Last year, stories emerged that African preachers were sacrificing children in secret church ceremonies in the UK. Today, we still don’t know the full truth behind those claims – and African churches say the government isn’t doing more to help them root out child abusers posing as Christian leaders.
No one who last June heard the story of “Child B” would have failed to have been moved. The eight-year-old child, brought to the UK from Angola, was beaten, cut and had chilli rubbed in her eyes after her aunt and two others believed she was a witch. The girl’s aunt, who cannot be named for legal reasons, and two others, Sita Kisanga and Sebastian Pinto, were jailed – but the case sparked widespread fears over whether a new form of child abuse centred on African “healing” customs had arrived in Britain.
Child B was not the first such child abuse case to emerge from African communities. The appalling death of Victoria Climbie in February 2000 included an element of belief in possession and witchcraft. Separately, police are still investigating the identity of “Adam”, the torso of a Nigerian boy found in 2001.
And amid these terrible stories, and fears of others, there remains enormous confusion over the extent of the problem.
A Metropolitan Police report last year suggested that abuse linked to churches was rife. That report into the hearsay and claims, intended to help focus police activities, became embroiled in a row when some groups accused officers of a racist witch-hunt, no pun intended. And so, a year on, nobody is nearer the truth. Except perhaps for the Department for Education and Skills (DFES).
At a conference on Monday, leaders of Congolese churches in Britain are calling on ministers to urgently publish research they commissioned into the allegations of witchcraft and possession. The research is understood to have been completed and is sitting on a desk somewhere in the department. A spokesman for the DFES, which has responsibility for child protection policy, says it is being considered by ministers, but will give no publication date, despite widespread expectations that it would have been released in March. Recently revised guidelines from the department do however underline that faith groups should have child protection policies in place…
…Project Violet, the Met’s unit investigating faith-related child abuse, (says) of the 42,000 child abuse allegations the Met has dealt with in the past five years, 52 of them were related to allegations against African spiritualists offering “deliverance” from possession. Eight of these have ended up in court, although other investigations resulted in action by social services…