Charity Africans Unite Against Child Abuse (Afruca) has warned hundreds are at risk of abuse each year because they have been branded as a witch or as possessed by evil spirits.

Children have suffered serious ill-treatment, even death, as a result of possession accusations, after spiritual leaders misled their parents in believing that an evil force had entered their child and was controlling him or her. The child is believed to be able to use the evil forces to harm others.

It is believed that prayer, deliverance and exorcism are the three main ways to get rid of the evil spirit, but in the worst cases of exorcism, children are subjected to serious emotional, sexual and physical abuse. This includes burning, cutting, strangling, beating and starvation which can lead to death in some cases. In others, the children may be disowned by their family, neglected and alienated.

Afruca, which promoted rights and welfare of African children, warned that up to 400 people are at risk annually of abuse linked to witchcraft or spirit possession in the UK. In 2015, Metropolitan Police identified 60 such cases in London up to September last year, with numbers doubling from 23 in 2013 to 46 in 2014.

'Witchcraft' and 'exorcism' child abuse cases rising

"There is this notion that some particular children have these spirits within them that make them do evil things and bring bad luck into the family," Oladapo Awosokanre, a project coordinator with Afruca, said. "The faith leaders have 'the powers to be able to see' and the abilities to deliver these spirits out of children – for a fee."

The charity is advocating for possession accusations to be made illegal in the UK, and paving the way for "exploitative" spiritual leaders to face prosecution.

Because UK government guidance does not identify evil possession accusations as a form of child abuse, the charity said authorities face difficulties in identifying cases.

In the wake of the 2000 tragic death of eight-year-old Victoria Adjo Climbié, a little Ivorian girl who suffering months of horrific abuse after her aunt claimed Victoria was possessed by evil spirits, the Metropolitan Police Service set up a working group, dubbed Project Violet. It focused on child protection in the London area among Congolese and Angolan communities. Victoria was starved to death in the belief that this would exorcise the evil possessing her.

In another case, an eight-year-old orphan girl, brought to the UK from Angola and who had Congolese connections, known only as 'Child B' suffered considerable abuse, including being beaten, cut and having chilli rubbed in her eyes because her aunt and two others believed she was a witch. The child was found alive in 2005.

Other tragic cases of faith-based abuse include that of Kristy Bamu, a 15-year old boy who was tortured and murdered in 2012 by his older sister and her partner, who were originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), after they accused him of being a witch.

Where does 'possession by evils spirits' and 'witchcraft' come from?

The practice is not confined to any particular ethnicity or religious group, and some beliefs that might contribute to this form of abuse include satanic ritual abuse, kindoki, ndoki, child sorcerers, the spirit world, the evil eye, djinns, black magic, voodoo, obeah, possession and witchcraft.

Kindoki is specific to certain regions of Africa including Congo, Angola and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).