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The number of children known to have been abused over beliefs in witchcraft and possession has risen by a third in two years, figures show. Authorities identified almost 2,000 suspected victims in 2018-19, but, as experts warns, the real figure may be far higher because of a lack of awareness over the phenomenon.
The phenomenon was identified as a factor by councils in 1,950 abuse cases in 2018-19, an increase of 20 percent on the previous year and more than a third since 2016-17. The figures were published by the Local Government Association and are based on safeguarding assessment data from local authorities passed to the Department of Education.
Children are often targeted because of physical differences or disabilities, mental illness, unusual skills or perceived bad behavior. The characteristics can be treated as evidence of possession, evil spirits or witchcraft, prompting abusive interventions by family members or faith leaders.
Child abuse linked to faith or belief has resulted in several deaths. The Guardian reports that there was also alarm that the numbers are rising so long after the high profile deaths of eight-year-old Victoria Climbié, who was killed as a result of ritual abuse by her guardian in 2000; Khyra Ishaq (7 years old), who was starved to death in 2008 in Birmingham by her mother and her partner who had a strong belief in spirits and Kristy Bamu, 15 years old, in 2010 killed by her sister and her partner in an exorcism in their east London flat.
Beside those numbers, the new figures also revealed the number of girls identified by social workers as either having had or being at risk of female genital mutilation (FGM) reached a high of 1,000 cases this year. It is an increase of 6% of the 940 cases in 2017/18.
“Rising cases of FGM and child abuse linked to faith or belief are extremely worrying and are destroying the lives of children and young people in communities across the country,” said Cllr Anita Lower, the Local Government Association’s lead on FGM. “Social workers have become better at identifying the signs of FGM and belief-related abuse, but the true incidence rate is likely to be higher as these crimes are under-reported.”
Leethen Bartholomew, the centre’s head, told the PA news agency: “We know [faith-based] abuse is often linked to when families experience some kind of misfortune – whether it is a child with a disability or parental mental health, or when some of these families experience exclusion because of poverty.
“They try to make sense of what they are experiencing through a lens where they have this belief system where there is this spiritual realm and what happens there has an impact on what happens here.”
He added: “They use children as a scapegoat for that misfortune that they are experiencing.”
The problem is big and torturing children for any reason must not happen. The Metropolitan police stressed that only a minority of people who believe in witchcraft or spirit possession go on to abuse children. There is obviously much more people who still believe in witchcraft and black magic and this is a discouraging piece of information in the 21st century. Rebelliousness, nightmares or falling ill can be taken as symptoms of “possession” while sometimes children are scapegoated for financial difficulties, divorce, infidelity, illness or death.