More damage from religion: persecution of child “witches” by African Christians

You’ve probably heard that there’s an especially nefarious effect of some Christian sects in Africa: they have combined earlier superstitions with modern ones, and believe that some of their members are witches. Children are often singled out as being possessed, andm in a misguided attempt at “exorcism,” are beaten, tortured, and even killed. Watch this short but horrific BBC video of how a child was tortured and killed—in LONDON—after accusations of “Kindoke,” or witchcraft.

The relatives who tortured this child to death were recently found guilty of murder.

This case is not unique in the UK: see here (from The Ontario Consultants for Religious Tolerance) for more information.  Notice the statement reported by the BBC:

‘Detective Superintendent Chris Bourlet, of the Metropolitan Police leads Project Violet. a program to prevent religiously-motivated child abuse. Bourlet said: “the aim will be prevention, working with churches and communities – not to challenge their beliefs but to raise their awareness of child abuse.” A group of about five officers will gather intelligence on the problem and try and persuade churches to follow child protection procedures.’

“Not to challenge their beliefs”?  Really?  You shouldn’t tell them that children aren’t witches? That is, after all, the truth? This is the sort of accommodationism that leads to horrible consequences for peoples’ lives.”  Now I’m not sure whether telling them that their beliefs are wrong will help much, either, but maybe combining that with the assertion that if any child is so much as touched for being accused of witchcraft, there will be severe and immediate consequences.  Are we really supposed to “respect” those beliefs?

The practice is, of course, far more widespread in west Africa, where it wasn’t specifically regulated until recently. And it’s still going on, as the video above testified.  See also this BBC report on the practice in the Congo, which, though accusing a child of witchcraft has been made illegal, still leads to child abuse and expulsion from the home:

In 2010, Unicef reported 20,000 children accused of witchcraft were living on the streets of DR Congo’s capital Kinshasa.

One of the most nefarious of the witch hungers is Helen Ukpabio, a Nigerian Christian “witch hunter”, and founder of Liberty Foundation Gospel Ministries who was profiled in 2010 in The New York Times (see also Hemant Mehta’s post on The Friendly Atheist)  Her organization makes films like “The End of the Wicked” (from which this clip is taken):

As the NYT notes,

Ms. Ukpabio’s critics say her teachings have contributed to the torture or abandonment of thousands of Nigerian children — including infants and toddlers — suspected of being witches and warlocks.. . .

Those disturbed by the needless immiseration of innocent children should beware. “Saving Africa’s Witch Children” follows Gary Foxcroft, founder of the charity Stepping Stones Nigeria, as he travels the rural state of Akwa Ibom, rescuing children abused during horrific “exorcisms” — splashed with acid, buried alive, dipped in fire — or abandoned roadside, cast out of their villages because some itinerant preacher called them possessed.

Their fellow villagers have often seen DVDs of “End of the Wicked,” Ms. Ukpabio’s bloody 1999 movie purporting to show how the devil captures children’s souls. And some have read her book “Unveiling the Mysteries of Witchcraft,” where she confidently writes that “if a child under the age of 2 screams in the night, cries and is always feverish with deteriorating health, he or she is a servant of Satan.”

Ukpabio of course denies that her preaching about possession and the need for exorcism cause any harm. Referring to an anti-witchcraft film, “Saving Africa’s witch children”, which documents the abuse:

She said the children’s gruesome scars and wounds, shown in the documentary, are not real — or perhaps they are real, “but there are many ways children can get maimed.” And if the injuries are the result of witchcraft accusations against the children, she said, those accusations could not have been made by Pentecostal Christian preachers, but by charlatans.

As if she doesn’t know what would follow from accusing children of being Satan’s minions and having the ability to cast spells on and kill others.  Watch the clip above and see what kind of respond you think it would inspire!

This is what happens when you combine two superstitions, and empower the indigenous one with imported Christianity.  Those who say they “don’t care what people believe so long as they don’t foist it on the public schools” must consider that “what people believe” leads to the deaths, torture, and explusion of innocent children. Compared to that, creationism is small potatoes.

If you wish to donate money through PayPal or your credit card to help these victimized children, here are two charities that seem reputable.

h/t: Grania

51 Comments

  1. Sigmund
    Posted March 5, 2012 at 6:26 am | Permalink

    Just a quick correction in the first story.
    The boys parents were not involved in killing him – it was the boy’s sister and her boyfriend who were convicted of murder. The parents lived in Paris and had sent their children to London to stay with their sister over Christmas when the accusations of witchcraft and subsequent murder occurred.

