Belief in witchcraft is widespread, but the incidence of faith-based child abuse in relation to this is low, according to a landmark report.
Trust for London has launched the findings of its Safeguarding children’s rights initiative, a project to tackle child abuse linked to beliefs in spirit possession and witchcraft.
The report said that, although beliefs in witchcraft and spirit possession are widespread in African (and other) communities, the incidence of abuse appears to be low.
However, it found that social workers, police and other professionals need cultural knowledge and understanding not to equate belief with child maltreatment.
It also recommended that professionals need to use existing child protection tools to assess whether a child is at risk of significant harm through physical, sexual, emotional abuse, or neglect.
The report admitted: ‘Faith organisations have a critical role in many African communities. While many offer help and support, some unscrupulous faith leaders are in a position to exploit vulnerable individuals. Faith leaders have a pivotal role in developing children’s rights within African communities. A shared faith has been valuable in engaging these leaders — cutting across ethnic and national boundaries’.
The safeguarding initiative was set up in 2007, in response to concerns raised by African community groups about faith-based abuse. As part of the initiative, more than 3000 pastors and officers, from around 500 African majority churches, have taken part in training in child protection requirements and good practice.