier this month, Sita Kisanga, 35, was convicted at the Old Bailey of torturing an eight-year-old girl from Angola whom she accused of being a witch. Kisanga was a member of the Combat Spirituel church in Dalston. 

Many such churches, supported mainly by people from West Africa, sanction aggressive forms of exorcism. 

The caretaker of the building used by the church said its leader was “an extraordinary man”. 

“The pastor would come down after preaching with froth coming out of his mouth,” he said.

“The congregation made massive noise and generally caused so much disturbance that the neighbours here kicked up a fuss and got the council to evict them.” 

There are believed to be 300 similar churches in the UK, mostly in London. Last month, Scotland Yard revealed it had traced only two of 300 black boys reported missing from London schools in a three-month period. The true figure for missing children is feared to be several thousand a year.

Source: Five witchcraft inquiries

People from Angola, Congo-Kinshasa (DRC) and Nigeria implicated in the inquiries

The unsolved case of the torso in the Thames (2001) 2002-2003 articles – Part II

Witchcraft bean was fed to ‘Adam’ before his murder
Published: October 18, 2003 
By: RELIGION NEWS BLOG

The African boy whose dismembered torso was found in the Thames two years ago was fed a poisonous bean used in witchcraft rituals before he was murdered, police disclosed yesterday.

The unidentified boy, named Adam by Metropolitan Police detectives, is believed to have been the victim of a ritual killing after being brought from his native Nigeria to Britain.

A substance found in the boy’s lower intestine was identified by an expert at Kew Gardens in London as the highly toxic calabar bean, from West Africa.

Police believe a preparation of the calabar bean – which can be fatal if swallowed, or cause paralysis in tiny doses – may have been used to subdue the boy, by slow paralysis, before his throat was cut. It was administered at least 24 hours before his death.

It also emerged yesterday that the murder squad, which has spent hundreds of thousands of pounds investigating the boy’s death, has prepared its first file of evidence in the case for the Crown Prosecution Service.

Scotland Yard sources played down suggestions that charges were close but officers have uncovered what they believe is cogent circumstantial evidence.

They have previously arrested a woman in Glasgow – who has since returned to Nigeria – and a man being held by police in Dublin. The pair, who are husband and wife, are not biologically related to Adam, it is understood.

The man in Dublin has been sentenced in his absence in Germany for trafficking offences and is wanted for extradition by the Germans.

A pair of child’s shorts on the headless and limbless torso of Adam, who was probably aged between four and six, also came from Germany.

Charges which might be brought in any trial include murder, conspiracy to murder and trafficking offences.

It also emerged yesterday that the Government’s leading law officer, the Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith, QC, wants to lead the prosecution team in any trial arising from the Adam investigation.

Source: Witchcraft bean was fed to ‘Adam’ before his murder 


The groundbreaking hunt for Adam’s killers
Published: Monday August 4, 2003
By: RELIGION NEWS BLOG

Quoting: Sandro Contenta – Toronto Star (Canada), August 2, 2003
Link disappeared (webmaster FVDK)

DNA tests used to trace victim’s origin
Boy’s murder linked to child trafficking


LONDON�One more turn of the tide and the torso of the boy in the River Thames would have been swept out to the North Sea, the story of his chilling end buried perhaps forever in a watery grave.

But the alarm was sounded when the bright orange shorts hanging from the torso caught the eye of a passerby up high on Tower Bridge.

Police fished out what was left of Adam, the name they eventually gave the still unidentified boy, at the foot of the Globe Theatre on Sept. 21, 2001

Since then, the story pieced together of what police consider London’s first known ritual killing is macabre enough to have challenged even Shakespeare’s imagination. And the investigative work that has brought police close to cracking the case is groundbreaking.

It combined unprecedented forensic research with old-fashioned legwork that took investigators to Germany, the Netherlands, the U.S., South Africa, Nigeria, Scotland and Ireland.

The latest break in the investigation came Tuesday, when Metropolitan Police raided several homes in London and arrested 21 suspected members of a child trafficking ring.

“We’re pretty convinced that we are on to a group of individuals who trafficked Adam into the country,” said Detective Inspector William O’Reilly.

The arrests highlighted a UNICEF report the next day estimating that thousands of children have been smuggled into Britain during the past several years to be exploited as sex slaves, or for slave labour.

But public attention was especially focused on what police described as evidence of occult rituals found in the raided apartments, such as an animal skull with a nail driven through it.

Most of those arrested come from Benin City, Nigeria, an area where remarkable forensic sleuthing in the case has determined as Adam’s home.

 “I must stress we are not judging any cultures,” said Andy Baker, the police commander heading the investigation. “We are investigating a crime �the crime of murder.”

When the remains of Adam were found, investigators quickly figured out that his torso had been in the water for up to 10 days, that he was black, he was between four and eight years old, and murder ended his life.

It wasn’t the first limbless and headless torso 50-year-old Ray Fysh had seen in his forensic career. But it left him scratching his head.

Bodies are dismembered, he says, either to hide the victim’s identity, or to more easily transport and dispose of the body. But with Adam, no effort had been made to weigh down or conceal the torso once his killers dumped it in the Thames.

“In fact, he had orange shorts on, which made him stand out like a beacon,” Fysh says.

Even more puzzling was the conclusion that the shorts were placed on the torso after Adam was killed, because his legs could not have been hacked off with them on. The inside tag had washing instructions in German, and the brand was made exclusively in China for a German chain of stores.

“None of us knew, really, what we were dealing with at the time,” says Fysh, a scientist with Britain’s Forensic Science Service, and the forensic co-ordinator in the Adam case.

