Sunday 19 January 2020

Nick Britten: Beaten, starved and burnt -- the children accused of witchcraft

Nick Britten

WHILE Kristy Bamu met his brutal end in a run-down tower block in east London, his murder had its origins in Central Africa, where witchcraft is widely practised.

In his homeland of the Democratic Republic of Congo, more than 20,000 children are forced to live homeless on the streets of the capital Kinshasa because they have been accused of sorcery.

But after the conviction yesterday of his sister Magalie Bamu (29) and her boyfriend Eric Bikubi (28) for the 15-year-old's murder, experts warned that misguided belief in witchcraft now posed a greater threat to children in Britain than those in Africa.

Adrift from the restraining force of their communities, there is little to stop young migrant Africans living in London letting their beliefs in sorcery and exorcism running out of control.

Yesterday the Metropolitan Police said it had investigated 83 "faith-based" child abuse cases involving witchcraft in the past 10 years.

The authorities in the UK first became aware of the problem in 2000 following the torture and murder of Victoria Climbie by her aunt and her boyfriend, who believed she was possessed.

Since then the number of cases being investigated has risen on an almost annual basis.

Yet experts believe what is being reported it only the tip of the iceberg and the reality is that even where communities are aware of abuse going on, such as children being beaten, starved, burnt or having chilli rubbed in their eyes, they are content to ignore it.

Witchcraft, with its close links to Christian churches in Africa, is seen by extremists as a natural extension to the religion, and has followed African Communities here. Whilst the practice is centuries old, the accusing of children of witchcraft is thought to be a modern phenomenon, first becoming common in the mid-1990s.

With the rise in the UK of unregulated churches there has come an increase in the kind of horrific cases the Old Bailey has just heard.

Debbie Ariyo, the head of the charity Africans Unite Against Child Abuse (Afruca), said: "If you look at how fast new African churches have grown since 2005, it's astonishing.

"Dozens of rogue churches don't want to change their practices. Small churches can be hidden away in a living room."

One of the problems for the British authorities is trying to track the growth.

Dr Richard Hoskins, an African studies expert who gave evidence in the Kristy Bamu trial and who has studied witchcraft for 25 years, said the scale of the problem is something the UK authorities need to admit before they can tackle it.

He said: "We're quite happy to talk about what is inappropriate belief when it comes to terrorism or paedophilia, but when it comes to fundamentalist religious belief affecting child protection, we don't seem to want to talk about it."

Irish Independent

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