Award to combat child 'exorcisms'

Georgina Lock

The Big Lottery Fund has awarded nearly £60,000 to a London-based charity that works to highlight the problem of African children being abused, often under the guise of exorcism.

Recent high-profile cases involving the abuse of African children include 'Adam', the torso of a young boy found in the River Thames in 2001, and the murder of Victoria Climbie.

Most recently, an eight-year-old Hackney girl was beaten and had chilli peppers rubbed in her eyes by adults who claimed she was a witch.

The charity, Africans Unite Against Child Abuse (Afruca), plans to use the lottery grant to run an advocacy project that will combat such practices and promote the welfare of African children across London.

Modupe Debbie Ariyo, the charity's founder, said the issue was of particular concern in London, where anecdotal evidence shows that exorcism is widespread.

There have also been instances of female genital mutilation, as well as children being trafficked for use as sex slaves or domestic servants.

The charity aims to educate African communities about socio-cultural practices that have a negative impact on children.

Churches that carry out exorcisms at the demand of families who believe their children are witches will be targeted by the project. Ariyo said such exorcisms had resulted in "a large number of cases of children being harmed".

Social workers, teachers and policy-makers will also be targeted to improve awareness of the problem.

A spokeswoman for the Big Lottery Fund said Afruca made a number of good points about the pertinence of the project, particularly regarding police investigations, that helped the organisation demonstrate there was a need for its services.

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