 “Nobody had come across this sort of stuff before,” he adds.

Fysh’s team began with basic forensic work. They mapped a profile of Adam’s DNA, to be used to identify his parents if they’re ever found. They covered his torso with tape in a bid to lift any hairs or fibres that might belong to the murderer, and came up blank. Swab tests found no evidence of sexual assault.

Toxicology tests found only one drug in Adam, a cough suppressant called Pholcodine, bought without a prescription at any pharmacy. Adam was treated for a cough shortly before he was killed.

“It wasn’t obvious then, but looking back on it now, it shows some sort of duty of care to this child,” Fysh says.

The way Adam’s limbs were cut off was brutally precise.

The killer either used a series of heavy, razor-sharp kitchen knives, or one that was sharpened throughout the dismemberment.

“They cut the skin, peeled the muscle back, and then cut through the bone. They never went through a joint,” Fysh says.

Dismemberment occurred when Adam was already dead. But the cause of death was no less horrible. He was slaughtered like an animal.

“The cause of death was a knife trauma to the neck,” Fysh says, choosing his words carefully. “The child then went into extensive blood loss.”

About six weeks after Adam’s torso was discovered, police searching the river for the rest of his body found seven half-burned candles wrapped inside a white cotton bedsheet. The name Adekoyejo Fola Adoye was written three times on the sheet, and cut into the candles.

But in the end, the candles and bedsheet turned out to have nothing to do with Adam. Detectives found that Adoye lived in New York, and his London-based parents had performed a ceremony with the Celestial Church of Christ to celebrate the fact that he had not been killed in the Sept. 11, 2001, attack on the World Trade Centre.

Still, police suspected they were stumbling into an uncharted area of the macabre and supernatural, and turned for guidance to Richard Hoskins, a specialist in African religions at King’s College in London.

Europol estimates there have been at least nine cases of ritual killing across Europe in the past 15 years, and Hoskins believes more are bound to occur as immigration grows.

Every year, about 300 people are killed in South Africa for muti, a Zulu word for traditional medicine. Muti is usually a mixture of herbs, but in rare cases human body parts are used.

About the same number are killed yearly in parts of Nigeria in illegal human sacrifices where the victim’s blood is offered to gods, spirits or ancestors, Hoskins adds. Body parts might be kept powerful trophies or souvenirs.

Tribes that practise animal sacrifices consider the ritual killing of humans a terrible moral and legal crime �a taboo that makes those who break it feel all the more empowered, especially when children are the victims, Hoskins says.

“Because of the innocence and the purity of the child it becomes the most powerful form of magic that can be done.”

The cut in Adam’s neck led Hoskins to believe the ritual was more likely from the west of Africa than the south.

“It was done in a very specific and deliberate way, clearly to bleed him to death in a relatively quick way. The point was to spill blood on the ground as an offering,” he says.

Hoskins says the orange colour of Adam’s shorts, and the dumping of his torso in the river is also ritually significant. He believes the murder or murderers sacrificed Adam to gain some sort of power or good luck for an undertaking in Britain.

For police, Hoskins’ theories were horribly fascinating, but brought them no closer to identifying Adam or his killers. Finding out whatever they could about his short life became the focus of Fysh’s forensic team by January, 2002.

Adam’s stomach was empty. The last time he ate was 12 to 18 hours before his death.

In his lower intestine �an area rarely examined in forensic work �they found traces of pollen from a tree found in London, but not in Africa.

“So we know he was alive and breathing in London before he was killed,” Fysh says.

Also in his lower intestine were tiny clay pellets with specks of pure gold embedded on their surface, along with what appeared to be finely ground up bones. To determine the origin of the crushed bones, they were sent to the New York forensic team that conducted innovative work to identify victims of the Sept. 11 attacks.

Hoskins says the concoction in Adam’s stomach is typical of the potions used to prepare victims for ritual killings in sub-Sahara Africa. It’s part of a process that led to Adam getting cough medicine to ensure he was a healthy offering to the gods.

 “The case of Adam is definitely a ritualistic killing. There’s no doubt in my mind,” Hoskins says. “The remarkable thing is that he was brought from Africa to the U.K. specifically for the purpose.”

Hoskins didn’t believe Adam was the victim of a muti killing, but police weren’t ruling it out without hard evidence.

In April, 2002, detectives travelled to South Africa for a Johannesburg press conference where Nelson Mandela made a public appeal for information about Adam.

But in July, a break in the case would point to Hoskins’ theory.

Social workers in Glasgow had reported seeing strange items in the home of a 31-year-old West African asylum seeker. Police searched the flat and found objects they believed were associated with curses, including whisky jars filled with chicken feathers. More significant were the clothes found, which police believe were purchased in the same German shop were Adam’s orange shorts were likely bought.

The woman, Joyce Osagiede, was arrested and questioned about Adam’s murder. She was not charged, and was later deported to her Nigerian hometown, in the Benin City area.

At about the same time, Fysh’s team decided to try something never before attempted in forensic work.

They began by mapping Adam’s “mitochondrial DNA” (mtDNA), which is exclusively passed on from mothers to siblings. Children have the same mtDNA as their mother, who in turn has the same mtDNA as her mother, and so on.

They compared Adam’s mtDNA to 6,000 sequences published in scientific studies. Adam’s sequence had never been found among populations in southern African, or in people in eastern Africa. But it matched mtDNA found in the northwestern part of the continent.

To further narrow the search, the team called on the services of Ken Pye, a professor of soil geology at the University of London. The next series of tests were based on the maxim, “We are what we eat.”

