Belief in Witchcraft and Child Abuse

From the Guardian UK, comes a story about the rise of child abuse tied to witchcraft  The information comes from social workers.

Child abuse linked to ideas of spirit possession and witchcraft branding is a growing phenomenon, according to evidence given to the Commons education select committee’s current inquiry into child protection. It is predominantly an issue in African communities, often fuelled by extreme religious conviction, and experts believe that its growth is a reaction to personal or family misfortune brought about by the economic downturn….

Africans Unite Against Child Abuse (Afruca), a children’s rights charity working with African communities in the UK, told the Commons committee that faith-based abuse is on the rise. Afruca chair Prospera Tedam said: “Over the last year, we have seen and worked with 12 cases in the London area of what we perceive as severe abuse and neglect arising from these beliefs of witchcraft.”

Justin Bahunga, Afruca policy lead on faith-based abuse, says the cases coming to the charity’s attention include children being semi-strangled, burned with an iron, severely beaten and starved in the belief that “it will get the devil out of them”.

The issue stems from widespread belief in demonic possession, and is being fed by pastors who prey on the vulnerability of families. We usually blame exorcisms on a misunderstanding of mental illness, but in many of these cases the claim of possession is motivated by profit.  It is, of course, the  children who are already disadvantaged whom are at the most risk.

“The pastor will say: ‘No matter what your problems, I can solve them by protecting you against the evil forces of witchcraft’. Because of their status, the word of the pastor is interpreted as God’s will. They may be paid for their advice, or to carry out exorcisms. They exploit the vulnerability of the families.”

Children with disabilities, orphans and those seen as having challenging behaviour are particularly vulnerable to being branded as witches, he says. Also at risk are those who may have left their parents to live with relatives or other guardians.

It is also becoming a tool of traffickers who wish to isolate their victims from their families and communities.

Photo by Marcus Bleasdale, Human Rights Watch, BBC

Research by Ecpat UK, which campaigns against the exploitation and trafficking of children, has found that traffickers may force children to go through witchcraft rituals in their countries of origin to prevent them from seeking help.

Ecpat UK director Christine Beddoe says: “No matter how far away they are from the trafficker, these children are still living in fear of what will happen to them if they speak out. As our understanding of this issue has grown, we are seeing more cases where the ​children’s behaviour suggests they are living with this fear and control in their lives.”

In July last year, Anthony Harrison of Stratford, east London, became the first person in the UK to be convicted of using witchcraft rituals to control victims of trafficking. He was jailed for 20 years for imprisoning two Nigerian girls, aged 14 and 16, whom he was attempting to take out of the UK to force into prostitution.

It is easy to dismiss this as an issue of uneducated immigrants or poverty stricken people from parts of Africa, but exorcisms are not uncommon in more mainstream religions in our part of the world. I have written before about the practice of exorcisms in North America, and it is not uncommon to read news stories about people injured or killed during exorcisms.

Are these people not ‘true believers’, or is possession just a natural part of religious belief? The three big religions (Islam, Judaism, and Christianity) all believe the in writings of the Pentateuch. One of the most revered patriarchs in these myths is Abraham, the man who was prepared to sacrifice his son. The primary lesson here is that believers should be prepared to sacrifice everything, including their children, to appease their god. Let’s not forget Jesus and his casting demons into swine.

Religion, the moral compass of our world.

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