Joan Smith: Kristy was a scapegoat for his vicious guardians


Every now and then, a murder trial exposes a depth of human cruelty so profound that it cries out for an explanation. The torture and murder of 15-year-old Kristy Bamu, whose family was originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo, is one of those cases: how could such things happen in a tower block in east London? The pathologist who examined Kristy found 130 internal and external injuries. His elder sister, Magalie Bamu, 29, and her boyfriend, Eric Bikubi, 28, attacked the boy because they thought he was a witch. Three days ago, the pair were found guilty of murdering Kristy during a so-called "exorcism ceremony".

There seems to have been an increase in this type of violence in the UK; the Metropolitan Police says it has investigated 83 cases of "faith-based" child abuse involving witchcraft in the past decade. One was the horrific torture and murder of eight-year-old girl Victoria Climbié, from Ivory Coast, by her great-aunt and her boyfriend in 2000. Another was the case of Child B, an eight-year-old from Angola, whose torture by a woman believed to be her aunt and other adults was revealed in a child cruelty trial in 2005.

The involvement of kindoki or African forms of witchcraft in these cases has produced sensational headlines. Some black churches in London have been accused of carrying out "exorcisms", legitimising the idea of demonic possession in the minds of their followers. But the most important fact about accusations of witchcraft, wherever they occur, is that they are a form of scapegoating.

Thousands of vulnerable adults, most of them women, were tortured and murdered in Europe at the height of the witch-hunting craze. In societies where sudden death from illness was common, along with other calamities such as failed crops, credulous people looked for scapegoats. More often than not, they settled on women who were different in some way – unmarried or widowed, living alone or with animals for company. Accusations that they had cast spells, changed themselves into animals or were able to fly were common, and had lethal consequences. Now very similar accusations are being made against children and teenagers in the UK, and for similar reasons.

Within hours of arriving from Paris to spend Christmas in London, Kristy Bamu was accused of bringing kindoki into the flat his eldest sister shared with her boyfriend. Kristy and two other sisters, aged 11 and 20, were beaten, but the girls were spared after they "confessed" to being witches. Kristy was so frightened that he wet himself, which led to him being singled out for the prolonged torture that ended in his murder.

Victims of "faith-based" violence are usually the weakest members of a family, children or teenagers whose behaviour is perceived as different or difficult, at the mercy of aunts, uncles, step-parents and boyfriends who have little or no affection for them. Among a few African families, living in cramped conditions and struggling financially, the temptation to find a scapegoat may be as real as it was in 15th-century Europe.

That doesn't alter the fact that accusing a vulnerable family member of witchcraft is often the prelude to prolonged and sadistic child cruelty. That's what these cases are really about: child abuse, cruel and unrepentant, in which the victims are demonised and then blamed for the injuries that are inflicted upon them.;

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Jemma Gent: Year End Accountant

£250-£300 Day Rate: Jemma Gent: Are you a qualified accountant with strong exp...

Jemma Gent: Management Accountant

£230 - £260 Day Rate: Jemma Gent: Do you want to stamp your footprint in histo...

Beverley James: Accounts Payable

£22,000 - £23,000: Beverley James: Are you looking for the opportunity to work...

Beverley James: Accounts Assistant

£30,000: Beverley James: A fantastic opportunity has arisen for a person looki...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Kanye West performs live at the Brit Awards 2015  

UK Grime is finally getting the recognition it deserves, but why has it taken so long?

Paul Gibbins

Jihadi John went to my university – so what?

James Tennent
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower