Child abuse connected with religious beliefs such as witchcraft and demonic possession is on the rise in Plymouth, shocking new figures reveal.
The latest government statistics have shown that social services identified 12 potential abuse cases in Plymouth linked to faith or belief in 2017/18.
These include cases where the abuser believes a child is a witch, has been possessed by a spirit, demons or the devil, or has brought bad fortune into the home in other ways.
They can also include cases where fear of the supernatural is used to make children comply with being trafficked for domestic slavery or sexual exploitation.
The 12 cases seen in Plymouth last year is up from fewer than six in 2016/17 – and experts warn that the true scale of abuse is likely far greater.
Nationally, the number of potential abuse cases has risen from 1,460 in 2016/17 to 1,630 last year.
Dr Charlotte Baker of Lancaster University has worked on these issues alongside the UN, the Witchcraft and Human Rights Information Network and the UK National Working Group on Child Abuse Linked to Faith and Belief.
She said: “I was shocked when these figures were published. To discover all these cases right on our doorstep really brought it home to me how widespread an issue we face.
“We believe that the figures are likely to considerably underestimate the true number of children being abused, as victims and families are reluctant to speak to children’s social services, who record this data.
“This kind of abuse is often hidden within communities and in families, so a major focus must be on providing social workers and child safeguarding practitioners with training in identifying, assessing and intervening in families where children are at risk of witchcraft accusation and abuse.
“Being accused can damage or destroy family life and relationships, and have a lasting impact on a child’s development and life experience.”
Abuse linked to faith or belief can be physical, emotional or sexual, and the consequences can be profound and long-lasting.
In some instances the abuse can even lead to death, as in the case of Victoria Climbie – an 11-year-old who was murdered in 2000 by her aunt and her aunt’s boyfriend, who believed she was possessed by an evil spirit Child abuse linked to faith or belief is not confined to one faith, nationality, ethnic group or community.
Cases have been recorded worldwide across various religions, including Christians, Muslims and Hindus. Not all with the belief go on to harm children. The number of known cases suggests that only a small minority of people who believe in witchcraft or spirit possession go on to abuse children.