The number of quasi-religious “witchcraft” and exorcism related child abuse cases has nearly triple in just three years. The phenomenon of children being accused of “possession” and “witchcraft” is most commonly seen in West African and South Asian immigrant communities.
In one such incident a nine-year-old boy was dubbed a “devil child” and left on the streets alone with no shoes by his own parents. Another mother bit her son’s face because she was convinced he was “possessed.”
The Metropolitan Police’s specialist faith-based abuse team, known as Project Violet, has identified 60 incidents so far this year.
This is up from 23 in 2013 and 46 in 2014, according to figures obtained by the BBC under a Freedom of Information request. However, half of all police forces and local authorities did not record such data despite being required to.
The tragic death of eight-year-old Victoria Climbie, after she was tortured and murdered by her immigrant guardians from Côte d’Ivoire, Africa, shocked the nation and led to an overhaul in child protection in 2000.
The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) said authorities “need to ensure they are able to spot the signs of this particular brand of abuse.”
Detective Sergeant Terry Sharpe, from Project Violet, said cases remain “small in number” but “there has been a significant increase.”
Speaking to BBC Radio 5 Live Investigates, he said: “You’ll get the actual physical abuse and injuries taking place, and in the worst case scenario we’ve had some homicides as well.”
Adding: “We’ve had a case within the last year where a nine-year-old boy had been called a devil child and thrown out of his address by his parents and was found by social services standing in his bare feet.”
Debbie Ariyo, founder of Africans Unite Against Child Abuse, said that within churches there was often financial incentive behind claims.
She said: “The pastor says there’s a witch in this church today; looks around and points to a child – that means public humiliation for the family.
“The next step is exorcism which is not done for free. It’s a money-making scam.”
The NSPCC spokesman added: “While the number of child abuse cases involving witchcraft is relatively small, they often include horrifying levels of cruelty.
“The authorities which deal with these dreadful crimes need to ensure they are able to spot the signs of this particular brand of abuse and take action to protect children before a tragedy occurs.”
A Government spokesman said: “Nothing is more important than keeping children safe. No belief system can justify the abuse of a child – it is unacceptable in whatever form it takes.
“Those responsible for child abuse linked to faith or belief would be prosecuted under the same legislation as anyone abusing or killing a child for other reasons.”