Father's torture of young boys 'linked to belief in witchcraft'

THE torture endured by two boys whose religious fanatic father preached against the devil was linked to a belief in witchcraft and possession, according to the director of the Victoria Climbié Foundation.

Eight-year-old Victoria, whose guardians Marie-Thrse Kouao and Carl Manning were convicted of her murder in 2003, was tortured partly because of a belief that she was possessed.

The foundation, which was set up in the wake of her harrowing death, campaigns for improvements in child protection policies and practices.

Its director, Mor Dioum, said he felt there was a strong issue of witchcraft belief and possession in the Bradford case.

He said: "Because of the sort of actions, I strongly believe this is linked to belief in witchcraft and possession. The father used a bucket to collect blood. People use blood in terms of making sacrifices and various purposes. The decision from the court sends a strong message that this sort of behaviour is totally unaccepted by society."

Mr Dioum called for more information-sharing across international borders.

He also urged authorities, such as the Bradford Children Safeguarding Board, to work with the foundation, which has huge expertise in cases of abuse linked to belief in possession, to develop a mechanism to allow children to contact agencies when they are being subjected to torture.

In 2005, Sita Kisanga, her brother Sebastian Pinto and another woman, who could not be named for legal reasons, were convicted for their part in the abuse of an eight-year-old girl, known as "Child B", who was accused of witchcraft and beaten, cut with a kitchen knife and had chilli peppers rubbed into her eyes while living in London.

It is understood that detectives working on the Bradford case consulted African religions expert Richard Hoskins, who was an expert witness in the Child B case and who has worked with the police on cases involving apparent religious motivation.

Officers are believed to have been in contact with Project Violet, which was set up in 2005 in response to public and community concerns about belief-related child abuse.

Debbie Ariyo, executive director and founder of Africans Unite Against Child Abuse (Afruca), said the issue of "possession" and the physical abuse inflicted on the children in Bradford echoed other cases.

The two-month trial at Bradford Crown Court was shown a video of a recording in which the father was preaching and making references to the mouth to his children.

The jury heard him say: "Heal them. Heal them. Change them. The layers of their tongue. The layers of their mouth," and later: "Remove the devil that has been pulling them together."

Miss Ariyo said: "This case in Bradford has a close link to the belief in demonic possession. (The father) believes very strongly that these children are possessed by the devil and that's why they are being abused and using the Bible to justify the abuse.

"The reference to the devil and the prayers he was using for it to be removed from these children clearly show that he believes the children are possessed by the devil.

"Victoria Climbi was seen as possessed because she had some physical ailment relating to her continuing wetting and soiling herself.

"Her guardian came here from France hoping for a better life but that never happened. Because things were not going right for her, Victoria was seen as a scapegoat.

"The similarities in my view relate to offences of physical abuse and reference to possession.

"The real issue for me is that this is happening within the context of religion. It's very clear to me in this case that the man believes in possession because he is going to such extreme lengths.

"These two boys were being abused because their father believed they were possessed by the devil."

Miss Ariyo, who sits on the board of the Independent Safeguarding Authority, which was set up to help prevent unsuitable people from working with children and vulnerable adults, said she had dealt with many cases involving pastors abusing either their own children or children in their congregation.

Afruca, which was established in 2001 in the aftermath of the deaths of children including Victoria Climbi and Damilola Taylor to advocate for the welfare of African children, wants to see more regulation and monitoring of so-called pastors.

Miss Ariyo is also calling for greater awareness of child abuse linked to "possession" and "witchcraft" and more training for people who work with children who may encounter the signs off such abuse.

A Government-commissioned report in 2006, entitled "Child Abuse Linked to Accusations of 'Possession' and 'Witchcraft'" analysed 38 cases since 2000 including 47 children. Of the cases where the religion of the families involved was recorded, the majority described themselves as Christians.

It found that the number of cases of child abuse linked to accusations of "possession" and "witchcraft" was small compared to the total number of children abused each year.

The report found that abuse involved in ridding a child of an "evil spirit" included beating, burning, bath sleeping, cutting and tying them up as well as threat of abandonment and neglect.

It also found that children including unaccompanied minors could travel internationally and nationally with "considerable ease" in a way that was difficult to monitor.

In its recommendations, the report said better information about children moving in and out of the UK was required and the Immigration Service should work with public sector agencies to protect children at risk who pass through immigration controls.

n The Victoria Climbi Foundation can be contacted by telephone on 020 8571 4121 or by email at info@victoria-climbie.org.uk.