Child Abuse Linked to Faith or Belief (CALFB)

National FGM Centre

What is Child Abuse Linked to Faith or Belief (CALFB)?

There is a variety of definitions associated with abuse linked to faith or belief. The National Action Plan  includes the below when referring to Child Abuse Linked to Fatih or Belief (CALFB):

“Belief in concepts of:

  • witchcraft and spirit possession, demons or the devil acting through children or leading them astray (traditionally seen in some Christian beliefs),
  • the evil eye or djinns (traditionally known in some Islamic faith contexts) and
  • dakini (in the Hindu context);
  • ritual or muti murders where the killing of children is believed to bring supernatural benefits or the use of their body parts is believed to produce potent magical remedies;
  • use of belief in magic or witchcraft to create fear in children to make them more compliant when they are being trafficked for domestic slavery or sexual exploitation.

This is not an exhaustive list and there will be other examples where children have been harmed when adults think that their actions have brought bad fortune, such as telephoning a wrong number which is believed by some to allow malevolent spirits to enter the home.

Health implications of Abuse linked to faith or belief

Physical: This can involve beating, burning, cutting, stabbing, semi-strangulating, tying up the child, or rubbing chilli peppers or other substances on the child’s genitals or eyes.

Emotional: Emotional abuse can occur in the form of isolation. A child may not be allowed near or to share a room with family members, and threatened with abandonment. The child may also be persuaded that they are possessed. The act of telling a child that they are possessed by an evil spirit or told that they are a witch can be emotionally abusive.

Neglect: In situations of neglect, the child’s family and community may have failed to ensure appropriate medical care, supervision, education, good hygiene, nourishment, clothing or warmth.

Sexual: Children who have been singled out in this way can be particularly vulnerable to sexual abusers within the family, community or faith organisation. These people exploit the belief as a form of control or threat.  Children could also be subject to practices through the deliverance process that are sexually abusive e.g. having to be bathed undress in the presence of others. Trafficked children from some countries have been known to be subjected to practices designed to control them. Some of these practices involve using their pubic hair and undergarments in rituals.

“Justifications” for Abuse linked to faith or belief

  • Evil Spirits: Belief in evil spirits that can ‘possess’ children is often accompanied by a belief that a possessed child can ‘infect’ others with the condition. This could be through contact with shared food, or simply being in the presence of the child.
  • Scapegoating: A child could be singled out as the cause of misfortune within the home, such as financial difficulties, divorce, infidelity, illness or death.
  • Bad Behaviour: Sometimes bad or abnormal behaviour is attributed to spiritual forces. Examples include a child being disobedient, rebellious, overly independent, wetting the bed, having nightmares or falling ill.
  • Physical Difference/Disability: A child could be singled out for having a physical difference or disability. Documented cases included children with learning disabilities, mental health issues, epilepsy, autism, stammers and deafness.
  • Gifts and uncommon characteristics: If a child has a particular skill or talent, this can sometimes be rationalised as the result of possession or witchcraft. This can also be the case if the child is from a multiple or difficult pregnancy.
  • Complex family structure: Research suggests that a child living with extended family, non biological parents, or foster parents is more at risk. In these situations they are more likely to have been subject to trafficking and made to work in servitude.

(Source: MET Police, Online)

The Law for Abuse linked to faith or belief

There are a number of laws in the UK that allow the prosecution of those responsible for abuse linked to faith or belief. One of the biggest challenges is raising awareness and encouraging victims and witnesses to come forward.
(Source: MET Police, Online)

The Children in Need Census 2016/7 identified 1,460 cases where the assessment of the child’s needs showed child abuse linked to faith or belief as a possible factor.

(Department for Education, 2017)

Signs that a child could be at risk of abuse linked to faith or belief

Child abuse linked to faith or belief is not confined to one faith, nationality, ethnic group or community. Cases have been recorded worldwide across various religions including Christians, Muslims and Hindus. Not all with the belief go on to harm children.  The number of known cases suggests that only a small minority of people who believe in witchcraft or spirit possession go on to abuse children.

Abuse may happen anywhere, but it most commonly occurs within the child’s home.

  • Children with disability including autism, epilepsy, down’s syndrome, dyslexia etc
  • Albinos
  • Children living away from home in private fostering situations or in domestic servitude situations
  • Children living with a step-parent, with one of the natural parents absent or dead
  • Children whose parents have been branded as witches
  • Children who are seen as “naughty” or have challenging behaviour
  • Precocious children and left handed children
  • Children who are living within complex family structures e.g. a polygamous setting or reconstituted family

(Source: MET Police, Online)

Signs that a girl is undergoing Abuse linked to faith or belief

Most of the indicators may appear similar to other types of maltreatment.

  • A child’s body showing signs or marks, such as bruises or burns, from physical abuse;
  • A child becoming noticeably confused, withdrawn, disorientated or isolated and appearing alone amongst other children;
  • A child’s personal care deteriorating, for example through a loss of weight, being hungry, turning up to school without food or food money or being unkempt with dirty clothes and even faeces smeared on to them;
  • It may also be directly evident that the child’s parent does not show concern for or a close bond with them;
  • A child’s attendance at school becoming irregular, or being taken out of school altogether without another school place having been organised;
  • A child reporting that they are or have been accused of being evil, and / or that they are having the devil beaten out of them.
  • A child made to where some form of paraphernalia that could be of a religious nature.

