It is our experience that a number of care applications are issued by Local Authorities due to physical abuse to children as a result of ‘Witchcraft Child Abuse’. As practitioners we have to be very much aware that this form of physical abuse exists. We also have a duty to recognise the signs where such form of punishment has been applied in order to protect children and be able to represent parents and children adequately.
Parents can seek to justify their actions by suggesting that their children have been possessed by evil spirits which control their children. They justify their children’s difficult behaviour by branding their child a witch. Once branded as ‘a witch’ the parents will then resort to physical chastisement by ‘beating the evil spirit out’ of the child whilst prayers are cited. There are reported cases where such children have been stabbed (‘create way out of the evil spirit’) or semi strangled (‘squeeze life out of the devil’). A child sustaining burns is also a common theme in such cases.
Witchcraft and possession are largely nurtured within a Christian context and in the UK this form of chastisement can present in West African communities. However, there can also be an assumption by Local Authorities to this type of abuse as opposed to making an objective assessment on individual families. As such the preliminary checks carried out by Social Workers and Police officers are vital to recognise the signs as to whether a child has been subjected to ‘Witchcraft abuse’.
As lawyers taking instructions from West African clients facing allegations that they have physically chastised their children we should not exclude the likelihood that some sort of ‘exorcism’ was attempted. However, we must also look at the matters objectively and attempt to identify whether the Local Authority has raised allegations simply due to the family’s cultural background.
Clients can attempt to justify this behaviour by stating that they have contacted a pastor from the church to assist them with behaviour problems which their children have. Research shows that there have been instances where these so called pastors offer to perform spiritual rituals charging vulnerable parents significant amounts of money ‘diagnosing’ the children as being possessed by evil. We also need to remember that following the pastoral ‘diagnosis ‘ the actual act of violence is performed by the parents or family members.
In reality, these parents are unable to accept their child’s’ difficult behaviour and that their children may have undisguised conditions which require expert’s intervention. Such conditions may include autism, epilepsy, dyslexia or Down syndrome. It is our duty to lead clients in the right direction by advising them that alternative professional’s help exists to tackle difficult behaviour.
Professions such as police and social workers will need to be aware of these practices which occur very often resulting in children experiencing significant harm. Police evidence is vital to the Family Court when asked to make findings with regards to children being abused by their family as part of so called ‘Witchcraft Child Abuse’ in order to safeguard the children.
Author Ivan Dimitrov is committed to assist clients in all children matters, in particular; care orders, supervision orders and emergency protection orders and special guardianship orders; adoption within the UK; parental responsibility agreements.
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