Page last updated at 09:45 GMT, Thursday, 7 January 2010

Witch-doctors reveal extent of child sacrifice in Uganda

Watch Tim Whewell's film investigating the rise in child sacrifice in Uganda

By Tim Whewell
BBC News, Uganda

A BBC investigation into human sacrifice in Uganda has heard first-hand accounts which suggest ritual killings of children may be more common than authorities have acknowledged.

One witch-doctor led us to his secret shrine and said he had clients who regularly captured children and brought their blood and body parts to be consumed by spirits.

Meanwhile, a former witch-doctor who now campaigns to end child sacrifice confessed for the first time to having murdered about 70 people, including his own son.

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Listen to Tim Whewell's award-winning Radio 4 documentary on battling Uganda's witch doctors

The Ugandan government told us that human sacrifice is on the increase, and according to the head of the country's Anti-Human Sacrifice Taskforce the crime is directly linked to rising levels of development and prosperity, and an increasing belief that witchcraft can help people get rich quickly.

In the course of our investigation we witnessed the ritual torching of the shrine of a particularly active witch-doctor in northern Uganda by anti-sacrifice campaigners.

The witch-doctor allowed ceremonial items including conch shells and animal skins to be burned in his sacred grove after agreeing to give up sacrifice.

He told us that clients had come to him in search of wealth.

"They capture other people's children. They bring the heart and the blood directly here to take to the spirits… They bring them in small tins and they place these objects under the tree from which the voices of the spirits are coming," he said.

Asked how often clients brought blood and body parts, the witch-doctor said they came "on average three times a week - with all that the spirits demand from them."

We saw a beaker of blood and what appeared to be a large, raw liver in the shrine before it was destroyed, although it was not possible to determine whether they were human remains.

Extortion

The witch-doctor denied any direct involvement in murder or incitement to murder, saying his spirits spoke directly to his clients.

He told us he was paid 500,000 Ugandan shillings (£160 or $260) for a consultation, but that most of that money was handed over to his "boss" in a nationwide network of witch-doctors.

Mutilated three-year old with his parents
Three-year-old Mukisa had his genitals cut off by a witch-doctor

Head of the Anti-Human Sacrifice and Trafficking Task Force, assistant commissioner Moses Binoga of the Ugandan police, said he knew of the boss referred to - involved in one of five or six witch-doctor protection rackets operating in the country.

"The senior ones extort money from lower people because they deal in illegal things," he told us.

Mr Binoga said police had opened 26 murder cases in 2009, in which the victim appeared to have been ritually sacrificed, compared with just three cases in 2007.

"We also have about 120 children and adults reported missing whose fate we have not traced. We cannot rule out that they may be victims of human sacrifice," he said.

But child protection campaigners believe the real number is much higher, as some disappearances are not reported to police.

Activism

Former witch-doctor turned anti-sacrifice campaigner Polino Angela says he has persuaded 2,400 other witch-doctors to give up the trade since he himself repented in 1990.

James Nsaba Buturo, Uganda's Minister for Ethics and Integrity
To punish retrospectively would cause a problem... if we can persuade Ugandans to change, that is much better than going back into the past
James Nsaba Buturo, Uganda's Minister of Ethics and Integrity

Mr Angela told us he had first been initiated as a witch-doctor at a ceremony in neighbouring Kenya, where a boy of about 13 was sacrificed.

"The child was cut with a knife on the neck and the entire length from the neck down was ripped open, and then the open part was put on me," he said.

When he returned to Uganda he says he was told by those who had initiated him to kill his own son, aged 10.

"I deceived my wife and made sure that everyone else had gone away and I was with my child alone. Once he was placed down on the ground, I used a big knife and brought it down like a guillotine."

Asked if he was afraid he might now be prosecuted as a result of confessing to killing 70 people, he said:

"I have been to all the churches… and they know me as a warrior in the drive to end witchcraft that involves human sacrifice, so I think that alone should indemnify me and have me exonerated."

Uganda's Minister of Ethics and Integrity James Nsaba Buturo believes that "to punish retrospectively would cause a problem... if we can persuade Ugandans to change, that is much better than going back into the past."

Child protection activists in organisations such as FAPAD (Facilitation for Peace and Development) and ANPPCAN (African Network for the Prevention and Protection against Child Abuse and Neglect) have highlighted recent cases of ritual killing and called for new legislation to regulate so-called "traditional healers".

Witness testimony

In some cases against alleged witch-doctors due to come to trial later this year, police will use the testimony of children who managed to survive abduction.

One such witness is a three-year-old boy called Mukisa, who was left for dead after his penis was hacked off by an assailant.

He survived thanks to quick work by surgeons, and later told police he had been mutilated by a neighbour who is known to keep a shrine.

Mukisa's mother told us: "Every time I look at him, I ask myself how his future is going to be - a man without a penis - and how the rest of the community will look at him, with private parts that can neither be attributed to a man or a woman. Every time I recall the normal birth that I had and the way Mukisa is now, it is like the end of the world."



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