Hundreds of children are being violently abused by their families each year because they have branded as a witch or as possessed by evil spirits, campaigners have claimed.
A charity is warning that up to 400 young people may be at risk annually, often after “exploitative” faith leaders mislead their parents and convince them that an exorcism is necessary.
Metropolitan Police figures show there were 60 such cases in London last year.
However, the Africans Unite Against Child Abuse charity (Afruca) says police forces and social services across the UK are regularly failing to identify abuse because of poor training and insufficient resources – meaning many more incidents are going unreported.
Children who are branded as possessed can be burned, cut, strangled, beaten and starved in attempts to “purge” them of evil forces.
Victims are often scapegoated if bad things happen to their relatives, or if they are “different” in any way – such as by having a disability, being academically gifted, or even being left-handed.
Victoria Climbie was tortured and killed by her own relatives amid claims of witchcraft
In 2000, Victoria Climbie was tortured and killed by her own relatives amid claims of witchcraft
Oladapo Awosokanre, a project co-ordinator with AFRUCA, said: “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.
“The faith leaders have ‘the powers to be able to see’ and the abilities to deliver these spirits out of children – for a fee.”
Mr Awosokanre said affected children can end up taunted and neglected because their family members refuse to embrace them.
AFRUCA wants the act of branding a child as a witch or as being possessed by evil spirits to be made illegal, paving the way for unscrupulous faith leaders to face prosecution.
Recently, a school contacted the charity about a child who was being starved – amid claims that the police and social services had classified the case as low priority.
Several horrifying cases of faith-based abuse have been made public in recent years.
In 2000, eight-year-old Victoria Climbie died after suffering months of abuse at the hands of her aunt and her aunt’s boyfriend, amid claims she was possessed by evil spirits.
Kristy Bamu, 15, was also tortured and killed by members of her own family amid claims of witchcraft in 2010.
Detective Inspector Allen Davis from Scotland Yard said: “Inevitably there will be further deaths of children relating to these safeguarding concerns, because these deep-rooted belief systems result in tragic incidents.”