Child sacrifice and mutilation have in the past decade proven to be sadly on the rise in Uganda. Each year, uncountable number of children are murdered on the command of traditional healers.
This is commonly practiced when a helpless child’s body parts, most often the heads, ears, livers, and tongues are cut off. In the end, many of the child survivors carry with them grave life scars and injuries, including thorough genital mutilations; deep wound stabs, missing tongues, ears, as well as psychological scars that require a life time healing.
However, despite efforts by several child rights advocacy organisations to eliminate the evil, it has remained persistent, most especially in rural areas, where children are abducted on while their way to wells to fetch water, and in the bushes where they collect fire wood.
In most cases, these children are either found dead in the fields and the few lucky ones survive but with their body parts mutilated.
In such cases, police investigations on cases have pinned witch doctors and other suspects have on several occasions testified against traditional healers to have commanded the ritual acts in the belief that they will be consumed by spirits, leading to riches or solving of other problems.
A case in point was the ritual murder of a 12-year-old boy, Joseph Kasirye, in which prosecution proved that Kato Kajubi, a business man in Masaka district had connived with a one Kateregga and his wife Nabukeera, both witch doctors had murdered a former pupil of Kayugi primary school in Mukungwe sub-county in Masaka district, on October 27, 2008.
Kasirye’s head and private parts were cut off and have, to date, never been recovered. The case was under a retrial after the Directorate of Public Prosecutions (DPP) successfully challenged the High Court decision that had, in an earlier trial, acquitted Kajubi of the gruesome murder.
Nevertheless, many cases have been quietly settled between courts of law and communities.
At the age of only three, Goerge Mukisa 9, had his private parts cut off and after gaining his consciousness, Mukisa was able to identify one of his neighbours to have mutilated him.
Consequently, Mukisa had to use a catheter for excretion for almost two years until he was taken to Australia for penis reconstruction.
Another girl, Hope Nakirigya, 8, was abducted at the age of one and half years from Rakai District .Not so different from Mukisa, One of his neighbours later confessed that he had taken her away.
SKETCHY DATA AND WEAK LAWS
Patrick Onyango, the Kampala Metropolitan Police spokesperson, acknowledges that there are worrying trends of child sacrifice that have increased over the past years, most especially in rural areas.
He says that police are embarking on sensitisation of communities through community policing on the dangers of ritual murders and have ensured heavy deployment in most of the rural areas.
“There has been a spontaneous increase in the numbers from 11 cases that were reported in 2012 to 12 cases in 2013 giving 8.3per cent increase rate,”Mr Onyango says.
Mr Onyango adds that only last year, two cases were reported in Mbarara and Luwero districts each. The other areas of Ntungamo,Kawempe, Kanungu, Butaleja and Lugazi registered one case each stating that several other individuals have been to court.
Police records have also shown, incidences of child sacrifice are on the increase, with 10 cases recorded in 2013. The Ugandan Internal Trafficking Report estimated the number was 12, whereas first-hand interviews by Humane Africa detailed 77 incidents.
A report by African Network for the prevention and protection against Child Abuse and Neglect (ANPPCAN), a Pan-African child rights organization in 2009 also indicated that close to 3,000 children disappear from their homes annually but the plight for the majority of those children is never known nor documented.
According to police records in 2007, three homicide cases of suspected human sacrifice were reported with 25 cases of suspected ritual killings reported the next year but only eight of these cases were conclusively investigated.
Current research by Kids Rights states that these varying statistics are most likely the “tip of the iceberg, as data is insufficient and the real scope of child sacrifice is not yet visible”.
Ms Ruth Birungi, the programme manager, Research, Communities and Advocacy, ANPPCAN attributes the increased prevalence of the evil to the weak laws on children rights.
“We need a law that encompasses all the laws on child rights because there many laws on child abuse that are scattered. Civil society organisations and government also need to have a coordinated response,”Ms Birungi said.
It should be noted that the laws that govern traditional healers in Uganda; the witch craft Act 1957 was drafted far back in the colonial days which activists have on several occasion argued the government to update stating that it does not clearly define child sacrifice.
Also, the penal code Act,cap 120 does not recognise child mutilation as a crime and there is no punishment for it.
