Page last updated at 10:24 GMT, Saturday, 4 June 2005 11:24 UK

We must change 'witch' practices

The case of an eight-year-old Angolan girl, tortured for "witchcraft", has highlighted the connection between some churches and violence against children.

Debbie Ariyo, director of London-based Africans Unite Against Child Abuse (Afruca), explains how she is trying to break the link.

This is not the first case to come to the fore where you find a strong belief in witchcraft and demon possession.

Sita Kisanga arriving at court
Sita Kisanga was convicted of child cruelty at the Old Bailey

These beliefs are endorsed by various black and African churches and they are putting children at risk.

If a child is accused of being a witch, of being an evil person, and that accusation is endorsed by the church, it gives people the lee-way to perpetrate abuse on that child.

Either directly or indirectly, if a church confirms someone's status as a witch, they are condoning abuse because, after all, how do you treat a witch? You beat the evil out of them.

There are at least two or three denominations in London that believe in witchcraft. They have churches in 30 or 40 parishes and attract a lot of people to them.

You cannot change their beliefs. If you could, it would take years. So what we are trying to do, as an organisation, is to encourage these churches to change their practices towards children.

We are hoping that they will take the chance to improve their child protection practices. This way, they can be seen as places of protection for children, rather than places of risk.

We are also training various members of the community in child protection - we are calling them African children's champions.

Initially we are training 25 to 50 people to go out into communities across London and act as advocates, to be there for people to speak to.

Africans are being portrayed as cruel people - abusing children, chopping them up, or throwing into rivers because of superstition. It is not representative of African people here in the UK. That's why I think a lot of people will join us.


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