Hundreds of children facing religious abuse and ‘exorcisms’ because their families are convinced they are witches or have been ‘possessed’ are being let down by British police forces, a charity claims.
Africans Unite Against Child Abuse (Afruca) says up to 400 young people are at risk of this kind of treatment every year. London Metropolitan Police figures indicate that there were 60 cases of child abuse linked to religious intervention in the capital last year alone.
Afruca says such children are often scapegoated when bad things happen to the family or relatives, or if they are “different” in some way, like by having a disability or being left-handed. Punishments usually involve burning, strangling, beating, starving, and cutting the supposedly ‘possessed’ children.
“There is this notion that some particular children have these spirits within them that make them do evil things and bring bad luck into the family,” Afruca project co-ordinator Oladapo Awosokanre said.
“The faith leaders have ‘the powers to be able to see’ and the abilities to deliver these spirits out of children – for a fee.”
Afruca says police and social services are not properly trained to spot this kind of abuse. It also points out that the authorities have insufficient resources to deal with the problem and many more cases in Britain are going unreported.
“Inevitably there will be further deaths of children relating to these safeguarding concerns because these deep-rooted belief systems result in tragic incidents,” said Scotland Yard Detective Inspector Allen Davis.
Afruca is calling for political action on faith-based abuse and wants it to be made illegal to deem a child to be possessed by evil spirits or accuse one of being a witch.
In 2010, 15-year-old Kristy Bamu was tortured and killed by relatives after being accused of being a witch. In 2000, eight-year-old Victoria Climbie died at the hand of her aunt and her aunt’s boyfriend after they claimed she was possessed by evil spirits.