CHRISTIAN groups have expressed dismay at a Channel 4 programme that investigated African churches in the UK that brand children as witches, describing it as “imbalanced”.
Churches Together in England, the Churches’ Child Protection Advisory Service (CCPAS), and the Evangelical Alliance issued a joint statement after the screening on 26 July of the documentary Dispatches: Britain’s witch children, which reported on the alleged abuse of children and vulnerable adults by pastors who appeared to label them as witches or possessed by demons.
The groups said that they were “disappointed” that Channel 4 made no attempt to contact them for comment during the production of the programme, and are “dismayed that the programme did not feature any Christian representatives, who would have condemned these practices and provided the context that they are not tolerated in the vast majority of African churches.”
The organisations, which pointed out that none of the churches featured in the programme were members of the Evangelical Alliance or Churches Together, said that they would be making a representation to Channel 4 to explain their “unhappiness with the imbalance shown by the programme”.
A spokeswoman for Channel 4 said: “As the Evangelical Alliance and Churches Together say, none of the churches or pastors featured in the programme are members of the organisations and were, therefore, not approached. . . Nevertheless, the programme did properly feature important contributions from AFRUCA [Africans Unite Against Child Abuse] and the Victoria Climbié Foundation.”
The chief executive of the CCPAS, David Pearson, said “huge progress” had been made in recent years “in developing and implementing effective child-protection policies in African churches in the UK”, such as the Safeguarding Children’s Rights initiative, which brings together groups such as AFRUCA, Africa Policy Research Network, and the Victoria Climbié Foundation.
“Enormous strides have also been made over the last few years in building relationships with African churches,” Mr Pearson said. The CCPAS this week released Safe and Secure, a training DVD, available in English and 15 other languages, to teach members of ethnic-minority communities “the key principles of safeguarding children”.
AFRUCA convened a community meeting in London on 29 July at which it proposed the introduction of a new law that would make it an offence to call a child a witch or to describe a child as possessed by the devil, to carry out any form of ritual or exorcism rite on a child, to force a child to fast because they are said to be a witch, or to send a child abroad to be exorcised.
A spokesperson for AFRUCA said the Dispatches programme was a reminder that, ten years after the death of eight-year-old Victoria Climbié, who was killed by carers who said that she was possessed by the devil, “child abuse linked to witchcraft and spirit possession has not in any way or form abated”.
“AFRUCA believes there is no justification for branding children as witches. The scapegoating of children, and the abusive exorcism rites that are performed on them as such, is a violation of their rights and is therefore unacceptable to any society.”