Writing in the Daily Telegraph, here’s Damian Thompson with a terrible story about superstition and murder in contemporary London:
A 15-year-old boy is tortured to death for witchcraft. In London. In 2010. And the private reaction of police and social workers? Quiet despair. It’s happened before and will happen again…The Metropolitan Police waited until after the end of the court case to warn us that children are being abused and murdered in increasing numbers in Britain because their African relatives think they are “spirit children” – that is, witches.
Also, children’s charities and campaigners “urged communities to report abuse and said social workers must be firmer in confronting abuse in immigrant groups”.
Let’s deconstruct that. Campaigners are making this appeal because African communities in Britain have been too slow to report this abuse. And social workers have soft-pedalled on the subject, despite the shameful record of their colleagues in the case of Victoria Climbié, an eight-year-old girl from the Ivory Coast who was tortured to death in 2000 by family members who believed she was possessed by the devil.
Victoria’s death could have been avoided if Brent and Haringey social services hadn’t turned a PC blind eye to her abuse. Victoria’s senior social worker, Carole Baptiste, was accused of “spending her time talking about God and her experiences as a black woman, rather than looking after the interests of the vulnerable”. She was found guilty by magistrates of failing to help the public inquiry.
A contact working in this field told me yesterday: “Social workers from African backgrounds are scared. First, because they may have residual beliefs about witches themselves. Second, because they don’t want to confront church pastors who make a fortune out of ‘exorcising’ children – often at the request of their parents.”
The Climbié and Bamu cases were atypical because they involved spectacular violence. But the charity Trust for London is talking nonsense when it says that “no faith or culture promotes cruelty to children”. In 2009, the African journalist Sorious Samura made a World Service programme about the slaughter of “witches” in Ghana. He walked up one hill in which, he reckoned, the bodies of tens of thousands of “spirit children” were buried.
An African organisation, Afrikids – one of The Daily Telegraph’s charity appeal partners – is trying to challenge this mentality. But it’s not easy, when the parents of a disabled or “strange” child believe it will murder the rest of the family. Samura asked the pupils of a Ghanaian primary school about “spirit children”. Most of them thought they should be killed.
Afrikids provides shelter for mothers who have run away with their child rather than allow the local “concoction man” to administer the appropriate poison – a daily occurrence in parts of Africa. Will it soon have to do the same in London?
Prof Jean La Fontaine is the anthropologist who exploded the myth of satanic ritual abuse. She’s based at Inform, Britain’s foremost academic cult-watching body, and certainly doesn’t think the abuse of “spirit children” in Britain is a myth. She is horrified by the rich African pastors who encourage these crimes, and adds: “We do not hear Christian churches raising their voices against the belief in child witches.”