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Rise in child abuse cases involving witchcraft claims - police

Published 11/10/2015

Police are getting more reports of child abuse cases involving claims of witchcraft
Police are getting more reports of child abuse cases involving claims of witchcraft

An increasing number of child abuse cases involving accusations of witchcraft and exorcism are being reported to police.

In one incident, a boy of nine was called a "devil child" and thrown out of his home by his parents, detectives revealed.

A specialist unit in London recorded 46 alleged crimes linked to faith last year- more than double the number in 2013, an investigation found.

Project Violet, the specialist faith-based abuse team within the Metropolitan Police Service, has identified 60 incidents so far in 2015.

The figures relate to crime reports flagged as involving abuse linked to faith or belief, and many of the cases involve children.

Data obtained by BBC Radio 5 live Investigates reveal half of police forces do not routinely record such cases.

Only two other forces reported incidents over the last three years - Greater Manchester and Northamptonshire each had one case.

A separate Freedom of Information request to councils across the UK revealed 31 instances of a child being accused of witchcraft or possession by spirits in 2014. This compares to 21 cases in 2013 and ten in 2012.

Detective Sergeant Terry Sharpe, from Project Violet, said cases remain "small in number" but "there has been a significant increase".

He told the programme: "You'll get the actual physical abuse and injuries taking place, and in the worst case scenario we've had some homicides as well.

"We've had a case within the last year where a nine-year-old boy had been called a devil child and thrown out of his address by his parents and was found by social services standing in his bare feet."

In another incident a child was attacked by his mother who bit him on the face and tried to smother him, because she believed he was a "witch possessed by evil spirits".

Debbie Ariyo, founder of Africans Unite Against Child Abuse, said that within churches there is often a financial motivation behind claims.

She said: "The pastor says there's a witch in this church today; looks around and points to a child - that means public humiliation for the family.

"The next step is exorcism which is not done for free. It's a money-making scam."

She warned against viewing the issue as solely affecting the African community, adding that her organisation has supported victims from other faiths and cultural backgrounds.

Ms Ariyo raised concerns about the lack of awareness among childcare professionals in the UK.

"We did a training event in July for social workers, teachers, and lawyers. Most of them didn't know anything about witchcraft and juju but they had dealt with [such] cases," she said.

A Government spokeswoman said: "Nothing is more important than keeping children safe.

"No belief system can justify the abuse of a child - it is unacceptable in whatever form it takes.

"Those responsible for child abuse linked to faith or belief would be prosecuted under the same legislation as anyone abusing or killing a child for other reasons."

Previous high-profile cases have included the murder of Kristy Bamu, 15, who was tortured and drowned by his sister and her boyfriend in 2010 after they accused him of being involved in witchcraft.

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