Child abuse cases linked to witchcraft and exorcism are on the rise, according to the latest figures from the Metropolitan Police. Reports indicate that up to 60 crimes linked to faith have occurred in London in 2015, with numbers doubling from 23 in 2013 to 46 in 2014.
The figures obtained by the BBC suggest that half of UK police forces do not currently record these cases and many local authorities do not provide figures for them, which could mean that the number of religion-related crimes are higher than the reports indicate. However, London does have a project dedicated to witchcraft abuse, which sees the Metropolitan Police tackle "faith and belief-based child abuse". Project Violet research revealed that these crimes are underreported.
While the Metropolitan Police have said that there is no agreed definition on what constitutes "child abuse linked to faith or belief", they have included four main areas that Project Violet covers, including abuse of a child who has been accused of being a witch and abuse of a child who has been accused of being "possessed". Detective Sergeant Terry Sharpe from Project Violet said that there are only a small number of such cases but that there has been a "significant increase" in them.
"You'll get the actual physical abuse and injuries taking place, and in the worst case scenario we've had some homicides as well," Detective Sharpe told BBC Radio 5 Live Investigates. "We've had a case within the last year where a nine-year-old boy had been called a devil child and thrown out of his address by his parents and was found by social services standing in his bare feet."
Speaking to the BBC Debbie Ariyo, founder of Africans Unite Against Child Abuse, describes exorcism as a "money-making scam" that is present in African and South Asian communities. She went on to warn that teachers and social workers should not dismiss children's reports of being called "a witch" as unimportant, but treat it as a safeguarding issue.
"Nothing is more important than keeping children safe," a government spokeswoman said. "No belief system can justify the abuse of a child – it is unacceptable in whatever form it takes. Those responsible for child abuse linked to faith or belief would be prosecuted under the same legislation as anyone abusing or killing a child for other reasons."
In 2010, a couple murdered a 15-year-old boy at their flat in east London after accusing him of witchcraft. Kristy Bamu was tortured by his sister Magalie Bamu and her partner Eric Bikubi for several days because they believed he had been possessed by evil spirits. The couple then drowned the boy in a bath on Christmas Day 2010. Bikubi was sentenced to a minimum of 30 years, while Bamu was sentenced to 25 years.
In 1542 UK Parliament passed the Witchcraft Act, which made witchcraft a crime punishable by death. It was repealed five years later and restored by a new Act in 1562, which saw the trials of witches being moved over from churches to ordinary courts. In 1735, the Witchcraft Act made claims of being able to cast spells or speak to spirits a crime punishable by fines. This law was repealed 1951, with the creation of the Fraudulent Mediums Act, which in turn was repealed in 2008 when new EU consumer protection regulations were enacted.