(LCSB, Online)

I am worried about a child

If you are worried about a child you should follow your normal safeguarding, ensuring you mention you are concerned the child may be a victim of abuse linked to faith and abuse and the reasons why you are concerned.

Professionals should consider:

  • Whether these beliefs are supported by others in the family or in the community, and whether this is an isolated case or if other children from the same community are being treated in a similar manner;
  • Whether there is a faith community and leader which the family and the child adhere to:
    • As a minimum, the full details of the faith leader and faith community to which the family and child adhere to should be obtained;
    • The exact address of the premises where worship or meetings take place should be obtained;
    • Further information should be obtained about the belief of the adherents and whether they are aligned to a larger organisation in the UK or abroad (websites are particularly revealing in terms of statements of faith and organisational structures).
  • The family structure:
    • The roles of the adults in the household should be clarified (e.g. who the child’s main carer is, whether the child is being privately fostered);
    • Whether the abuse relates to the arrival of a new adult into the household or the arrival of the child, perhaps from abroad;
    • If the child has recently arrived to the UK, what their care arrangement in their country of origin was. What the child’s immigration status is;
    • The identities and relationships of all members of the household. These should be confirmed with documentation; it may be appropriate to consider DNA testing.
  • Whether there are reasons for the child to be scapegoated (e.g. the child’s behaviour or physical appearance may be different from other children in the family or community, the child may be disabled or their parents labelled as possessed);
  • Whether an interpreter is required. If working with a very small community, the professional should assure themselves that the interpreter and the family are not part of the same social network.

If a child is being taken out of the country you can explore:

  • Whether the arrangements appear likely to safeguard and promote the child’s welfare;
  • Why the child is being taken out of the UK;
  • Whether the care arrangements for the child in the UK allow the local authority to discharge its safeguarding duties;
  • What the child’s immigration status is. Professionals should also consider whether the child recently arrived in the UK, and how they arrived;
  • What the proposed arrangements are for the child in their country of destination, and whether it is possible to check these arrangements;
  • That taking a child outside of the UK for exorcism or deliverance type procedures is likely to cause significant harm.

(LCSB, Online)

Case Examples

Child ‘B’ (name withheld for her protection) was brought to the UK by her aunt who passed her off as her daughter. The aunt, Child ‘B’ and two other adults lived in the same flat. An eight year old boy who lived with them one day accused the Child ‘B’ of being possessed and the adults agreed that this 10-year old girl was a witch and that she was practising an evil form of witchcraft. She was starved, cut with a knife, hit with a belt and shoes. She had had chilli peppers rubbed into her eyes and was repeatedly slapped, kicked and bitten. At one stage, she was put in a laundry bag to be thrown in a river and was told “this is the day that you are going to die”. She was eventually discovered by a street warden on the steps to the block of her apartment in East London covered in cuts, bruises and with swollen eyes. The police found an entry in the notebook of her aunt which talks about Child ‘B’ being branded as a witch at a church event.

(Source: Tackling child abuse linked to faith or belief, Every Child Journal, 2013, Online)

Kristy Bamu, a 15 year-old boy came to visit his sister and her boyfriend in London along with his siblings for Christmas in 2010. During their stay the sister’s partner, Eric Bikubi accused all three children of having Kindoki (a word meaning witchcraft in the Democratic Republic of Congo). However, it was Kristy who became the focus of Bikubi’s attention after he found a pair of wet pants belonging to Kristy. Wetting is an act popularly linked to witchcraft. Bikubi then accused Kristy of trying to harm his child. The child suffers from a congenital disease and was in hospital before Kristy and other siblings came to visit Bikubi family. He punched, kicked and head butted him before beating him with a metal weight-lifting bar as hard as he could and knocking out his teeth with a hammer. Bikubi also ripped apart one of his ears with a pair of pliers and broke four floor tiles on his head and forced Kristy’s siblings to join in the violence and help clear the blood. On Christmas Day, with his face beaten to a barely recognisable pulp, Kristy was thrown into a bath and drowned because he was too weak to keep his head above the water.

(Source: Tackling child abuse linked to faith or belief, Every Child Journal, 2013, Online)

Cases and Resources

  • London Safeguarding Children Board, 27. Spiritual, Cultural and Religious Beliefs, Online
  • An Exploration of Knowledge about Child Abuse Linked to Faith or Belief, Dr Lisa Oakley, Dr Kathryn Kinmond, Mor Dioum & Justin Humphreys, Online.
  • Child Abuse Linked to Accusations of “Possession” and “Witchcraft”, Eleanor Stobart, 2006, Online
  • Child abuse linked to faith and abuse, MET Police, Project Violet, Online
  • Tackling child abuse linked to faith or belief, Every Child Journal, 2013, Online
  • The case of Ayesha Ali, 2013. (Online), Possession.
  • The case of Kristy Bamu, 2010. (Online), Witchcraft/Possession
  • The case of Eunice Spry, 1986-2007, (Online), Jehovah’s Witness/Possession
  • The case of Victoria Climbe, 2000, (Online), Witchcraft
  • The case of Patrick Erhabor, 2001, (Online), Sacrifice
  • The case of Faith Lovemore, 2009, (Online), Possession
  • Case number 14, 2008, (Online), Evil spirits