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted March 5, 2012 at 7:04 am | Permalink

      Right. I’ve corrected that, thanks!

    • raven
      Posted March 5, 2012 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

      The parents lived in Paris and had sent their children to London to stay with their sister over Christmas…

      For the kids, worst Christmas ever.

      I’m glad I never got a free exorcism for Xmas.

  2. GBJames
    Posted March 5, 2012 at 6:29 am | Permalink

    sub.

  3. Posted March 5, 2012 at 6:41 am | Permalink

    Terrible. Absolutely terrible.

    And the quotation from the police you highlighted, Jerry, just underscores the danger of accommodationism, “belief in belief”, undue respect for beliefs, &c.

    /@

    • Christian
      Posted March 5, 2012 at 7:00 am | Permalink

      Yeah, that also gave me a rather long WTF moment. Had to read it again to make sure he really said that.
      That there is widespread accommodationism when it comes to mainstream or sometimes not so mainstream religions isn’t really news but the fact that there are some who even try to accommodate this bat-shit crazy and dangerous beliefs has my flabber thoroughly gasted.

      And that Helen Ukpabio – well, there are moments where I’m convinced she weighs the same as a duck herself.

      • Egbert
        Posted March 5, 2012 at 7:20 am | Permalink

        Things are definitely bat-shit crazy here in Britain.

  4. Mike B
    Posted March 5, 2012 at 6:53 am | Permalink

    The court case was followed by a craven and noxious edition of the BBC’s Newsnight. The guests were a pastor who believed in child witches and a bishop who said he didn’t because ‘real’ cases requiring exorcism were ‘rare’.

    The host, Gavin Esler, not only didn’t challenge these beliefs but gently went along with them, asking for instance, “Those who are possessed… is getting rid of that demon doing something good for that person?”

    A guest then opined: “You can’t question people’s religion… you can’t question what people believe in.”

    It was one occasion when you didn’t need to be an atheist to be appalled at the accommodationism on display.

  5. Dominic
    Posted March 5, 2012 at 6:58 am | Permalink

    The most infamous case is still unsolved
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adam_%28unsolved_Thames_murder_case%29

    • Diane G.
      Posted March 5, 2012 at 4:10 pm | Permalink

      Appalling. The forensics used to determine the child’s nationality are most interesting.

  6. Steve
    Posted March 5, 2012 at 7:16 am | Permalink

    “Not to challenge their beliefs”? Really?

    I suppose if people can deny the reality of non-free willism, they can also deny that actions are born of beliefs. Invalid beliefs must at all points be challenged if human integrity is to have any meaning at all.

    Human integrity being comprised of intellectual honesty, emotional truthfulness and passionate tolerance.

  7. NotBrainwashed
    Posted March 5, 2012 at 7:27 am | Permalink

    Accommodationism? Get real – stop playing the victim card, and pretend that every time something does not going according to how you want it, it means the other side is being accommodated.

    Nowhere does the Superintendent say that we should not tell people that children are not witches. What he seems to be saying is we should not go and start preaching to these Christians that their beliefs are all wrong. Why is he saying this? Because a lot of people do not like to be preached to, and if you start preaching, they will just ignore you. Therefore, to try and get through to as many people as possible to stop these killings, the Superintendent has decided to take the diplomatic approach.

    • Tulse
      Posted March 5, 2012 at 7:42 am | Permalink

      Nowhere does the Superintendent say that we should not tell people that children are not witches.

      “the aim will be prevention, working with churches and communities – not to challenge their beliefs but to raise their awareness of child abuse”

      Don’t these people believe that these children are witches?

      • Sastra
        Posted March 5, 2012 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

        Yes. The Superintendent seems to be suggesting that the question of whether or not there are witches — and whether or not children become witches who kill and harm innocent people — should be left as a matter of faith. Don’t address that. The ‘diplomatic’ approach is to just harp on the idea that it’s wrong to hurt children — and hope it spills over.

        The obvious problem here is that attacking a witch child wouldn’t be child abuse, but self-defense against a child who is not really a child, but a proxy for a demon. Sort of like when someone you love dies and comes back as a zombi: same rules. Only we’re supposed to know that second example is fiction, and not that gray-area called “a matter of faith.”

