Detectives believe that dozens of children of African origin have been beaten and abused in Britain after being accused of witchcraft by family and friends in a “hidden crime” that is hard to detect and investigate.
A Metropolitan Police intelligence report identified 31 such cases in just five years in London alone and called for “ritualistic abuse” to be made a new category of crime with stiff penalties.
Earlier this year Scotland Yard set up Project Violet to discover the extent of the problem. Officers are working with social services, schools, churches and community leaders in an attempt to identify and tackle the abuse.
On Friday a woman was convicted at the Old Bailey of committing cruelty to her eight-year-old niece, whom she had accused of being a witch. Another woman and a man were also convicted of assisting with the attacks.
The girl, an orphan from Angola, received more than 40 injuries, including being cut with a knife, beaten with a belt and shoe, and having chilli peppers rubbed into her eyes in an attempt to “rid her of the devil”. All were members of a church in east London, a “breakaway” faith practising a mixture of evangelical Christianity and traditional African spiritual beliefs.
Det Supt Chris Bourlet, the head of Scotland Yard’s Child Abuse Investigative Command, told The Sunday Telegraph yesterday of his fears of the extent of such cases. “We set up Project Violet after community groups came to us with their concerns over the extent of ritualistic abuse. We all care about our children and they were concerned that children were being harmed,” he said.
“It is difficult for us to identify the scale of the problem because, as with other child abuse, it is a hidden crime that usually takes place in people’s homes. We, as a force, are not here to police churches and places of worship. But the aim of Project Violet is to work with the community and identify the scale of the abuse so we can then tackle it.”
There are no other criminal trials for offences linked to “ritualistic abuse” pending in London. The intelligence report by the Met’s Child Abuse Investigation Intelligence Unit says that of the 31 such cases that have been identified, only five led to charges.
In one case, a 10-year-old boy was the victim of abuse for a year, suffering burns from matches, lighters, irons and scalding water administered by his parents who were convinced that he was possessed. The parents, however, were deemed unfit to face trial.
In another case, a nine-year-old boy was beaten and burned by his parents because they had been told by a pastor that he was possessed. On one occasion the boy was so terrified that he leapt from a first-floor window to escape.
The intelligence report concludes: “There is a general lack of understanding around this belief [kindoki] and the resultant abuse. There is an intelligence gap and perceived under-reporting of the offence.”
Between 1993 and 2003, 1.13 million people were permitted to enter the UK from Africa, representing nine per cent of all immigrants during this period. More than half of these African immigrants came from South Africa and Nigeria. However, 5,280 came from Angola, a former Portuguese colony, and 1,890 came from Congo, a former Belgian colony previously known as Zaire. Ritualistic abuse is believed to be particularly prevalent in these two countries.
In Africa, Britain has a reputation for being an “easy touch” for immigrants and therefore often attracts people from countries with no historical link to Britain.
Dr Richard Hoskins, an expert in African religions at King’s College, London, who gave evidence at the trial and who is helping to investigate other cases, said the evidence of abuse was worrying.
“This is the tip of the iceberg. I have a handful of other cases which are almost identical of children being accused of witchcraft and, in some cases, parents want exorcisms” he said. The three convicted on Friday have been remanded in custody and will be sentenced later. They have been told that they face custodial sentences. The two women were found not guilty of conspiracy to murder the girl.
Sita Kisanga, 35, who, along with her brother, Sebastian Pinto, was found guilty of aiding and abetting child cruelty, said in a radio interview broadcast yesterday that she remained convinced that the girl was a witch.
She BBC Radio 4’s Today: “In our community in the UK, everyone believes in kindoki. In our country, they believe in it too.”
Kisanga was accused by the eight-year-old girl of cornering her in the kitchen and telling her “today you die”.
However, she denied the claims: “I never did such things to her. It was the aunty who poisoned her against me, to say it was me.”
The victim, now aged 10, has recovered from her ordeal and lives with foster parents.