There is a certain level of the mineral strontium that works its way through the food chain; from water, to earth, to plants, to animals, and, finally, into the bones of humans.

In other words, people walk around with a strontium signature that matches the one in their environment. And if a person moves from one country to another, it takes six to 10 years before the strontium signature in the bones changes to match the new habitat.

Given Adam’s likely age, his strontium signature would not only determine the place of his birth, but the place where he grew up. It matched the signature found in a zone of ancient, Precambrian rock, which in Africa is mostly predominant in Nigeria. Suddenly, the forensic evidence also began matching Hoskins’ academic research.

Fysh and detective O’Reilly travelled to Nigeria last November and spent 2�weeks collecting rocks, animal bones and vegetables from local markets in a 10,000 square kilometre area.

They also collected post-mortem human bones from three sites around the country, including Benin City.

They returned to London with 120 samples, and by the end of January matched the strontium signature in Adam’s bones to that found in a corridor stretching from Benin City to Ibaden, where villages of the Yoruba tribe dot the only main road along the way.

It was, in forensic terms, a eureka moment.

“From a torso floating in the Thames, we now think the child was born and raised in the Benin City area,” Fysh says.

Detectives have since gone to the area to post leaflets on trees about Adam’s murder, and to encourage local residents who might have information to come forward. They also publicized a reward of $110,000 for tips leading to the arrest of Adam’s killers and a $5,500 reward for information that will identify him.

The next big break came July 2, when Irish police arrested a 37-year-old Nigerian man in Dublin on an extradition warrant issued by German police. 

In March, 2001, Sam Onogigovie was sentenced in his absence to seven years in Germany, for forgery and crimes linked to the trafficking of people.

He’s believed to be the estranged husband of Osagiede, the woman arrested in Glasgow and deported to Benin City last year. Police are seeking a DNA test to determine whether he’s Adam’s father, but believe he was more likely involved in smuggling the boy to London.

“It’s a case we all dearly would like to solve,” Fysh says. “At the end of the day, it’s a murder of a very young boy in grotesque circumstances.

“We want to send a message out there we will not accept this in London. We accept people’s culture. But a murder we will not accept.”

Source: The groundbreaking hunt for Adam’s killers


Focus: Muti – The Story of Adam
Published: August 4, 2003
By: RELIGION NEWS BLOG

Quoting: Paul Vallely, Independent (England), Aug. 3, 2003
Link disappeared (webmaster FVDK)

The arrest of 21 people in connection with the discovery of a child’s mutilated body in the Thames points to a network of people traffickers and an underworld of abuse and domestic slavery. Paul Vallely, who has followed the case in the two years since the torso of the young African boy was found, says the evidence leads to the bloody ritual of muti, where the body parts of children are sacrificed in pursuit of spiritual power (Independent, England, August 3, 2003).

It was the body of a five-year-old African boy. The corpse had no head. The legs had been severed above the knee and the arms cut off at the shoulder. All that remained was a torso dressed – grotesquely – in a pair of orange shorts, which had been thrown into the Thames shortly before it was discovered in September 2001. Death had been from a violent trauma to the neck, and the limbs had been “skilfully” removed after death by an experienced butcher.

Yet it was not the gruesome details of the murder and dismemberment that last week – almost two years later – led 200 police officers to launch nine simultaneous dawn raids across London and arrest 21 people. It was the contents of the stomach of the child, whom the police – in an attempt to restore some humanity to the desecrated body – had named Adam. That, and the orange shorts in which the post-mortem showed he had been dressed after death.

Ironically, the clue that first put them on the trail to the arrests turned out to be a false lead. The body had been found by Tower Bridge. Initially, detectives wondered if the mutilation might be an attempt to disguise the identity of the victim of an accident, a family row or a sex crime. But then, two miles upstream in Chelsea, they found the remnants of an African ritual, with a Nigerian name written on a sheet, carved into seven half-burned candles. Might this be a ritual killing?

In the event, the Chelsea paraphernalia turned out to be unrelated. But before the police discovered that, they had sent to Johannesburg for Professor Hendrik Scholtz, a South African pathologist who is an expert in so-called muti killings – in which adherents of traditional African magic take human body parts and grind them down to make potions they believe bring good fortune to those who drink them. The professor came to England and, after a second post-mortem, confirmed the detectives’ fears. Muti had come to Britain.

The boy’s throat, he confirmed, had been cut and his blood drained from his body, probably for use in some ritual. Most significantly his first vertebra – the one between neck and spine – had been removed. This is known in Africa as the Atlas bone, for it is said to be the bone on which the mythical giant Atlas carried the world. In muti it is believed to be the centre of the body, where all nerve and blood vessels meet, and where all power is concentrated.

There was something else. Adam’s body was well-nourished and showed no signs of abuse, sexual or otherwise. Analysis of his stomach contents showed someone troubled to give him Pholcodine, a cough linctus, not long before he died. It was the classic muti scenario of an otherwise well-treated child being “volunteered” for sacrifice by his own family.

The police set out on two main lines of inquiry. The shorts – orange, they discovered, was a lucky colour in muti – carried the label Kids & Co, the brand-name for Woolworths in Germany. Detectives traced them to a batch of 820 pairs in size 116cm (age 5-7) that had been sold in 320 German stores. But then the trail went cold.

So, too, did a five-month trawl of London’s ethnic communities. Detectives came across plenty of rumours that muti ceremonies were taking place, but no evidence – and no sign of an identity for the murdered child. Painstaking checks of the attendance registers of 3,000 nurseries and primary schools found no missing five-year-old who tallied with what was known of Adam. When they sent forensic evidence to the United States for testing it came back with the verdict from the FBI that the case was “practically insoluble”. Even a public appeal by Nelson Mandela, broadcast across Africa, was fruitless.

