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Witchcraft child abuse: social services and police 'cowed by political correctness' claims minister - August-14-12
Source: The Telegraph (John Bingham)
Tim Loughton, the children's minister, said that a "wall of silence" was obscuring the full scale of cruelty in some communities where beliefs in evil spirits was common.
He was speaking as the Government announced plans to introduce new training for social workers, teachers, police and church members to combat the abuse.
It follows the conviction earlier this year of Eric Bikubi a London football coach, and his partner Magalie Bamu, for torturing and murdered a 15-year-old boy because they believed he was practising witchcraft.
The couple, whose families came from the Democratic Republic of Congo, subjected Bamu's brother Kristy to a three-day ordeal because they were convinced he was practising "kindoki" or sorcery.
The case had echoes of that of Victoria Climbié, the eight-year-old girl who was murdered by her guardians who believed she was possessed by demons.
There is very little information available about the scale of such abuse.
In London there have been 81 recorded cases of children being abused as part of religious practice over the past 10 years but police and church groups are convinced it is under-reported.
Previous research suggests that the practice is not confined to African communities and exists in different forms across southern Asia and parts of Europe within some Christian sects but also some Hindu and Muslim communities.
Mr Loughton announced a new action plan drawn up after discussions between police, child welfare charities and faith groups including churches.
It calls for new social workers and teachers to be taught about the issue as part of their training as well as new measures to spread awareness within religious groups.
Police are being given guidance drawn up by specialists at Scotland Yard setting out some of the possible warning signs, including certain types of injuries children may bear.
Mr Loughton said it was clear the full extent of the abuse was being underestimated.
"Perpetrators go to huge lengths to cover up their abuse and the motivations are complex - often connected with mental illness and other complicated underlying reasons," he said.
"It's clear we need to make a stand. 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 which risk leading to real abuse in their midst; or because authorities misunderstand the causes or are cowed by political correctness."
Detective Superintendent Terry Sharpe of the Metropolitan Police, who led the Bamu case, said the main problem was a basic lack of awareness that the problem exists.
"It might be very difficult for the children themselves to come forward or, if it is a rogue pastor scenario, for people to report their religious leaders, our big push has been to empower the professionals: social workers or others, to raise awareness of the signs."
Cases investigated in London so far this year include one in which a boy was assaulted because his parents believed he was bringing bad luck and another forced to drink a noxious substance supposedly to rid him of evil spirits.
Bishop Joe Aldred, who works with black majority churches as part of the Churches Together in England group, said people should not "turn a blind eye" to the possibility that children are in danger in religious settings.
"Whether you believe in it or don't believe in it, everybody has to be aware," he said.
Simon Bass, chief executive of the Churches Child Protection Advisory Service, said many local child protection bodies were not even aware which religious groups were operating in their areas.
"A first step is to know exactly which faith groups they have, and where they worship - and this they must do as an urgent priority," he said.
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