Branding children as witches – ‘a call for legislation’
VCF seeks to establish the rationale for one aspect of the Children and Families Bill that continues to be rather concerning; the call for legislation to stop branding children as witches, particularly as the basis for this call remains unclear.
In 2010, our article ‘Does Britain need legislation to protect children from being labelled as witches’ attempted to demonstrate how futile such a law would be in terms of achieving its aim to prosecute ‘rogue’ pastors. Of course, we would need to define a rogue pastor should such a law come into existence.
There has long been consensus that child abuse linked to faith or belief will take the form of one or more of the defined categories of abuse – physical, emotional, sexual or neglect – and thus can be addressed within a child protection system supported by a legal framework to ensure the rights and protection of all children.
There is little dispute that calling a child a witch may be emotionally harmful and can potentially lead to more extreme forms of abuse. It is however more difficult to pinpoint a specific crime beyond an action that through proper analysis will determine the level of harm, intended or otherwise, with an appropriate response to support identified needs or, where necessary, to take a case through court proceedings.
What should also be considered here is the fact that we are still seeing such abuse in low numbers compared to other forms along the spectrum of child abuse cases. Whilst we anticipate an increase in the reporting of cases linked to belief and faith, through greater awareness and understanding of the issue, it would appear to be extremely premature to be considering legislation at this time for an issue that still needs to be researched in relation to its prevalence in the UK.
VCF is working alongside strategic partners to enhance child protection across the country, including child abuse linked to harmful practices. There has been considerable work both within the community and a working group of statutory and community partners, leading on a National Action Plan to tackle Child Abuse linked to Faith or Belief since August 2012.
VCF has continued to call for a serious case review into the tragic death of Kristy Bamu – a victim of faith-based abuse in a case that uniquely had survivors alongside a child death and could deliver invaluable learning to the sector around abuse of this nature.
There is a continuing dialogue within the relevant communities, and the subject of witchcraft is no longer taboo. Much has been achieved and talk of legislation could only serve to drive the practice underground and hamper working partnerships that are now in place to practically address this issue.
If we are to truly strive to prevent children from being branded as witches, let’s continue the work within our communities to ensure that vulnerable children are protected from abuse and to challenge crimes against children committed either by families, communities or by the inaction of statutory or governmental agencies.
This statement relates to proposed changes in Children & Families Bill; Amendment 243 debated House of Lords 18 November 2013 (Hansard) http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld201314/ldhansrd/text/131118-gc0001.htm