The recent case of a couple convicted in the witchcraft-related murder of a teen girl in London sheds light on a larger problem affecting Britain and other Western countries that has its origins in fundamentalist African churches, according to observers.
Magalie Bamu, 29, and her boyfriend Eric Bikubi, 28 were found guilty of torturing Bamu's 15-year-old sister and then allowing her to drown, in an apparent attempt to rid her of the evil spirits they believed she was possessed by, The Telegraph reported. Cases like this are becoming more common in England involving immigrants from Central Africa, where children are often accused of witchcraft, are settling in and bringing such beliefs with them.
There are apparently no less than 84 child abuse cases linked to witchcraft that have been investigated in the past 10 years in the U.K., the Metropolitan Police revealed.
Witchcraft has been present in the Central African region for centuries, but it has recently been integrated with Christianity – pastors in countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo and Nigeria often take money from parents to perform exorcism rituals which they claim will rid their children of demonic possessions. The belief that children can be possesed by spirits has its roots in traditional African practises, but many of these churches have tried to connect those traditional beliefs with passages in the Bible that say Jesus healed people posessed by demons.
According to The Telegraph's report, there are more than 20,000 children in DR Congo who are forced to live homeless on the streets of the capital Kinshasa because they have been accused of sorcery.
"One of the key beliefs of these churches is in witches and exorcising them," said Debbie Ariyo, the head of the charity Africans Unite Against Child Abuse (Afruca), about unregulated U.K. churches preaching such fundamentalist views.
"Dozens of rogue churches don't want to change their practices. Small churches can be hidden away in a living room or a garage," she added.
Back in January, The Christian Post reported of plans by Helen Ukpabio, an evangelical Christian from Nigeria known for trying to exorcise demons from children she believes are witches, to visit the United States in March for a 12-day event.
Ukpabio's church, Liberty Foundation Gospel Ministries, is popular in Nigeria and in other Central African countries, and she often preaches about combating evil spirits that possess humans, in particular children.
Leo Igwe, the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU)'s former representative for Western and Southern Africa, claimed when he spoke with CP that there were grave dangers involved with allowing Helen Ukpabio to extend her ministry into the U.S.
"She is coming to spread the gospel of hate and witch hunts in the U.S. Ukpabio's mission is not good for America. Her evangelism is not good for children in the U.S.," Igwe alleged. "Her church – the Liberty Foundation Gospel Ministries – is notorious for spreading the dangerous idea that children can be witches and that children can harm family and community members in the name of witchcraft. She conducts exorcism for alleged witches which often involves torture, inhuman and degrading treatment," he added.
In response to these remarks, Iniekong Essien, a spokesman for Liberty Foundation Gospel Ministries, shared in an email with CP that Igwe's accusations are not true and that Ukpabio's ministry does not harm children.
"Contrary to his allegations against Helen Ukpabio, it is Leo Igwe that presents the 'gospel of hate.' He is trying to incite the American public to hate and reject Helen and her teachings because he does not believe in God," Essien began.
"In 2008, he in collaboration with Gary Foxcroft, Mark Gavin etc blackmailed and maligned her with their false documentary 'Saving Africa's Witch Children' broadcast on channel Air the U.K and shown all over the world so that she should be hated and rejected and she was indeed hated and severely maligned all over the world. If Helen had been killing children, she would have been prosecuted for criminal activities. Nigeria is not a lawless country and she cannot be above the law," the spokesman insisted.
A number of other charity organizations, however, have also been vocal about the dangers of witchcraft in Nigeria and other Central African countries coming to Western communities.
Stepping Stones Nigeria (SSN), a U.K.-based charity which was established to try to expose Ukpabio's alleged activities to the rest of the world and highlight the harm that witchcraft accusations are causing to children in the region, wrote in a statement on their official website:
"Stepping Stones Nigeria does not believe that children can be 'witches.' However, Stepping Stones Nigeria acknowledges the right of individuals to hold this belief on the condition that this does not lead to the abuse of child rights as outlined in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC)."