Hundreds of children in Britain are being starved and beaten every year to punish them for being witches or to cleanse them of evil spirits.
The charity Africans Unite Against Child Abuse (Afruca) says around 60 children were strangled, burned, cut or starved by relatives last year in cases identified by London’s Metropolitan Police.
However, the group estimates that up 350 further cases are being missed by other police forces due to poor training.
The Times says that sometimes children are accused of being possessed by local religious leaders hoping to profit from fake exorcisms. Other times, parents conclude their child is evil if they have a disability, or the parents have suffered a misfortune.
Oldapo Awosokanre of Afruca said: “The police are often not properly trained to record this type of abuse. There have been more training and resources committed to it in London; however outside London the police are still not able to identify properly that type of abuse.”
One of the most notorious examples was the death of eight-year-old Victoria Climbié (pictured) in 2000, who was tortured and murdered by her guardians after they accused her of witchcraft. A judge later accused the police, National Health Service and social services of “blinding incompetence” after repeatedly noting the signs of abuse but failing to take action.
Although the system was tightened following Victoria Climbié’s death, police admit many more children are at risk due to deeply-held beliefs in the occult in some minority communities.
Detective Inspector Allen Davis, who is a member of Scotland Yard’s sexual offences, exploitation and child abuse command, said: “Inevitably there will be further deaths of children relating to these safeguarding concerns because these deep-rooted belief systems result in tragic incidents.
“The people doing the exorcism — self-appointed faith figures in a position of authority — they are exploiting vulnerable people, not just physically and emotionally but financially as well. People are paying quite a lot of money in order to get rid of the ‘demons’.
“The belief is so strong and it’s coming from an external source that’s respected.”
In 2014, campaigners warned schools to be vigilant of another abusive practice being imported into the UK.
So-called “breast ironing” involves girls as young as 10 having their chests pounding with heated objects, including rocks, to disguise the onset of puberty.
The practice is especially popular in Cameroon, where it is often used as a way of protecting young women from unwanted male attention.
British doctors are also facing a growing number of cases of female genital mutilation, with 5,702 cases reported in the year to March 2016, representing nearly 100 cases a week.