Why child sacrifice happens
A 2013 report from Humane Africa, a UK registered charity organisation dedicated to fighting child sacrifice and mutilation, indicated that during their four-month fieldwork period from June to September 2012, there has been an average of one sacrifice each week in one of the 25 communities where the research was based.
The report also showed that the practice is rooted in the belief that blood sacrifice can bring fortune, wealth and happiness. The “purer” the blood, the more potent the spell, making innocent children a target.
“Witch doctors look for children without marks or piercings, so many parents pierce their children’s ears at birth and get their boys circumcised in an effort to protect them,” read part of the report.
Sarah Nakintu the project coordinator, HumaneAfrica, says research that was conducted by the same organisation in 2013 found out that people in communities are misled by myths and not necessarily traditional healers.
“In districts of Mukono, Buikwe, and Mpigi which were among the 20 districts where we carried out research and various awareness campaigns, we received several reports that once these traditional healers fail to cure problems after extorting money, they ask for human sacrifice hoping that people won’t produce but which they end up producing.”
Traditional healers speak out
However, the leader of traditional healers in Uganda, Sylvia Namutebi commonly known as Maama Fiina, says traditional healers are not to blame. She points out that in their practice as traditional healers, no human body parts are used (or requested) to give blessings to people or to give wealth to those that search for it.
She says they only required animal sacrifices: chicken, goats and cows submitted that traditionally, sacrificial objects must be edible and eaten and therefore child sacrifice would not be acceptable.
“We are against human bloodletting or any form of mutilation of humans for any form of traditional healing. We believe the people practicing child sacrifice are not genuine traditional healers and demand for an independent investigation into the issue of child sacrifice in the country as some criminals may be disguising as traditional healers to murder and mislead police in their investigations,” she says. “We also ask Government to put in place a law to govern the practice of traditional healers which has been our call for now twenty years. This state of affairs coupled with porous boundaries means fake traditional healers could take advantage and harm our people.”
Myths and misconceptions
From the same research and other surveys conducted by a similar organisation through several community workshops showed the paradigm of how myths and misconceptions in communities lead to the death and mutilation of children
It begins when an individual consults a witchdoctor, or ‘traditional healer’ – who will then require a child. According to the issue brought before them: the spirits may require a certain body part of the child.
Any part of a child becomes a currency, a tool for bartering with the evil spirits for the granting business success, prosperity, wealth or a solution, as believed by people in communities.
The report also showed that hundreds of children are kidnapped – usually by a neighbour – and brutally mutilated in this completely selfish and heartless act. A maimed child may be left to bleed and die, while others are kept alive for continued acts of witchcraft.
In response, Ministry of Gender Labour and Social Development (MOGLSD) under whose jurisdiction children rights fall, early this year drafted a national action plan aimed at combatting the rampant child sacrifice and child mutilation in the country.
Key highlights in the proposed action plan include; presenting relevant bills regulating the traditional practitioners and enacting a law on the child sacrifice as well as providing technical support to agencies towards the prevention and mitigation of child sacrifice.
While launching the proposed draft in Kampala last month, Mr Sulaiman Madada the State minister for the elderly and disabled noted that child mutilation is another contributing factor to the number of people with disability that is overwhelming his ministry.
“We need to first address the problem of child sacrifice in order to reduce on the disability. Children who are victims of mutilation also become disabled in their adult stage”
According to Mr James Kaboggoza, the Assistant commissioner in Charge of children at the ministry, the plan of action is a result of a participatory process which involved the consultation of stakeholders at national, district sub county and community levels.
He said Research that was conducted by the ministry has proven that the vice is prompted by barbaric attitudes in communities.
“In the first place we thought child sacrifice had economic motives but later on we discovered it was a pretext for murder because people thought its problem solving,” he said.
Kaboggoza added that: “It’s from this backdrop that we need to change the mindset of members of communities who go to traditional healers and sacrifice to heal,”
Unfortunately, this evil practice causes devastation and immediate reactions of shock, grief and often accompanied by longer-term feelings of sadness, loss, guilt and fear. People may be unable to come to terms with the painful reality of the event and remain unable to move on in life.
These families and friends need the care and support after the sacrifice of a loved one and when dealing with grief and loss, there are many questions left unanswered.