- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 4, 2005

LONDON — Detectives believe that dozens of children of African origin have been beaten and abused in Britain after being accused of witchcraft by family and friends in a “hidden crime” that is hard to detect and investigate.

A Metropolitan Police intelligence report identified 31 such cases in five years in London alone and called for “ritualistic abuse” to be made a new category of crime with stiff penalties.

Earlier this year Scotland Yard set up Project Violet to discover the extent of the problem. Officers are working with social services, schools, churches and community leaders in an attempt to identify and tackle the abuse.

On Friday a woman was convicted of cruelty to her 8-year-old niece, who she had accused of being a witch. Another woman and a man were also convicted of assisting with the attacks.

The girl, an orphan from Angola, received more than 40 injuries, including being cut with a knife, beaten with a belt and shoe, and having chilli peppers rubbed into her eyes in an attempt to “rid her of the devil.”

All the people were members of a church in East London, a faith practicing a mixture of evangelical Christianity and traditional African spiritual beliefs.

Detective Superintendent Chris Bourlet, the head of Scotland Yard’s Child Abuse Investigative Command, told the Sunday Telegraph yesterday of his fears about the extent of such cases.

“We set up Project Violet after community groups came to us with their concerns over the extent of ritualistic abuse. We all care about our children and they were concerned that children were being harmed,” he said.

“It is difficult for us to identify the scale of the problem because, as with other child abuse, it is a hidden crime that usually takes place in people’s homes.

“We, as a force, are not here to police churches and places of worship. But the aim of Project Violet is to work with the community and identify the scale of the abuse so we can then tackle it.”

The report by the Metropolitan Police’s Child Abuse Investigation Intelligence Unit says that of the 31 cases identified, only five led to charges.

In one case, a 10-year-old boy was subjected to abuse for a year, being burnt with matches, lighters, irons and scalding water by his parents, who were convinced that he was possessed. The parents, however, were deemed unfit to face trial.

In another case, a 9-year-old boy was beaten and burned by his parents because they had been told by a pastor that he was possessed. On one occasion, the boy was so terrified that he jumped from a first-floor window to escape.

Between 1993 and 2003, 1.13 million people were permitted to enter Britain from Africa, being 9 percent of all immigrants during this period.

More than half of these African immigrants came from South Africa and Nigeria. However, 5,280 came from Angola, a former Portuguese colony, and 1,890 came from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, a former Belgian colony previously known as Zaire. Ritualistic abuse is believed to be particularly prevalent in these two countries.

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