But the dead child had not fallen totally silent. His DNA spoke up, as did the mineral levels in his bones. Analysts were able to establish that Adam had spent his life in a 100-mile corridor in the south-west of Nigeria, between Ibadan and Benin City. Revealingly, most of those arrested last week come from Benin.

The contents of his stomach were eloquent too. Forensic examination showed that the boy had been fed a muti potion of mixed bone, clay and gold.

There was something else. Analysis of pollen found in the boy’s stomach showed he had been alive when he came to London. It is thought he was brought across Northern Europe, possibly via Germany, and lived in Britain for a few weeks before his murder. “We’ve uncovered what we believe is a criminal network concentrating on people trafficking,” said Detective Inspector Will O’Reilly, who is leading the Adam inquiry. “We don’t know how many children are involved in this operation, but it’s certainly in the hundreds, if not the thousands, coming from mainland Africa through Europe into the UK.”

Lurid accounts of child trafficking have suggested the trade is primarily to provide recruits for the sex industry. But police believe that the majority of trafficked children are put to work 12 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, in what amounts to a modern form of slavery. Only a tiny number fall victim to muti.

Much of muti is innocent. The term derives from umu thi, the Zulu word for tree, which has become a byword for any traditional medicine, good or bad. Its everyday form consists of potions made from Africa’s indigenous herbs and plants to cure common ailments. It works. A pharmaceutical company has just signed a deal with the African National Healers Association to package some muti recipes. The South African Council for Scientific and Industrial Research has, with the aid of traditional healers, launched a “bio-prospecting” project to unlock the secrets of the nation’s 23,000 indigenous plants.

Most adherents stop with the plant recipes. But some believe that more complex complaints can be cured with animal parts such as crocodile fat, hawk wings, monkey heads or dried puff adders. Before the last World Cup qualifiers a hippo, lion, elephant and hyena were slaughtered to make a potion for the Swaziland team to give its footballers extra strength.

Muti becomes disturbing when it is extended to the notion that human body parts can be used to heal or bestow special powers. For muti is not just a medicine, it is a metaphysic. It asserts that there is only so much luck in the world and each person has a limited supply of it. Very young children have not yet used all their luck, which can be transferred to whoever takes the medicine derived from their remains. This is the origin of the widespread African myth that sex with a virgin can cure someone of Aids: the younger the girl, the more potent the “medicine”.

It is unclear how widespread human muti is in West Africa. But in South Africa, where the government set up a Commission of Inquiry into Witchcraft Violence and Ritual Murders after a spate of killings of boys aged between one and six in Soweto, it is estimated that at least 300 people have been murdered for their body parts in the past decade. The figure could be as high as 500 a year. (Italics added by the webmaster FVDK) 

The killings are rarely impulsive. They are done to order by sangomas, or witch doctors, commissioned by clients with a particular need. Thus human skulls are placed in the foundations of new buildings to bring good luck to the business. Body parts are buried on farms to secure big harvests, severed hands built into shop entrances to encourage customers. Human hands burnt to ash and mixed into a paste are seen as a cure for strokes. Blood “boosts” vitality; brains, political power and business success. Genitals, breasts and placentas are used for infertility and good luck, with the genitalia of young boys and virgin girls being especially highly prized. There is a belief that body parts taken from live victims are rendered more potent by their screams.

Discovering all this provided the police with another clue. The genitals of the torso in the Thames had not been removed, suggesting that his killers needed muti potions for some other purpose. Adam had been sacrificed for non-sexual reasons.

It was almost a year after the discovery of Adam’s body that the next piece of the jigsaw fell into place. A representative of the social services department in Glasgow contacted Scotland Yard and reported that one of their clients, a West African woman, had said she wanted to perform a ritual with her children. Her name was Joyce Osagiede. When police travelled to Scotland to arrest her they discovered among her daughter’s clothes a pair of orange shorts of the exact size and brand as had been found on Adam. They also discovered that she had been living in Germany – the only place the shorts had been on sale – before coming to Britain with her children. It was not enough to charge her. She later returned to Nigeria.

Then, earlier this month, police tracked down the woman’s estranged husband, Sam Onojhighovie. The 37-year-old Nigerian man had appeared at the High Court in Dublin as part of an ongoing attempt to extradite him to Germany, where he had been convicted in his absence and sentenced to seven years for offences linked to human trafficking. Scotland Yard officers visited him for questioning.

Of the 21 people arrested in the dawn raids last week 10 were illegal immigrants. None have been charged. Following the raids, Inspector O’Reilly said: “We are pretty confident we have a group of individuals who could have trafficked Adam into the country.” Police are investigating a variety of offences, including benefit fraud, selling false passports and credit card and banking swindles. So far they are still some way off piecing together the exact fate of the boy they know as Adam.

“In West Africa there are several reasons for human sacrifices – for power, money, or to protect a criminal enterprise,” said Inspector O’Reilly. “We believe the prime motive for the murder was to bring good fortune. We suspect Adam was killed to bring traffickers luck.”

Police are waiting for the results of tests to compare the DNA of Sam Onojhighovie – and everyone arrested last week – with Adam’s. If it shows that a terrible ritual murder was carried out to bring good fortune to an iniquitous scheme to traffic in human beings, there could be a grim final irony. The muti killing that was supposed to ensure the success of a criminal enterprise may actually have ensured its failure.

