Hundreds of forgotten children are beaten and starved every year by relatives trying to purge them of evil spirits, campaigners have claimed.
Children accused of being possessed or a witch have been burnt, cut, strangled or starved in about 60 cases identified by the Metropolitan police last year. However, up to 350 are being missed by authorities outside London due to poor training and cost pressure, the charity Africans Unite Against Child Abuse (Afruca) said.
It comes amid warnings that trafficked children and unaccompanied refugees are going missing from care homes at an “alarmingly high rate”, with nearly 600 disappearing last year, of whom nearly a third are still unaccounted for.
Some faith leaders are accusing children of witchcraft to profit from bogus exorcisms, according to Afruca, which is calling for such accusations to be made a criminal offence. Children with disabilities are said to be particularly vulnerable, as well as those with relatives who have suffered recent misfortune.
“The police are often not properly trained to record this type of abuse,” said Oldapo Awosokanre, of Afruca. “There have been more training and resources committed to it in London; however outside London the police are still not able to identify properly that type of abuse.”
Mr Awosokanre said it was not unusual for cases of abuse and starvation to be treated as low priority by police and social services. Research by the BBC last year found that half of police forces did not routinely record faith-based abuse.
High-profile cases which lead to changes in child protection, such the murder of Victoria Climbié in 2000, are rare, Afruca says. Victoria, eight, was tortured and murdered by her guardians after being accused of witchcraft. A judge later found “blinding incompetence” from police, social services, the NHS and other authorities, who noted signs of abuse but failed to take action.
Despite changes to the system following the case, including the 2004 Children Act, police admit that more children will die because belief in the occult is so deeply held in some communities.
“Inevitably there will be further deaths of children relating to these safeguarding concerns because these deep-rooted belief systems result in tragic incidents,” said Detective Inspector Allen Davis, of Scotland Yard’s sexual offences, exploitation and child abuse command. The people doing the exorcism — self-appointed faith figures in a position of authority — they are exploiting vulnerable people, not just physically and emotionally but financially as well. People are paying quite a lot of money in order to get rid of the ‘demons’. The belief is so strong and it’s coming from an external source that’s respected.”
Two other charities report today that more than a quarter of children in the UK care system went missing at least once in the year to September 2015, according to council figures obtained by the charities ECPAT UK and Missing People. Findings to be presented to parliament today show that 13 per cent of unaccompanied children, including asylum seekers, disappeared at least once in the same period.
“We must not accept this as a reality any longer. Every child that goes missing is a failure in our duty to protect them from harm,” said Chloe Setter, of ECPAT UK, which campaigns against child trafficking.
A Department for Education spokesperson said councils now have a duty to report missing children as part of tightened regulations.
“But we know trafficked and unaccompanied asylum-seeking children are especially vulnerable,” the spokesperson said.
“That’s why we have commissioned specialist training for those caring for them, committed to an independent advocate in each area to help champion their rights and outlined clear plans for a new government strategy to look at their particular needs, including reviewing the accommodation available.” The Times
- Police ‘failing to identify’ hundreds of children abused for being shropshirestar
- Children Branded ‘Witches’ Or Being ‘Possessed By Evil Spirits’ Huffington Post UK
- Police ‘failing’ hundreds of children abused for being ‘possessed’ Isle of Wight Radio