Child abuse linked to faith or belief

Faith abuse, which includes practices relating to spirit possession and witchcraft is often a hidden crime which is under-reported but can have significant impact on children.

Child abuse linked to faith or belief is not confined to one faith, nationality or ethnic community. Examples have been recorded worldwide across various religions including Christians, Muslims and Hindus.

Faith abuse is often considered as part of the group that come under the umbrella term of harmful practices.

Definition of Child Abuse linked to Faith or Belief

Child Abuse linked to Faith or Belief is linked to the concept of belief in:

  • witchcraft and spirit possession, demons or the devil acting through children or leading them astray (traditionally seen in some Christian beliefs),
  • the evil eye or djinns (traditionally known in some Islamic faith contexts) and dakini (in the Hindu context);
  • ritual or multi murders where the killing of children is believed to bring supernatural benefits or the use of their body parts is believed to produce potent magical remedies;
  • use of belief in magic or witchcraft to create fear in children to make them more compliant when they are being trafficked for domestic slavery or sexual exploitation.

National FGM Centre

Quotation marks

What do we know?

Research has identified that in communities where child abuse linked to faith or belief is more prevalent it is likely that:

  • there is a belief in the community in things such as witchcraft; or
  • there may be an influential person who promotes ideas such as people being possessed whilst also promoting the solution.

Coupled with this parents / carers / abusers are more likely to have the belief that what they are doing will save the child or the wider community and therefore it is for the greater good.

It should be noted that a child can be abused as a result of faith or belief even without these factors being present.

Vulnerable groups

Children of all ages and gender can be vulnerable to this form of abuse, however children may be singled out for being different, and it is the difference that is then put down to the “illness”.  Children with behavioural issues may be seen as possessed, as may children who are gifted and talented.  If a child has recurring ill health or is the result of a difficult pregnancy then this may lead to them being singled out.

Children living with extended family, carers other than their parents, in particular those in private foster placements are often at increased risk of abuse linked to faith or belief.

Spotting the signs

Children may or may not know what is happening, however you may:

  • hear children talking about being evil, having the devil beaten out of them, using specific words, e.g. kindoki, djinn, juju or voodoo.
  • see children’s behaviour change, for example becoming isolated, confused or withdrawn.
  • see a child’s appearance change, often deteriorating.  They may start constantly wearing specific items to “protect them”.
  • notice a change in their school attendance, or suddenly going abroad for a long holiday.

As with any form of abuse, if you see something that concerns you this should be followed up

What you can do

As with all safeguarding matters, you must do something.  You cannot pass it off as being “part of their culture” or worry about disrespecting the family’s beliefs.  If you have concerns you must act and speak with your designated safeguarding lead.

While different faiths have different practices, the definitions of physical, emotional, sexual abuse and neglect still hold true.

It may be that you do not feel that you have enough knowledge or experience of a particular faith or belief, but this should not delay your acting.  There is still a duty to keep the child safe, but when dealing with any allegation of child abuse linked to faith or belief, agencies must engage with individuals, families and in some cases faith or other communities to challenge the belief that underlies the harm.  You may have a role in this, however your primary focus remains the child.

Resources

  • Branded a Witch – Mardoche’s Story

    An animation on Mardoche’s childhood in the UK where he was accused of being a witch by his aunt and uncle published by the National FGM Centre.

  • Mardoche Yembi – Advice for Professionals

    Mardoche gives advice to professional about how to work with children who have been accused of witchcraft. This video follows the animation of Mardoche’s life in the UK, where he was accussed of being a child of Kindoki by his Aunt and Uncle.

    Produced by the National FGM Centre

  • Child abuse linked to faith or belief: An overview

    Leaflet issued by the National FGM Centre summarising the issue of child abuse linked to faith or belief.

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