We need to prosecute those who brand children witches

Afruca's Debbie Ariyo calls for legislation to link branding children as witches and incitement to harm


Debbie Ariyo (pictured) calls for legislation to link branding children as witches and incitement to harm

Victoria Climbié died, after being accused a witch, more than 10 years ago but the memories of her horrific abuse and death still linger. In 2005, the country was equally horrified by the abuse and torture of “Child B” who was also branded as a witch by her family.

Since then there have been other, less publicised but equally appalling, cases including a Pastor in Bradford who abused his two sons because he believed they were possessed. At Afruca, last year alone, we worked with different local authorities across the country to assess at least 10 cases involving children branded as witches and who were seriously abused as a result.

These cases of abuse, harm and even death have their origin in the branding or labelling of vulnerable children as witches or possessed by evil spirits which is usually then followed by a series of abusive acts. While the law criminalises the physical abuse that occurs once a child is branded as a witch, what is missing is the act of branding a child as a witch which is an incitement to harm.

It is not possible to raise the issue of child branding without highlighting the role that many of our faith organisations play in this matter. Since many black African pentecostal churches and other faith organisations emphasise a belief in witchcraft, a lot of the cases we have come across involve the faith leader identifiying someone as a witch, sometimes in front of the congregation.

It is essential that action is taken to protect children by shifting the point at which abuse occurs to the point of labelling or branding. Any form of abuse (whether at home or elsewhere) that does occur after that is solely as a result of this initial branding or “scapegoating”.

Nowhere in UK law is the link between child branding and incitement to harm made. While guardians, parents and carers have been prosecuted for harming children it is quite chilling to know that those who initiated the process of abuse have remained out reach of the law. It is vital that legislation is brought forward to bridge this gap in child protection. This will empower practitioners and communities to better protect children and act as a deterrent to potential offenders.

Debbie Ariyo is the executive director of Afruca (Africans Unite Against Child Abuse)

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This article is published in the 3 March 2011 edition of Community Care under the headline “Branding a child as a witch must be illegal”

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