Kristy was killed because his attackers thought he was a witch, yet we should not view this abuse differently from other forms
The murder of Kristy Bamu, tortured to death because his attackers believed he was a "witch", has been greeted with disbelief and horror. That a child should be subject to such barbaric cruelty is almost beyond comprehension. However, if we are to learn anything from this terrible case and better protect children, it is essential that we do not allow this debate to become solely focused on the belief in witchcraft, or a sense that this is an "alien" concept, but understand this for what it is: a horrific form of child abuse.
Since the tragic murder of Victoria Climbi? 12 years ago, we have known that witchcraft-based abuse takes place in the UK. However, we are yet to develop effective ways to combat it.
What is worrying is the tendency to view this abuse differently from other forms dealt with by social services, the police and schools. Although it feels instinctively uncomfortable, these cases do not require a "special" response: existing child protection tools can be used, as the abuse manifests itself within the four recognised categories: physical, sexual, emotional and neglect. There are currently 47,000 children on at-risk registers in the UK, and the NSPCC reports that two children a week die through abuse. We need to make sure all frontline staff feel equipped to handle all forms of child abuse, including those linked to a belief in witchcraft and spirit possession.
In one particular case, a 15-year-old boy in London was prevented from going to school and being seen by a GP or specialist by his parents. He was autistic, and his parents believed he was possessed. The family were investigated by the police and social services. Many of the groups I have worked with have been helping parents and young people to understand children's rights, normal child development and disability so that conditions such as autism are not misinterpreted. Fortunately in this case a charity that had expertise in this issue helped the family to access the support their child needed.
Any suggestion that this level and type of abuse is endemic to an African culture is plainly wrong. The cases of sexual abuse by Catholic priests, Eunice Spry ? a Jehovah's Witness who forced sticks down the throats of her foster children and made them eat their own vomit ? or Khyra Ishaq, who was starved to death because her Muslim mother and stepfather believed she was possessed by an evil spirit, were all received in horror and condemned by their faith communities. We are in no doubt that African communities are committed to combating child abuse.
Over the last five years Trust for London has been working with communities on this issue, training 4,000 church officers. This has helped to educate people about children's rights and given people the strength to disclose other types of abuse ? not all linked to a belief in witchcraft or spirit possession. We've also helped frontline employees in the police, education and social services to understand faith-based abuse. Organisations we fund, such as UK Congolese Safeguarding Action Group, Churches' Child Protection Advisory Service and Africans Unite Against Child Abuse, have created forums for parents and children to discuss this issue. Many children can now spot the signs of faith-based abuse, and challenge parents or pastors when they suspect this is happening. Only by working together will we really be able to prevent the mistreatment of children by those who should be caring for them.
In addition, three things need to happen: the excellent work done by community groups needs to be extended and given the necessary financial support; local Safeguarding Children boards need to reach out to faith-based organisations; and all of us need to report any concerns we have about the welfare of a child, and not fall prey to those who try to hide behind religion or culture to justify their abuse.
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