        At least if you’re surrounded by people who actually believe in zombis they have to wait till you die before they can accuse you of being a zombi.

        • Nick Evans
          Posted March 6, 2012 at 6:02 am | Permalink

          “Yes. The Superintendent seems to be suggesting that the question of whether or not there are witches — and whether or not children become witches who kill and harm innocent people — should be left as a matter of faith. Don’t address that. The ‘diplomatic’ approach is to just harp on the idea that it’s wrong to hurt children — and hope it spills over.”

          It looks more like a question of priorities. If the goal is prevention, rather than simply punishing after the event, then it seems a reasonable approach to talk to as many of these churches as possible. And if they’re more likely to talk to the police if the police refrain from direct criticism of their beliefs (as opposed to their actions), then it seems sensible to prioritise talking to them about the wrongfulness of the actions over wrongfulness of the beliefs.

          My own view is that that’s better characterised as a pragmatic approach than a diplomatic one.

        • NotBrainwashed
          Posted March 6, 2012 at 6:07 am | Permalink

          Actually, attacking a child because you believe they’re a witch will generally result in a much heftier penalty than for child-abuse. Because this would mean you’re considered to be seriously mentally ill, and therefore, getting out of jail will be a lot harder.

          Anyway, the Superintendent is taking an approach where the chances of protecting the kids is greatest. If someone is mentally ill and they need medical treatment, the psychiatrist does not say “You’re a LOONY!” with a look of triumphalism. No, what the doctor will do is talk to the person, slipping in things that might make the patient look at things in a different light. I mean, yes, the guy is a loon, but do we say “we must tell him straight away he is a loon because that is the truth”? Of course not. You do what you feel is the best way to cure him.

          Similarly, if you go to people who believe in witchcraft and start telling them “your belief is wrong”, they’re quite likely to shun you out, and the probability of a child being abused by them is a lot higher. Therefore, you go and talk to them, and much like a psychiatrist, you slip in things that will hopefully make them see things in a different perspective.

          Therefore, the Superintendent is doing a great job – unlike the author of this article, his primary concern is the well-being of kids, not some ego-trip where he can gloat that his belief is right and someone else’s is wrong.

          • Persto
            Posted March 6, 2012 at 11:57 am | Permalink

            Analogies are weak arguments, alas, yours is weaker. In your example the patient is only being reasoned with after he is no longer a threat to public welfare. However, the Superintendent is attempting to reason with them while they are fully capable of harming children. Two separate scenarios. Not to mention his approach is impractical.

            Would it work with the Taliban?

            Would it work with serial killers before their killing spree is over?

            Would it work with Evangelicals concerning homosexuality?

            In fact, give me one real-world example where accommodationism has worked.

            Did you read Jerry’s post? Notbrainwashed? Maybe you should remove “washed” from the name and we would get a more accurate description of your position.

            • NotBrainwashed
              Posted March 9, 2012 at 3:28 am | Permalink

              Actually, analogies can be very strong arguments. The fact you use the fact they can be weak arguments to argue that using analogies means ones arguments are weak shows just how … weak … your argument is.

              And you’re talking complete nonsense, once again. My analogy is appropriate. It is much more likely that an individual who is a schizophrenic and is receiving treatment from a psychiatrist will go and harm someone, than there is of someone who believes in “spirits” of harming a child/

              Ah, The Taliban card! Yes, thanks for throwing that in, it kinda confirms my suspicions that you’re just another dumb brainwashed clueless American.

              As for your “give me one real-world example where accommodationism has worked”, I don’t think you even know the meaning of the word.

              • Persto
                Posted March 11, 2012 at 9:39 pm | Permalink

                Do you have a reading comprehension issue?

                Not what I said. Try reading my post, again. And stop side-stepping the questions.

                “As for your “give me one real-world example where accommodationism has worked”, I don’t think you even know the meaning of the word.”

                You’re right. I don’t. Nevertheless, provide an example, please.

                PS. Analogies are neither true nor false, instead they come in degrees from near identity to extreme dissimilarity. That is why analogies are weak arguments. Some arguments from analogy are based on analogies that are so weak that the argument is too weak for the purpose to which it is put–which is why yours is weaker.

        • David Leech
          Posted March 6, 2012 at 11:28 am | Permalink

          Bart “You killed the zombie Flanders.”

