Published: June 30, 2019
In the villages of Uganda a new breed of witch doctor is hunting and kidnapping children to cut off their ears, noses and genitals.
Sometimes the medicine men remove whole arms and legs or drain blood from a boy or girl’s body while the victim is still alive.
Sometimes the victim’s parents help decapitate their child.
Human sacrifice is not some ancient cultural ritual practised in this east African country, rather it is a barbaric modern way for cruel charlatans to make money.
Children in rural Uganda are kidnapped by witch doctors who torture and often murder them as part of a supposed spiritual sacrifice.
The witch doctors mutilate the children and use their blood, tissue or organs in rituals they promise can bring clients protection, prosperity and good health.
In one of the most macabre practices to have developed, children are decapitated and their heads buried in new building foundations to bring success to businesses.
Fighting this terrible trade is pastor Peter Sewakiryanga who saves children scarred by ritual mutilation, and helping him is a small group of Australians.
Pastor Peter, a former accountant, started campaigning against child sacrifice about a decade ago and runs charity Kyampisi Childcare Ministries.
He helps rehabilitate survivors and raise awareness of the practice, working with politicians, police, prosecutors and judges to bring offenders to justice.
Pastor Peter’s work features in an episode of the SBS program Dateline called How to Catch a Witch Doctor to air on Tuesday night.
The program follows Pastor Peter and Brisbane civil engineer Rodney Callanan as they hunt for a witch doctor who allegedly almost killed six-year-old Allan Ssembatya ten years ago.
Reporter Amos Roberts speaks to Allan’s father Hudson Semwanga about what happened to his boy in a village called Busolo in the district of Kayunga on October 21, 2009.
‘My son was coming home from school,’ Mr Semwanga says. ‘They took him to the bush. They cut him.
‘This cut on his head, this cut on his neck, damage to his private parts, in my view it’s very surprising that Allan is alive.
‘What hurts me the most is that they were people that knew me really well, I grew up with them, I went to school with them. We used to treat each other as family.’
One of the two men accused of kidnapping and cutting up Allan is witch doctor Kivumbi Awali, who was secretly filmed by a BBC crew in 2011.
The crew posed as members of a construction company looking for a witch doctor who could bring their business prosperity.
They were introduced to Awali, who killed a goat for good luck at their first meeting, then a few days later explained what he said was his most powerful spell: human sacrifice.
‘There are two ways of doing this,’ Awali was recorded telling the bogus businessmen. ‘We can bury the child alive on your construction site.’
‘Or we cut the child, and put their blood in a bottle of spiritual medicine. If it’s a male, the whole head is cut off, and his genitals.’
When Awali was finally arrested by police in the company of Pastor Peter and Mr Callanan he had a machete in his custody. As he was led away he complained his handcuffs were too tight.
Awali was charged with attempted murder and aggravated trafficking.
His case is still before the courts and if convicted he could face a death sentence or life in jail.
Allan is one of five child victims of human sacrifice Pastor Peter has helped bring to Australia for life-changing surgery.
‘Sometimes it’s difficult to talk about what happened to me,’ the now 16-year-old tells Dateline. ‘And sometimes when I talk about it I start crying.
‘I remember the injuries I got, I remember when I was taken, I tried to struggle to run, they hit me up and they did whatever they wanted. So when I think about it I cry.’
Pastor Peter is supported by a Brisbane-based charity called Droplets In A Stream which provides education and health care opportunities to victims of child sacrifice who survive.
Doctors at Newcastle’s John Hunter Hospital and Brisbane’s Mater Children’s Private Hospital have operated on rescued children free of charge.
‘Australia has been so kind,’ Pastor Peter said. ‘These children would otherwise be dead.’
Witch doctors practising child sacrifice are motivated solely by money but pretend to be adhering to cultural beliefs to justify their crimes.
‘They prey on the desperation of the people who are sick and are poor,’ Pastor Peter told Daily Mail Australia. ‘Even the elite who live in the city and are rich are now engaged.
‘The problem is a national issue. It started in poor pockets of the community. Now it’s widespread.
‘It has crossed boundaries into families killing their own children.’
The extent of this trade is hard to judge but Pastor Peter says he works with between 20 and 25 cases each year.
‘The issue is done under such secrecy it’s hard to estimate numbers. I can trace it to ten to 15 years ago.’
‘It’s not part of our culture. It hides in our culture. It must be condemned.’
Droplets In A Stream, which Mr Callanan co-founded, also helps fund the pursuit of witch doctors who have not been brought to justice.
‘Unfortunately, the police, the courts in Uganda are grossly underfunded,’ Mr Callanan tells Dateline.
‘Many cases actually don’t go to court or to trial because of lack of funding. And that’s one of our biggest roles in this area and that’s financial support.’
Judge Margaret Mutonyi tells the program: ‘We have a society that believes in witchcraft.’
‘The majority of the population including Christians who go to church, they consult these witch doctors.’
In one scene Pastor Peter examines photographs of a boy approximately ten years old whose body was found dumped in the bush.
‘So they cut off the ears, they cut through the neck and cut out the throat and cut off the limbs,’ he says. ‘Body parts were missing. The tongue, the legs, the genitals.’
The program also features Robert Mukwaya who in 2014 suffered spinal injuries so serious it was thought he would never walk again.
Robert had been snoozing in his grandmother’s kitchen in a village near Lake Victoria when a man dragged him out of the room and stabbed him in the neck.
He was left paralysed but surgery at Newcastle’s John Hunter Hospital two years ago has allowed him to regain the use of his legs.
In another scene Pastor Peter and Mr Callanan visit a village to warn about the practice of child sacrifice.
‘Why we are here is we heard of a story of a child who was sacrificed here and unfortunately the people that kill these children are among us,’ Pastor Peter says.
‘Please, if you know who killed our child, just come and tell us, call the number, we will even put a reward. Please don’t fear. If you fear, next time it will be your child.’
How To Catch A Witch Doctor airs on Dateline on Tuesday, June 25 at 9.30pm on SBS. It can be watched later on SBS On Demand.