Source: Focus: Muti – The Story of Adam


Suspect responsible for death of 11 kids, wife tells police
Published: August 4, 2003
By: RELIGION NEWS BLOG
Quoting: Vanguard (Nigeria), Aug. 4, 2003
Link disappeared (webmaster FVDK)

LONDON – A Nigerian man questioned in connection with the suspected ritual murder of a boy whose torso was found in the River Thames nearly two years ago is responsible for the deaths of 11 children, his wife told British police, The Sunday Times reported yesterday.

Sam Onojhighovie, 37, was arrested July 2 in Dublin under a German extradition warrant for offences linked to human trafficking but has also been questioned in the Adam case, the nickname given to the boy found dead in September 2001.

His wife Joyce Osagiede told British immigration in November 2001 that she was escaping from a religious cult that had been active in her home country of Sierra Leone and in Nigeria, The Sunday Times said. She was later found to be from Nigeria.

Onojhighovie, who had been setting up branches of a new demonic cult in Germany and London, had killed 11 children, including the couples eldest daughter, she said according to the same source.

Police arrested 21 people Tuesday around London in connection with the Adam case. Those arrested were believed to be in their 20s and 30s and mostly Nigerians. They included 10 black men, nine black women and two white women, one of whom was nursing a baby.

Police have requested DNA tests from those arrested, believing one of them could be related to Adam. Adam�s limbless, headless remains were discovered floating in the River Thames near London�s famous Tower Bridge, triggering one of the most gruesome murder cases in the British capital in recent years. Police suspect the boy was the victim of a ritual killing after he was brought to Britain from the vicinity of the Southern Nigerian city of Benin.

Source: Suspect responsible for death of 11 kids, wife tells police


Arrests in ‘Adam’ torso case

Police raided nine homes across London (source: BBC)

Published: Tuesday July 29, 2003
By: RELIGION NEWS BLOG 
quoting: BBC, July 29, 2003, Arrests in ‘Adam’ torso ‘ case 

Police investigating the murder of a boy whose torso was found in the Thames have arrested 21 people in raids across London. 

Nine addresses in east and south-east London were searched by nearly 200 Metropolitan Police officers on Tuesday morning.

Ten men and eleven women were held by police. A baby belonging to one of the women was also taken into care while the woman was being questioned.

Among the items found was the skull of an animal which had a nail driven through it.

Commander Andy Baker, from the Metropolitan Police, said: “Some of the items would raise a few eyebrows – they look like some element of ritualism is involved.”

Most of those arrested were for immigration offences, identity fraud and passport forgery.

The police were acting on information from detectives who have been investigating why the limbless and headless body of a boy ended up in the Thames.

The victim, called Adam by officers, was found in the river near Tower Bridge in September 2001.

Police suspect that he was a victim of ritual killing after being brought over from Nigeria.

Officers travelled to the African country after forensic tests showed he was from the area around Benin City.

All of the people arrested on Tuesday are from the same part of Nigeria and police want to compare their DNA with Adam’s to see if any are related to him.

Police are also looking at their connection with a Nigerian man arrested in Dublin earlier this month in connection with the investigation.

Sam Onogigovie, 37, was held under an extradition warrant issued by police in Germany, where he has been convicted of crimes linked to human trafficking.

Detectives from Scotland Yard also questioned him about the murder of Adam.

Tuesday’s arrests were made by officers from Operation Maxim, the multi-agency unit tasked with targeting organised criminals who are in the UK illegally.

Detective Inspector Will O’Reilly, leading the Adam inquiry, said: “We’ve uncovered what we believe is a criminal network concentrating on people trafficking.

“We are convinced that we are on to a group, or individuals, that were involved in trafficking Adam into the country.”

Police also said there was evidence of children having been at the raided addresses.

Detectives think Adam was aged between four and six, and was alive when he arrived in London.

They are also trying to trace the witch doctor who brewed a potion containing bone fragments which the boy swallowed before he died.

The fragments have been submitted to New York’s medical examiner who will use techniques developed to identify September 11 victims.

“Interesting substances” found in the raids will also be compared with the potion found in Adam’s intestines.

Police think some of the items confiscated could be linked to rituals.

Source: Arrests in ‘Adam’ torso case


Human parts in bush meat
Published: Thursday November 7, 2002
By: RELIGION NEWS BLOG 
quoting : Western Daily News (England), Nov. 4, 2002 http://www.thisisbristol.com/ Link disappeared (webmaster FVDK).

Human flesh is being smuggled into Britain hidden in consignments of illegal bush meat, experts warned last night.

The horrifying twist to the bush meat trade was revealed with news of a raid on a London shop where it is believed human body parts were being sold.

Detectives investigating the murder of a five-year-old boy, whose torso was found in the Thames and whom officers believe was the victim of a West African ritual killing, joined a raid by environmental health officers.

There they found the first evidence of its kind linking the trade in bush meat to witchcraft ceremonies.

Officers seized items including a crocodile head, used in ritualistic dishes to “increase sexual stamina”.

Other packages of unidentifiable meat have been sent for DNA testing.

Experts say they are convinced human flesh is finding its way on to the streets as part of the illegal trade which deals in flesh from animals such as monkeys.

Clive Lawrence, Heathrow Airport’s meat transport director who joined detectives on the raid, last night said: “We have been told by moles protecting their own businesses that human flesh is being sold in this country. There is also an established trade in smuggling children, a lot disappear and no-one knows what happens to them.

“I think it is not just restricted to London, but to everywhere with high population density.”

Mr Lawrence said it was likely the trade had extended its deadly cargo to Bristol, adding he believed the murder of the Thames child – named Adam by detectives – was not a one-off.