          Homer “Flanders was a zombie?”

    • truthspeaker
      Posted March 5, 2012 at 8:07 am | Permalink

      Nowhere does the Superintendent say that we should not tell people that children are not witches. What he seems to be saying is we should not go and start preaching to these Christians that their beliefs are all wrong.

      It’s one or the other.

      And we’re not playing the victim card here. The kids are the victims.

      • NotBrainwashed
        Posted March 6, 2012 at 5:55 am | Permalink

        It’s one or the other.

        And we’re not playing the victim card here. The kids are the victims.

        No, it is not one or the other. Such simplistic thinking amongst atheists made me realise that atheists are just as brainwashed as religious people.

    • Ken Browning
      Posted March 5, 2012 at 9:56 am | Permalink

      I grew up in American Pentecostalism where demons are considered as real as you or I. Although I never experienced anything like the horrendous activities shown here, and I had very broad experience and knowledge of Pentecostalism here, the belief system is very, very damaging to children (and adults) even when there is no physical abuse involved. Think about what happens in the mind of a child growing up in a system where almost anything you do or propose or insinuate that is out of the religious norm is routinely considered to be the result of involvement with demons.

      How can such a system be accommodated when it’s utterly despicable?

    • Persto
      Posted March 5, 2012 at 11:00 am | Permalink

      You are accommodating for accommodationism.

      • NotBrainwashed
        Posted March 6, 2012 at 5:57 am | Permalink

        Actually, I am not. But if writing that made you feel clever, carry on.

        • Persto
          Posted March 6, 2012 at 11:17 am | Permalink

          You’re not?

          Clever, huh? Thanks.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted March 5, 2012 at 3:34 pm | Permalink

      stop playing the victim card

      Playing the Victim Card:

      “A character has given a speech about how poor and oppressed he is, that he’s a victim of circumstance, and everybody seems to be out to get him.

      The problem is that the character making all these statements is a villain.”

      “On the rare occasion a good guy tries to perform this action, they are usually branded as whiners because Might Makes Right.”

      So either atheists are villains, or accommodationists according to Might Makes Right: “make all the rules … used by a character of virtually any level of intelligence. Usually they’re explicitly evil.”

      Which is it?

  8. Sidd
    Posted March 5, 2012 at 7:57 am | Permalink

    I once saw—before I realized what I was seeing—a video showing an accused witch being burned alive in Africa. It’s on the top of my list of things I wish I could unsee. I think several others were burned alive in the same pit, if I had continued watching.

    More than any other social construct, religion serves to legitimate the dark brutality of mankind.

  9. Steve
    Posted March 5, 2012 at 8:21 am | Permalink

    sub

  10. Posted March 5, 2012 at 8:24 am | Permalink

    To be fair, while Christians in the Congo can kill children because they believe they are witches, sophisticated theologians are writing books describing how Christians in the Congo raise people from the dead.

    • Dominic
      Posted March 5, 2012 at 9:30 am | Permalink

      Really???

      All pretty ridiculous, as is the tiptoeing around the political correctness of not telling people that their belief system is essentially full of crap.

  11. Mary - Canada
    Posted March 5, 2012 at 9:27 am | Permalink

    I couldn’t watch the videos. I have seen enough over the years and have a full understanding of what is happening in some parts of Africa as well as other countries where religious fervour is accepted and rules. Money is not going to fix this or make it go away; seems to make these situations worse. Denying these zealots legitimate religious status would be a good start. Unfortunately, this is only one example out of many and is a scourge of accommodationism

  12. George
    Posted March 5, 2012 at 10:55 am | Permalink

    “This is what happens when you combine two superstitions, and empower the indigenous one with imported Christianity.”

    No. This is what happens when the average IQ of a population is in the low seventies.

    Christianity cannot be at fault here, since it doesn’t have the same effect on the Western population.

    • Persto
      Posted March 5, 2012 at 11:08 am | Permalink

      Is your IQ in the low seventies?

    • truthspeaker
      Posted March 5, 2012 at 11:35 am | Permalink

      Salem Village, Massachusetts colony, 1692

    • bhoytony
      Posted March 5, 2012 at 11:47 am | Permalink

      The average IQ of a population is 100. I think you should take a test yourself.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted March 5, 2012 at 3:39 pm | Permalink

      How do you put your racism against the fact that this is a recent problem? This wasn’t much of a problem 20 years ago, and even less before christianity hit Africa.

