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Last Updated: Friday, 3 June 2005, 14:27 GMT 15:27 UK
Abuses masquerading as religion
By Chris Summers
BBC News

Three people have been convicted for their part in the abuse of an eight-year-old African girl who was accused of witchcraft while living in Britain.

The Old Bailey has been hearing how the child was subjected to an ordeal lasting many months and which very nearly ended in her death.

Sita Kisanga
Kisanga was convicted on three counts of aiding and abetting cruelty
"She is having witchcraft," said the young boy, pointing at the eight-year-old girl who had been his playmate.

Prosecutor Patricia May told the Old Bailey trial jury: "There is no doubt a feeling among you all that in Britain in 2005 such an accusation would be incredible and that no adult would believe it".

She added that "you may think that such an utterance from a child would not be given any attention apart from maybe a scolding for saying such a thing."

But sadly for the girl in question, who cannot be named for legal reasons, Sita Kisanga all too readily believed the boy.

Months of abuse

Kisanga and another woman, Ms X, believed to be the girl's aunt, unleashed abuse on the little girl, who was living in a flat on the Woodberry Down estate in Hackney, east London.

On 3 June Ms X was convicted of four charges of child cruelty; Kisanga was convicted of three charges of aiding and abetting child cruelty.

Kisanga's brother, Sebastian Pinto, was convicted of one charge of aiding and abetting child cruelty.

Over months the girl was beaten with a belt and a stiletto shoe, cut with a kitchen knife and had chilli peppers rubbed into her eyes. She was also starved for days at a time.

Sebastian Pinto outside the Old Bailey
Sebastian Pinto intervened to stop the little girl being drowned

One day in November 2003 Kisanga and Ms X told her they were going to kill her by throwing her into the New River, a canal near her home.

She was told to take her clothes off and was forced to get into a large red and white laundry bag, which was then zipped up.

Ms May said: "Ms X said 'Why don't we throw her away?'

"Mr Pinto said 'We can't. We will go to prison'."

Ms May said Pinto intervened to save the child and soon after the girl was dumped on the street and was spotted by two Hackney Council street wardens.

She was taken into care but because she did not tell the police about her abuse she was allowed to return to Ms X on Christmas Eve 2003.

In February 2004, she was taken into care again and Ms X, Kisanga and Pinto were arrested.

She told her interviewers that she had been suffering nightmares about people trying to kill her
Patricia May

Ms May told the jury when the girl finally opened up about the abuse she had undergone she also admitted to having been traumatised.

"She told her interviewers that she had been suffering nightmares about people trying to kill her," said the prosecutor.

Throughout the trial Kisanga and Ms X sought to blame each other for the abuse and at one point they could be heard shouting at each other as they were led to the dock.

'Obscure' origins

The trial heard the girl's origins were "somewhat obscure".

DNA tests showed that Ms X was not the girl's mother but may have been her maternal aunt.

Defence witness John Warren, an educational psychologist, told the trial Ms X had learning disabilities and was in the bottom one per cent of the population in intelligence. He said she was "gullible and easily led".

The Woodberry Down estate in Hackney
The girl's ordeal took place on the Woodberry Down estate in Hackney
Detective Constable Jason Morgan told the court Ms X arrived in Britain in August 2002, claiming to be from the Angolan province of Cabinda. She claimed political asylum on arrival.

Ms X told police the girl's father was a member of a political movement, the Flec-FAC, which was seeking to "liberate" Cabinda from Angolan control.

She told police she fled to Britain with the child when soldiers started looking for her.

On arrival she was taken to the Cabinda Community Association in Tottenham, north London, and ended up living at the Hackney home of Kisanga, who was also from Cabinda and spoke the same Lingala language.

Belief in witchcraft

Some time early in 2003 accusations of witchcraft were made against the girl.

Spirit possession is also a common feature of African traditional religion and there is a belief that they can fly or mutate into other creatures
Dr Richard Hoskins
The trial was told by Dr Richard Hoskins, an expert in African studies, that belief in witchcraft - known as ndoki in the Lingala language - was not uncommon among some African communities.

He said: "Spirit possession is also a common feature of African traditional religion and there is a belief that they can fly or mutate into other creatures."

Ms May said: "It's not unusual for the defendant to believe that (the girl) could shift her shape and visit people at night."

But Dr Hoskins stressed witchcraft believers would never condone physically harming a child, even one they thought was possessed by an evil spirit.

Map of the Angolan enclave of Cabinda
Ms X claimed to the child came from Cabinda
Ms X, Kisanga and Pinto worshipped at Protestant churches in Dalston and Neasden which catered for people from Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Kisanga clearly believed in evil and there were entries, in her handwriting, about "satanic" tendencies in a diary found in her flat.

In another entry she describes a dream in which she met the 'Holy Spirit' and also refers to a female child in London with a snake in her abdomen.

It appears Kisanga persuaded herself, and Ms X, the child was possessed by an evil spirit and they meted out horrific treatment to her as a result.

Real or not, the belief resulted in simple, unforgivable child abuse.

Watch an investigation into the rise in 'faith-based crime'


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