The practice of human sacrifice is on the rise in Uganda, as measured by ritual killings where body parts, often facial features or genitals, are cut off for use in ceremonies.
The number of people killed in ritual killings last year rose to a new high of at least 15 children and 14 adults, up from just three cases in 2007, according to police. The informal count is much higher–154 suspects were arrested last year and 50 taken to court over ritual killings.
Children in particular are common victims, according to a U.S. State Department report released this month. The U.S. spent $500,000 to train 2,000 Ugandan police last year to investigate offenses related to human trafficking, including ritual killings.
The problem is bad enough that last year the police established a task force against human sacrifices. Posters on police station walls show a sinister stranger luring two young girls into a car below bold letters that call on parents to “Prevent Child Sacrifice.”
Human sacrifices have been recorded throughout history and occur still in many countries, including India, Indonesia, South Africa, Gabon and Tanzania. One traditional healer in Uganda, when asked about the phenomenon, pointed to the story told in the Bible’s book of Genesis, when God asked Abraham to sacrifice a son.
However, the rise in human sacrifices in Uganda appears to come from a desire for wealth and a belief that drugs made from human organs can bring riches, according to task force chief Moses Binoga. They may be fueled by a spate of violent Nigerian films that are growing in popularity, and showcase a common story line: A family reaping riches after sacrificing a human.
“I call it a problem of psychological disorientation,” said Mr. Binoga. “People get disoriented. People stop having respect in humanity and believe more in the worth of money and so-called good fortune, and they lose that natural social respect for people.”
The sacrifices also are linked to a deep belief in traditional healers, or witch doctors, who can be found practically every half mile in Uganda.
The people of Jinja have seen three suspected cases of child sacrifice in recent months, including Caroline’s. When Mr. Binoga held a town-hall-style meeting in early February, about 500 people squatted under the shade of five large trees, straining to hear his words.
Many complained of police corruption, slow investigations and a lack of convictions by the country’s lethargic courts, words that drew loud cheers from the emotional crowd. Of about 30 people charged with ritual killing last year, nobody has yet been convicted. The last conviction was in 2007.
“There is a lack of political will to protect the children. We have beautiful laws, but a lack of political will,” said Haruna Mawa, the spokesman for the child protection agency ANPPCAN. “As long as we keep our laws in limbo, we are creating a fertile breeding ground for human and child sacrifice to escalate. No convictions. What message are you giving to the police?”
A 12-year-old named Shafik had a knife put to his throat when a female witch doctor realized the boy was circumcised. Witch doctors don’t kill children who are circumcised or who have pierced ears because they are considered impure, Mr. Mawa said. As a result, some parents have taken their children to get piercings or circumcisions.