LABELLING a child as a witch should be
criminalised, a member of the working group behind the Government's
new plan to tackle child abuse linked to faith and belief has
The chief executive of Africans Unite
Against Child Abuse, Debbie Ariyo, said on Tuesday that the action
plan, launched on Tuesday of last week, was a "very good first step
in the right direction", but that it should have gone further, in
prohibiting the labelling of children.
"When you brand a child a witch, that
is a serious form of emotional abuse, which is not recognised in UK
law," she said.
Dr Richard Hoskins, a research fellow
in criminology at the University of Roehampton, agrees. "The plan
says 'We are clear that this is not about challenging people's
beliefs,' and I think that is wrong; it's the elephant in the
room," he said on Friday. "The problem is there is such a close
link between branding a child a witch, through to something that is
abusive. . . Not to tackle the belief is to avoid the real crux of
"As long as you have got people saying
that a child is possessed, that opens the floodgates for a child to
be abused, and even to say that to a child puts them under
incredible pressure in the family home. It links so directly to
further types of abuse that we have to tackle this."
The plan, published in the wake of the
murder of Kristy Bamu, a 15-year-old boy accused of witchcraft (
News, 9 March), was developed by a national working group with
agreement between central government and faith leaders, charities,
and the Metropolitan Police. It notes: "Not all those who believe
in witchcraft or possessions harm children," but states: "It is
never acceptable to harm a child, no matter what you believe."
The focus is on "wider engagement with
faith and other communities" to bring about a "shared
understanding" of child-protection principles. This includes
training social workers to understand faith-based abuse, and
ensuring that local safeguarding children boards (LSCBs) engage
with faith groups.
The chief executive of the Churches'
Child Protection Advisory Service, Simon Bass, believes that this
is "the right approach. . . There is clearly a concern that local
authorities and social workers do not know how churches
He disagrees with proposals to
criminalise the branding of children as witches: "we do have
legislation available in terms of anyone who harms a child. What we
need to do is to ensure that it is enacted."
The lack of government funding
attached to the plan has caused also concern. Of the 11 NGOs on the
working group, three receive government money: the NSPCC, Children
and Families Across Borders, and the Victoria Climbié Foundation;
the rest rely on charities.