It is not illegal to believe in witchcraft, for many it has its roots in ancient traditions…

It is not illegal to believe in witchcraft, for many it has its roots in ancient traditions…

In the wake of the Kristy Bamu trial that led to the sentencing of his sister Magalie, and her partner Eric Bikubi for murder, VCF attempts to put this dramatic case of witchcraft into perspective.

“The belief in witchcraft, however genuine, cannot excuse an assault to another person, let alone the killing of another human being.” HH Judge Paget

The killing of Kristy Bamu cannot be condoned under any circumstances. It may be useful though to put this senseless murder into some sort of context. The issue here is not the belief system – indeed we all have our own beliefs or superstitions – rather the methods used to address such beliefs which can manifest itself in different ways. It is not illegal to believe in witchcraft, for many it has its roots in ancient traditions. It is also important to dispel the myth that witchcraft only occurs in African communities, despite the recent news coverage.

The belief in witchcraft is not new. What is new is the phenomenon around children being targeted, and by those that may be most trusted; family members, friends, or faith leaders – simply because children are vulnerable and defenceless.

“Kristy died in unimaginable circumstances at the hands of people he loved and trusted, people we all loved and trusted. I feel betrayed. To know that Kristy’s own sister, Magalie, did nothing to save him makes the pain that much worse.” Pierre Bamu, Kristy’s Father

Globalisation and economic position makes families extremely vulnerable to such practice. Whilst most churches offer positive spiritual guidance and support to their congregations; regrettably there are a few bad apples that exploit the situation, they tend to set up mini churches and if you are seen as someone who can diagnose spirit possession, the bigger the congregation, as people who are vulnerable or have the belief will pay for advice or deliverance, and all too often with a large chunk of their wages.

Some church leaders diagnose a child or a family to be possessed for such acts as a child wetting the bed, a child who behaves differently, or is not performing well at school – a classic response as in the Bamu case where we saw beating and starving (and in other cases, burning) although it is not currently known where the influences originate from in this particular case.

The purpose for those who believe that a person is possessed is to get rid of the demon or evil spirit within, which can lead to extreme measures to cure the child, as in the case of Victoria Climbié, Khyra Ishaq and now Kristy Bamu. In all three cases there was a protective aspect, albeit misguided and with horrific consequences. Indeed, in the Bamu case, one of the reasons for the beatings and starvation is that the couple were trying to protect another child.

The Met has done a great deal of work to understand and deal with belief-based child abuse, including witchcraft and spirit possession. However, this is a hidden and under-reported crime and therefore difficult to deal with in terms of protecting potential victims from harm.” Detective Superintendent Terry Sharpe, Officer in charge of the Bamu case and Project Violet Lead

Indicators of witchcraft have not always been highlighted in past child deaths, many have been dealt with simply as child abuse cases. Kristy Bamu was a victim of child abuse, yet his surviving siblings have helped to secure prosecutions and justice for their tortured brother, due to ritual abuse, despite having to relive their own experiences surrounding his death.

We need to keep the issues of witchcraft and spirit possession in context, not least because such cases are relatively few across the child protection spectrum, and we owe it to this family to continue to raise awareness both within the community and for safeguarding professionals. We must double our efforts to better understand the indicators of potential harm linked to such beliefs, within the legal child protection framework that exists in this country.

Despite continuing calls for a law to prosecute against children being branded as witches, at VCF we believe, if effectively implemented, the legal framework in the UK protects children from all known forms of abuse. The work that we have been doing since 2004 demonstrates the community’s willingness to debate and engage in dialogue around this issue, thus we strongly reject calls for additional legislation which we believe would reverse the efforts of many in the community, and more worryingly may push the issue below the radar.

Rogue pastors who exploit families and accuse children of being possessed need to be identified and dealt with in the legal context of this country. We must also define what we mean by a rogue leader within a faith setting as many operate within this belief and don’t harm children.

Prior to the death of Victoria Climbié, the issue of faith-based abuse was taboo, the evidence now is that this subject is no longer off limits and members of the community will speak out, where they are appropriately supported to do so!

The Bamu family is being supported by VCF – The Victoria Climbié Foundation UK

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