Abuse linked to faith or belief is one of the lesser known forms of harmful practices. The most common form of this type of abuse is demonic/spirit possession accusations, and witchcraft accusations towards children. A child can be subjected to many forms of abuse at the hands of the people that should protect them.
There are recorded cases where parents, guardians and carers neglected, abused and, in some cases, killed their own children in the belief that they were practicing witchcraft, or were possessed by evil spirits.
Parents and carers use varied reasons to justify the abuse:
- Evil Spirits - belief in evil spirits that can ‘possess’ children is often accompanied by a belief that a possessed child can ‘infect’ others with the condition. This could be through contact with shared food, or simply being in the presence of the child.
- Scapegoating - a child could be singled out as the cause of misfortune within the home, such as financial difficulties, divorce, infidelity, illness or death.
- Bad behaviour - sometimes bad or abnormal behaviour is attributed to spiritual forces. Examples include a child being disobedient, rebellious, overly independent, wetting the bed, having nightmares or falling ill.
- Physical difference/disability - a child could be singled out for having a physical difference or disability. Documented cases included children with learning disabilities, mental health issues, epilepsy, autism, stammers, deafness or albinism.
- Gifts and uncommon characteristics - if a child has a particular skill or talent, this can sometimes be rationalised as the result of possession or witchcraft. This can also be the case if the child is from a multiple or difficult pregnancy.
- Complex family structure - research suggests that a child living with extended family, non-biological parents, or foster parents is more at risk. In these situations, they are more likely to have been subject to trafficking and made to work in servitude.