  13. Posted March 5, 2012 at 11:09 am | Permalink

    The fact that the need is so broad and urgent in London that MetPol created a specific “program to prevent religiously-motivated child abuse” – now, in the 21st century – says it all.

    Hear of a police force creating a program to specifically prevent “secularly-motivated child abuse” lately?

    When juxtaposed with the following post about Cardinal O’Brien comparing same sex marriage to slavery… the irony is… ironic.

  14. Niklas
    Posted March 5, 2012 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

    Just to maybe add to the broader picture and information concerning the prevalence of these abhorent behaviours, a case of exorcism and accusation of witchcraft, was today brought before a district court in a small town in Sweden.

    The Girl, 12 at the time was according to the prosecutor, subjected to among other things, starvation, physical beatings and even burned with a red-hot knife.

    The stepmother, father and two church pastors stand accused of, among other things aggravated assault.

    As reported by all major newspapers in Sweden today,

    http://translate.google.se/translate?sl=sv&tl=en&js=n&prev=_t&hl=sv&ie=UTF-8&layout=2&eotf=1&u=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.sydsvenskan.se%2Fmalmo%2Farticle1611832%2FAnnu-en-andeutdrivare-atalas.html

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted March 5, 2012 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

      Thanks! All I can add (which may be mentioned there) is that the UK case is watched as a parallel, and that there has been a series of similar events the last 20 years.

      Religion poisons everything.

      • Niklas
        Posted March 6, 2012 at 1:35 am | Permalink

        I am starting to wonder if not the practise of “religion” should be forbidden for children, and should be viewed as equal to child abuse.

        And that participating in any such activities and official adherance to such ideas would require an individual “free” choice as an adult.

        That it never could be forced upon any other human beeing, against his or her will, and especially, not one’s own children.

  15. raven
    Posted March 5, 2012 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

    It’s not known how many child witches are killed every year. The best guess estimates are around a 1000 children.

    They pick on children for a simple reason. Children aren’t likely to be carrying guns and are otherwise poor at defending themselves. Africa is saturated with guns and trying to take down an adult witch is much harder.

    They could in theory turn you into a frog with their witch power. In reality, the witch hunters run a high risk of being shot.

  16. raven
    Posted March 5, 2012 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

    It’s not just Africa where children are killed as “suspected witches”.

    It happens in much of the third world and even occasionally in the first world. In the last month or two there have been child witches killed in Nepal and Korea. In the past, there have been such murders in Cambodia, Indonesia, and India that I’ve heard about.

  17. Bjarte Foshaug
    Posted March 6, 2012 at 1:14 am | Permalink

    “Those who say they “don’t care what people believe so long as they don’t foist it on the public schools” must consider that “what people believe” leads to the deaths, torture, and explusion of innocent children. Compared to that, creationism is small potatoes.”

    I never cease to be amazed at the ability of some accomodationists to even accept that this kind of thing has anything to do with belief (as opposed to politics, economics, opposing western colonialism, pure evil or whatever), even when the perpetrators themselves cite explicitly religious motives for their actions and even when former believers who have sice rejected their faith confirm that this is exactly how they used to think.

    As is so often the case, I think Sam Harris hit the nail on the head when he said that because secularists and religious moderates have no idea what it’s like to REALLY BELIEVE this kind of stuff, we cannot bring ourselves to accept that anybody else really believes it either, hence we get argument like “Religion is misused” and “Without religion, people would have found another excuse” and “This would all have happened anyway”, all of which assumes the REAL motive is always secular.

    • Diane G.
      Posted March 6, 2012 at 1:29 am | Permalink

      I’m rather sure you meant to type “inability” rather than “ability” in that second paragraph; and I couldn’t agree more.

      Which emphasizes again the severe uphill battle we face. We have to deal not only with the true believers, invariably on the conservative, right end of the political spectrum, but with the liberal left apologists for same.

      • Bjarte Foshaug
        Posted March 6, 2012 at 2:22 am | Permalink

        “I’m rather sure you meant to type “inability” rather than “ability” in that second paragraph…”

        Yes, of course.
        Thanks for the correction :)

  18. Posted March 6, 2012 at 10:30 am | Permalink

    Superstition is the enemy of humanity; science is its salvation.


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