He said underworld sources told him a human head will sell for �10,000. Flesh from a slaughtered child turned into African medicine or a “Muti” pendant, giving the wearer “incredible sexual power”, is said to cost about �5,000.

Detectives from Operation Swalcliffe investigating Adam’s death say he was smuggled in to Britain alive five days before being murdered.

They believe he was sacrificed in a ritual intended to bring good luck to his killers. In the past year police have discovered seven cases of West African religious rituals on the Thames.

Source:  Human parts in bush meat

Confronting Superstition in Postcolonial Mozambique

Leo Igwe wrote a very interesting article on the background of superstition in Mozambique. He explains the belief in superstition and the fact that Mozambicans resort to occult practices:  “It’s all related (if not caused) by the lack of effective state interventions and leadership.” As he argues, “(…) in the absence of modernity, people in Mozambique and elsewhere in the region invoke magic and superstition to help process the existential challenges and uncertainties that they face in their everyday life. (…)

I have a very high opinion of Leo Igwe. For ten years or more I’ve been reading his thoughts, experiences and views. He’s a well-known human rights activist. I would wish there are many many more Leo Igwe’s! Therefore his opinions matter.

Leo Igwe critically examines the modernity arguments, referring to scholars such as Peter Geschiere, Jean and John Comaroff. But how right are they? One could easily reverse the question. Is state intervention the critical factor? What if it did not exist? To what extent it would have been decisive?

In my opinion the real explanation for the phenomenon of superstition lies in the fact that the people concerned have not been educated in the proper sense.

Education, education and once more education! I cannot emphasize enough the importance of modern education. It’s the only long term solution for the problem of superstition. In the short term, the State should do its work: enforce the respect for the rule of law and hold those who are suspected of human rights violations and ritualistic murders accountable for their heinous crimes!

More on Leo Igwe later.

Webmaster FVDK

Published on February 26, 2018
By Leo Igwe, Conatus News

In Mozambique, murders of albinos, bald men, and other superstition-fueled crimes are common. Where do these ritual killings come from? 

Recently, there have been reported incidents of harmful acts that are connected with traditional beliefs and practices across the region. For instance, some people attacked traders and fishermen for ‘tying the rain’. They alleged that the victims controlled rainfall in the area to benefit their businesses. The practice of rainmaking and unmaking in found in other African societies. Fortunately, the police intervened and warned the perpetrators against making such false accusations.

In another instance, ritualists killed five bald men in the district of Milange because their head supposedly contained gold. It is not clear how and when Mozambicans started associating bald heads with gold or magical wealth. Similar superstitious narratives have led to violence in other African cultures. For example, in Nigeria, those who believe that the hump contains some ‘precious mineral’ attack people with a hunchback.

Mozambique, however, has been particularly susceptible to ritual murders in recent years. People living with albinism (PLA) have been hunted down and killed in Mozambique for their body parts. The body parts of PLA are used to prepare magical substances that ostensibly bring wealth and good fortune. In September 2017, ritualists killed and removed the brain of a 17-year-old boy.

People Living with Albinism (PLA)

Mozambicans who suffer ailments or death impute witchcraft, and those who are accused of witchcraft are frequently attacked or killed. In 2011, at least 20 people were murdered for alleged involvement in witchcraft in Mozambique. Some of those arrested for attacking or lynching alleged witches were even schoolteachers. It has thereforebecome pertinent to explore how these manifestations of superstition and magical beliefs are related to the idea of modernity or the postcolonial context. Why has the spread of modernization not resulted in the disappearance of superstitious beliefs and practices in contemporary Mozambique?

A Reaction to modernity?

Some scholars such as Peter Geschiere, Jean and John Comaroff have designated the manifestations of occult beliefs in contemporary Africa as part of the dividends of Africa’s encounter with modernity. They have argued that modern changes have fractured Africa, and disrupted the lives of people within Africa. Ritual beliefs, and superstition-based practices, argue Geschiere and Comaroff, are ways that Africans make sense of these changes.

However, the modernity argument needs to be critically re-examined. First, how is accusing traders and farmers of holding the rain or killing PLA a way of making sense of modern changes? Does modernisation propel people to make witchcraft accusations and lynch alleged witches? How is the crisis wrought by modernisation (whatever that means) connected with magical imputations and ritualistic beliefs? Where is the logic in the argument that modernity is the raison d’etre of the growing visibility of occult beliefs in the region? Are modern phenomena not supposed to be oppositional to magic and superstition?

There is no doubt that modernisation has brought about significant change in African societies. The introduction of state bureaucracy, the school system, science and technology, neoliberal economics and the media has led to social, economic and political adjustments in postcolonial Africa. But occult beliefs and practices predate modernity in Africa. Africans have been using narratives of magic to make sense of their lives and social organisations before the introduction of state bureaucracy and other modern institutions. Modernisation has not led to the total disappearance of magical beliefs. So, is it justified to postulate that the manifestation of superstitions in postcolonial Africa is because of modernity?

In contemporary Africa, people make active use of both the magical and modern. Modernisation has provided Africans with an additional facility and resource in making sense of experiences. Where African people cannot use or access the modern, the magical is deployed. If the modern does not suffice, superstition is relied upon to supplement. People try to explain their misfortune using science and logic or by applying material and naturalistic resources. But where the material and natural are unhelpful and unsatisfactory, where they do not provide the answers and solutions, the supernatural and spiritual is used.

Superstition and magic are waxing strong and manifesting forcefully in places like Mozambique despite the modernisation process because there is some purpose that these ritualistic beliefs and practices are serving which modernity has not addressed.

