Rogue preachers use 'witch' scares to abuse children

Police say unregulated ministers play on believers' superstitions to beat, starve, even kill youngsters

Children are being branded as witches in churches in the UK, with many suffering abuse from supposed exorcisms in which they are physically restrained and screamed at. But those are the lucky ones.

The very accusation of being a witch can result in children being starved, tortured, beaten, stabbed or even, as in the case of Victoria Climbié, murdered. It is an increasing problem around the country, campaigners say.

Police admit the cases they deal with are the tip of the iceberg, with people reluctant to speak out for fear of being stigmatised.

"It is a hidden crime that is very difficult to measure," said Jason Morgan, a detective based at the Metropolitan Police's Project Violet – a specialist child protection unit. "There may well be a large number of cases that never come to light ... it is a national problem," he added.

Debbie Ariyo, founder of Africans Unite against Child Abuse (Afruca), said: "This is a growing problem and we are seeing more of it. At the very least, we are talking about dozens of cases every year."

Last year her organisation dealt with at least 10 cases of children in Britain accused of being witches or possessed by evil spirits, including two children with "challenging behaviour" who were beaten by parents who believed they were possessed. In another case a disabled child was burnt with an iron in an attempt to get rid of the evil spirit blamed for the condition.

A 10-month undercover investigation into what takes place behind closed doors in some African churches has exposed pastors who exploit the religious beliefs of their congregations and then seek large sums of money in return for "deliverance".

In one case, a church leader used the fear of witches to obtain sexual favours. Kay (not her real name) began worshipping at the Faith and Victory Church in London when she was 13. Her mother had died several years before and her father was being treated for kidney failure. Kay claimed that in 2008, when she had turned 18, her pastor said she would need to sleep with him 21 times to rid her family of the witchcraft that caused their problems. Kay said: "It felt as if I was being raped."

Another woman told how her husband was turned against her by their pastor at a London church. "He told my husband that God showed him that his wife and son were witches." Convinced his pregnant wife and two-year-old son were possessed, her husband attacked them and moved out. Eighteen months later he committed suicide. "These pastors are destroying people's lives. They should be put behind bars," she said.

There are more than 4,000 African churches in Britain, serving half a million people. "At the moment you can set up a church anywhere, any time ... in the same way we wouldn't tolerate somebody setting themselves up as a lawyer or surgeon without proper training and regulation, we shouldn't expose the souls of people to anybody who happens to think they can set up a church," said Bishop Dr Joe Aldred, secretry of minority ethnic Christian affairs at Churches Together in England.

The investigation into "Britain's witch children" will be broadcast on Channel 4's Dispatches tomorrow.

Suggested Topics
Arts & Entertainment
A stranger calls: Martin Freeman in ‘Fargo’
tvReview: New 10-part series brims with characters and stories

News
peopleActress speaks out against historic sexual assault claims, saying things have 'gone quite far now'

Arts & Entertainment
Shaun Evans as Endeavour interviews a prisoner as he tries to get to the bottom of a police cover up
Review: Second series comes to close with startling tale of police corruption and child abuse
Sport
Raheem Sterling and Luis Suarez celebrate during Liverpool's game with Norwich
football Another hurdle is out of the way for Brendan Rodgers' side
Life & Style
Guests enjoy food and cocktail parings by Chefs Jimmy Bannos, Jimmy Bannos Jr, Daniel Rose and Mindy Segal with mixologists Josh King and Alex Gara at Bounty & Barrel: A Jack Daniel's Single Barrel Dinner Series at Heaven on Seven on April 9, 2014 in Chicago, Illinois.
news Sprinkle Palcohol 'on almost any dish' for 'an extra kick' firm says...
Arts & Entertainment
Charlotte Brontë, the English novelist, poet and the eldest of the three Bronte sisters who lived into adulthood, has been celebrated with a Google Doodle depicting her most famous novel, Jane Eyre.
arts + ents "Reader, they doodled her".

Arts & Entertainment
Schwarzenegger winning Mr. Universe 1969
arts + entsCan you guess the celebrity from these British Pathe News clips?
News
Portrait of Queen Elizabeth-II by David Bailey which has been released to mark her 88th birthday
peoplePortrait released to mark monarch's 88th birthday
Arts & Entertainment
The star of the sitcom ‘Miranda’ is hugely popular with mainstream audiences
TVMiranda Hart lined up for ‘Generation Game’ revival
Life & Style
The writer, Gerda Saunders, with her mother, who also suffered with dementia before her death
healthGerda Saunders on the most formidable effect of her dementia
Arts & Entertainment
Oxegen in Ireland has been axed as promoters decide it is 'no longer viable'
arts + ents Promoters have axed the event as it is 'no longer viable in current form'
News
The troubled star is set to give fans the biggest insight into her life away from the headlines
people Star made the announcement during the final episode of the programme, entitled Lindsay
News
YouTube clocks up more than a billion users a month
mediaEuropean rival Dailymotion certainly thinks so
Arts & Entertainment
The original design with Charles' face clearly visible, which is on display around the capital
arts + ents
Arts & Entertainment
‘Self-Portrait Worshipping Christ’ (c943-57) by St Dunstan
books How British artists perfected the art of the self-portrait
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?

Day In a Page

Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter: The man who could have been champion of the world - and the Bob Dylan song that immortalised him

The man who could have been champion of the world

Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter and the Bob Dylan song that immortalised him
Didn’t she do well?

Didn’t she do well?

Miranda Hart lined up for ‘Generation Game’ revival
The Middle East we must confront in the future will be a Mafiastan ruled by money

The Middle East we must confront in the future will be a Mafiastan ruled by money

In Iraq, mafiosi already run almost the entire oil output of the south of the country
Before they were famous

Before they were famous

Can you guess the celebrity from these British Pathe News clips?
Martin Freeman’s casting in Fargo is genius

Martin Freeman’s casting in Fargo is a stroke of genius

Series is brimming with characters and stories all its own
How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

Cannes Film Festival

Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

The concept album makes surprise top ten return

Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
10 best baking books

10 best baking books

Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

Jury still out on Pellegrini

Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players