A rise in the number of child abuse cases linked to supposed witchcraft has been reported in the U.K., London’s Metropolitan Police said Wednesday. The increase has led to new guidelines issued to social workers, health care staff and teachers who can identify children who are at risk of abuse.
In the past year, 27 allegations of child abuse have been reported. The year before, the figure was 24, the BBC reports. In 2004, Scotland Yard received just two cases of child abuse influenced by witchcraft or spiritual possession. Among this past year’s influx of cases, one involved a child being dunked in a bath, and another was reportedly swung around by a church pastor and was hit in the head to “drive the devil out.” There were two claims of sexual abuse.
In one person's view, the spike in the number of cases can be attributed to “mass migration and globalization." Detective Superintendent Terry Sharpe, of the Metropolitan Police’s sexual offenses, exploitation and child abuse command, said in the report that he believes an increase has coincided with an influx of immigrants from varied backgrounds. “People bring their cultures and beliefs with them," he told the BBC.
The number of people seeking U.K. citizenship in the past four years has been on the rise. In 2013 there were more than 152,000 "grants of settlement" to non-European migrants – an 18 percent increase from the year before. According to researcher Peter Brierley’s “Second Edition of U.K. Statistics” published Oct. 3, immigration from Africa and Eastern European countries is a leading reason why church attendance has not declined in recent years as projected.
But this kind of abuse is in no way limited to particular religious or cultural communities. In 2007, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children released a report that showed children who have a “weak bond of affection between the carer and the child” are at risk for abuse related to witchcraft, as were children with certain disabilities.
“Exorcisms can be carried out by a much wider group and across a diverse range of faith groups,” the report states. In one instance, a young girl with a congential heart disorder underwent an exorcism administered by a prayer group belonging to a church in Wales.
According to Shape, exorcisms and isolation are frequently seen when a child is suspected of being possessed by an evil spirit. “A child is starved, or put in a cage, so that they can’t pass the spirit on to other children,” Sharpe told the BBC. “If someone is branded a witch, the violence can escalate quite quickly. They are no longer seen as a child but someone that can inflict harm on others. The parent will no longer see that child as theirs any more but an evil spirit that needs to be released.”