THE number of children reportedly abused as a result of a faith or belief has risen sharply in the UK, including many cases of witchcraft, spirit possession, and black magic.
Research by the Local Government Association (LGA) found that the number of cases of child abuse linked to faith or belief investigated by local authorities had increased by one third in the past three years, from 1460 to 1950. The real number of cases could be even higher, it suggests, as the crime is still largely hidden.
The figures also show that cases of girls at risk of, or having already been subjected to, female genital mutilation (FGM) are at a record high: up six per cent to 1000 cases in the past year.
The LGA said that the figures suggest that there are huge pressures on local- authority children’s services, as social workers start new “episode of need” cases for more than 1000 children each day.
The LGA’s lead on FGM, and chair of the National FGM Centre’s Advisory Board, Councillor Anita Lower, said: “Social workers have become better at identifying the signs of FGM and belief-related abuse, but the true incidence rate is likely to be higher, as these crimes are under-reported.”
Witchcraft beliefs also featured in the trial, earlier this year, of the first woman in the UK to be convicted of FGM. The court heard that, during the investigation, the woman attempted to cast spells on police and prosecutors.
The Government published a national action plan in 2012 on abuse linked to faith or belief, after the murder of Kristy Bamu, a 15-year-old boy who had been accused of witchcraft (News, 24 August 2012). The plan lists a number of manifestations, including belief in concepts of witchcraft and spirit possession, or in demons or the devil, acting through children. Abuse often occurs when an attempt is made to “deliver” the child from these manifestations.
The chief executive of the charity Thirtyone:eight (formerly the Churches’ Child Protection Advisory Service), Justin Humphreys, said that the rising caseload also showed growing awareness of the issue. “We should be concerned, but at the same time we should be encouraged that there is a growing awareness of the issue and incidents are being reported,” he said.
He said that more training in tackling the issue was needed in churches and in other faith groups, so that people felt able to spot cases and knew what to do next.