The government has today launched a national action plan to eradicate ‘hidden’ and ‘misunderstood’ child abuse linked to religion, witchcraft and spirit possession.
Social workers, police and other frontline children’s services will receive better training and information, while victims will have better access to therapeutic and psychological support.
The action plan follows a number of high-profile child murders linked to witchcraft, including the cases of 15-year-old Kristy Bamu – who died in 2010 following three days of torture and abuse – and eight-year-old Victoria Climbie who died in 2000.
‘Wall of silence’
Ministers hope the plan will break down the “wall of silence” around this type of abuse, raise awareness and outline practical steps to build intelligence to protect children at risk.
Launching the plan, children’s minister Tim Loughton said: “Abuse linked to faith or belief in spirits, witchcraft or possession is a horrific crime, condemned by people of all cultures, communities and faiths – but there has been a ‘wall of silence’ around its scale and extent.
“There can never be a blind eye turned to violence or emotional abuse or even the smallest risk that that religious beliefs will lead to young people being harmed.”
In the last 10 years, Scotland Yard recorded 81 police investigations into allegations of faith or witchcraft-related child abuse, but Loughton said more cases go unreported, warning political correctness could be preventing authorities from taking action.
“There has been only very gradual progress in understanding the issues over the last few years – either because community leaders have been reluctant to challenge beliefs; or because authorities misunderstand the causes or are cowed by political correctness,” he said.
Local authorities will be expected to work more closely with churches and community leaders to tackle abuse and the Department for Education will conduct research into the crime, which has not been covered since a 2006 study into 38 cases.
Mor Dioum, director of the Victoria Climbie Foundation, said raised awareness and better engagement across authorities, communities and the voluntary sector, will lead to better protection for people who highlight concerns about children.
“However, we need to work more effectively with families to achieve better outcomes for children and young people affected by this type of abuse,” he added.
NSPCC chief Andrew Flanagan said: “Most importantly, everyone must play their part by watching out for unusual activity and reporting it as early as possible.
“We must never forget this is about child cruelty not culture and we cannot afford to wait until another child is murdered before decisive action is taken.”
Social work guide to tackling issues relating to spirit possession and demonisation associated with places of worship