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Child abuse linked to spirit possession and witchcraft highlighted at BASW event

An insight into how to identify and deal with abuse due to spirit possession and witchcraft was gained at an event by the British Association of Social Workers to mark World Social Work Day.

Leethen Bartholomew, who works with families in London, stressed abuse in the name of spirits and witchcraft took place in all faiths.

Speaking at the Compass Jobs Fair in Birmingham, he said practitioners needed to understand why it was happening.

“If people have a child who is misbehaving they may think it is because of a deeper reason which is not because of them.”

In Africia, where phenomenon has been researched, belief in witchcraft or spirit possession has been found to be linked to shifts in the political and economic climate.

“Systems that cause people to become dislocated increases the risk for the most vulnerable people in society, which in most cases is women and children,” said Mr Bartholomew, who is part of the Witchcraft and Human Rights Information Network.

Changing perceptions of childhood in Africa with children perceived as less innocent by being, for example, child soldiers, also increased the likelihood of them being targeted. 

Mr Bartholomew warned that children believed to be possessed of evil spirits in the UK were being sent abroad to be ‘cured’.

“We have to be aware of the international dimension. If you think a child is possessed you may decide to take them back to your home country because you believe they know what to do about it there.”

High profile cases of abuse involving children in the UK believed to be possessed of evil spirits include Victoria Climbie who was tortured and murdered by her guardians in 2000.

Mr Bartholomew said practitioners and managers needed greater understanding of the area.

“How many of us feel comfortable being allocated a case of a child being possessed or having to do an assessment? How many of us would be confident enough to go to our manager and say this person is believed to be possessed?”