State Failures

In Mozambique, the state has failed in helping the citizens to meaningfully manage the shortage of rain and other existential uncertainties and anxieties. The required education or awareness is lacking. The state has not provided evidence-based information or response to the problem of limited rainfall especially to people in rural communities. According to a local source, elderly persons in the country languish in poverty: “They do not have access to basic health services, transportation and housing. Most elderly persons do not enjoy psychological and material well-being. They live in deplorable conditions, abandoned by relatives, accused of witchcraft and with little or no income”.

The state of Mozambique has been unable to put in place effective poverty alleviation programs for the citizens. There is no functioning social support system to cater for the poor, and the unemployed. So people try to make sense of their unfortunate situations using whatever they can lay their hands on whether they are material, immaterial or mixed. No incentives are extended to farmers and fishermen who are struggling to earn a living. They bear the brunt of poor harvest without state support or subsidy. Traders and others managing various businesses are left to cope with the harsh economic realities.

Conclusion

Due to the lack of effective state interventions and leadership in these critical areas, Africans resort to occult practices to make sense of their lives and experiences. In the absence of modernity, people in Mozambique and elsewhere in the region invoke magic and superstition to help process the existential challenges and uncertainties that they face in their everyday life.

Source: Conatus News, February 26, 2017

Also: The Moravi Post, February 27, 2018

Spirit Child: Ritual Killings in Ghana

Years ago, I drafted an article on infanticide in Benin for the present website on ritual killings in Africa. I never published it, because I hesitated. Thought it wasn’t ready yet. I may publish it one of these days.

This morning I ran into the article below on infanticide in Ghana – and Benin, Burkina Faso, Nigeria – and who knows in which other African countries this age-old practice occurs. The article is a follow-up to a 2013 investigative report of the same journalist and filmmaker, Anas Aremeyaw Anas. He fights a honorable battle against these murders, since we’re talking about the murdering of children.

Infanticide is an age-old horrible practice, but we’re living in the 21st c. and it’s absolutely necessary that governments take action in this respect. People are afraid to speak about infanticide, as Anas Aremeyaw Anas writes, since they fear the consequences of revealing a secret: death.

Witchcraft, the fear of witchcraft, superstition and ritual killings are closely related. Education can end this nexus. And economic development: jobs. It’s a fight against poverty and ignorance.

Moreover, people have the right to live without fear. It’s a human right.
(webmaster FVDK)

Spirit Child: Ritual Killings in Ghana

Published: June 3, 2018
Author: Anas Aremeyaw Anas
Published by Aljazeera

WARNING: both original articles (2018; 2013) include a film with graphic images that may be shocking.
Anas Aremeyaw Anas investigates the ritual killings of Ghanaian children deemed to be possessed by evil spirits.

Every year an unknown number of children – most of them disabled in some way – are murdered in northern Ghana because of the belief that they are in some way possessed by evil spirits set on bringing ill fortune to those around them.

The practice is the consequence of ancient traditions and customs and is shaped by poverty and ignorance in remote and often marginalised communities. No one knows the exact number of these ritual deaths across Ghana, Benin, Burkina Faso and parts of Nigeria, but some believe it could be in the thousands.

For years, NGOs and the Ghanaian authorities have tried advocacy and education in an attempt to eradicate the practice but with only marginal success. Well into the 21st century, Ghana’s so-called spirit children are still being killed because they carry the blame for the misfortunes of everyday life.

In 2013, award-winning Ghanaian investigative reporter Anas Aremeyaw Anas set out to track down and expose some of those responsible for the senseless killings – determined to bring them to justice and stop the practice.

Back then, he wrote: “When I first heard about this I could not believe it was happening in my country in the 21st century … The practice originally emerged as a way for poor families to deal with deformed or disabled children that they cannot look after. These families approach village elders known as concoction men and inform them that they suspect their child to be a so-called spirit child.

The concoction man then takes the father of the child to visit a soothsayer who confirms whether or not the child is truly evil, without ever actually laying eyes on them. Once this confirmation has been received, the concoction man brews a poisonous liquid from local roots and herbs and force-feeds it to the child, almost always resulting in death.

Over time, this practice has become a perceived solution to any problems a family might be having at the time of a child’s birth. By blaming the child for sickness in the family, or the father’s inability to find work or provide money to support his dependants, these communities have found an otherworldly explanation for their problems … But infanticide has always been a crime against humanity.”

Now, five years later, Anas, spoke to REWIND about why he doesn’t want to show his identity, the dangers of undercover journalism in Africa, and what has become of the concoction men that killed those children.

“Most African journalists who do investigations have a series of dangers pointing at them. You just have to be yourself and think about how to survive. I came up with the beads that I wear, so people don’t see my face. I’m sure that some of my colleagues, in Nigeria or Malawi have other ways to protect themselves,” Anas told Al Jazeera.

Talking about the threats facing investigative journalists, he said: “Generally, people definitely want to point guns at you or some will try to kidnap you. And most of these things have happened; getting death threats and legal suits is normal, most of my colleagues in the continent suffer that.”

“There is nothing more frustrating than doing a story on someone and then walking on the same streets with that person. It is even more dangerous and that can easily end the life of any journalist.”

“We don’t make stories so that people can just read them and smile in their bedrooms. We make stories that have impact on the society. For me, it is a good story when the bad guy is named, shamed and put in jail … Many people have gone to jail as a result of my work and I’m proud of it.”

Anas also talked about the concoction men that he met during his Spirit Child investigation.

“A legal process was started but they were too old, so at the time that the process could finish, some of them couldn’t even make it to court. But the key thing that happened in that story is that it told the community that whoever you are, when you attempt to do some of these things, you are going behind bars.”

“For the first time, those witch doctors were arrested and put before court. That sends a strong signal to all witch doctors to be careful, that when you are dealing with the life of a child it’s a completely different matter. And we can’t sit down for these children to be killed in the way they are being killed.”

Source: Al Jazeera, June 3, 2018

Related: Spirit Child
By Anas Aremeyaw Anas
Published: January 10, 2013

Every year an unknown number of children – most of them disabled in some way – are murdered in northern Ghana because of the belief that they are in some way possessed by evil spirits set on bringing ill fortune to those around them.

The practice is the consequence of ancient traditions and customs and is shaped by poverty and ignorance in remote and often marginalised communities. But it is still infanticide and no less horrifying than the killing of children anywhere. For years NGOs and the Ghanaian authorities have tried advocacy and education in an attempt to eradicate the practice but with only marginal success. Well into the 21st century, Ghana’s so-called spirit children are still being killed because they carry the blame for the misfortunes of everyday life.

Award-winning Ghanaian investigative reporter Anas Aremeyaw Anas is determined to do something to stop this senseless slaughter. In this shocking and remarkable film for People & Power he sets out to track down and identify some of those responsible and to bring them to justice.

Thousands of children have been killed in Ghana because the communities they are born into believe they are evil spirits. When I first heard about this I could not believe it was happening in my country in the 21st century.

The practice originally emerged as a way for poor families to deal with deformed or disabled children that they cannot look after. These families approach village elders known as concoction men and inform them that they suspect their child to be a so-called spirit child. The concoction man then takes the father of the child to visit a soothsayer who confirms whether or not the child is truly evil, without ever actually laying eyes on them.

Once this confirmation has been received, the concoction man brews a poisonous liquid from local roots and herbs and force-feeds it to the child, almost always resulting in death.

Over time, this practice has become a perceived solution to any problems a family might be having at the time of a child’s birth. By blaming the child for sickness in the family, or the father’s inability to find work or provide money to support his dependents, these communities have found an otherworldly explanation for their problems.

In this highly patriarchal society it enables heads of family to pass the blame for their struggles onto someone else. And by branding the child a spirit from outside the family, they can disassociate themselves and feel justified in murdering their own offspring, while telling those around them that now all will be well – the evil presence is gone.

But infanticide has always been a crime against humanity. I believe there is plenty of evidence of infanticide in the history of all human societies and its continued and widespread practice makes a mockery of the democratic credentials of the countries, including mine, where this crime still takes place. Many forms of civic engagement and advocacy have been used in a bid to eradicate this practice in Ghana and other West African nations. Sadly though, the limited efficacy of such techniques is illustrated by the fact that today children are still being killed in this way.

Ready to spill blood in the name of tradition

And sometimes a strong focus on understanding and education when dealing with traditional practices can distance us from the reality of a situation; it can place us in an ivory tower where we fail to engage with the true manner in which those involved are behaving. Far from acting like a man fulfilling a sad but necessary duty, the concoction man I hired to kill my fictitious child for the purposes of this film was excited; his eyes pinned wide with zeal as he went about preparing for the task at hand.

He laughed and joked about his previous experience, telling me about how he had recently killed a 12-year-old girl by tricking her into drinking his concoction and boasting about how effective his methods are. Without knowing the context, any casual observer would surely consider his disposition nothing short of murderous.

While I understand that he was misguided – ready to spill innocent blood in the name of tradition – I also strongly believe that, no matter what the circumstances, where children are being murdered the state must step in to punish those responsible in the same way that the citizens of any developed democracy would expect it to.

That is not to say that some understanding cannot be afforded to the concoction men and the communities that continue to practice these rituals. Unlike those with the benefit of technology who can see a badly developed fetus and terminate it before birth, the mothers whose babies are killed in northern Ghana have no such options.

They may find themselves giving birth to a child only to discover that it is not normal: it will never be accepted and will always be a burden on those around it. In the absence of technology or a refuge for mother and child to escape to, the concoction man is the only solution. As a result, the parents perceive him as a saviour; the only one who can deliver them from enduring further hardship. And the concoction men in turn thrive on the standing and power this affords them in the community.

When we think of slavery or the burning of alleged witches, these crimes against humanity were only eradicated when key actors in government decided to take a stand. By declaring these practices as unacceptable and threatening those who continue to perpetrate them with prosecution, governments have brought about the abolition of centuries-old traditions in a relatively short space of time.

Permitting evil to triumph over good

From northern Ghana, where the spirit child story is set, through Burkina Faso, Benin and parts of Nigeria, countless babies are killed based on age-old cultural beliefs. But despite this, we were unable to find any evidence of previous arrests for these crimes.

During the three weeks that I worked on this story, I came across 10 men who were willing to kill a baby for spiritual reasons. They were easy to find. Yet when I asked a senior police officer why no arrests have been made, his response was: “It is a very difficult thing to do. It’s unfortunate, we have no idea why this is happening, who is behind this and why they have not been arrested.”

My intention is not to suggest that one investigation or police arrest can stop this trend. But in many ways, the practice’s continued existence is a result of the impunity enjoyed by those involved. The fact that the police have never acted in any way to prevent these children being killed is surely a strong incentive for the concoction men to continue their business as usual. Invariably, this type of laisser-faire attitude is what permits evil to triumph over good.

Democracy has no value if it is only limited to occasional ceremonies for power holders. It is worthless if the voiceless are crushed and the perpetrators of atrocities are allowed to continue living their life without suffering any consequences. It certainly cannot exist where freedom and justice, selectively applied, mean that children are killed with impunity.