Documentary Shows Child-Witch Stigmatisation Still Occurring in UK Churches

That act from pastors pointing the fingers, pronouncing in front of the congregation that the child is a witch, we are pressing for that to be recognised as abuse. Because emotional abuse starts from that point.

That’s a quote from Romain Matondo of the Congolese Family Centre in London, speaking on tonight’s Channel 4 Dispatches documentary on “Britain’s witch-children”, and the programme gives plenty of reasons to take the suggestion seriously. The problem of children being accused of witchcraft in certain African churches in the UK has been hughlighted before, and it played a role in the notorious murder of Victoria Climbié in 2000. There was also a BBC documentary in 2006, which I blogged here. However, the new programme tells us that “the practice of branding children as witches has quietly continued”, and according to Debbie Ariyo of Africans Unite Against Child Abuse, only “the tip of the iceberg” has come to light.

The programme explores several churches where child “deliverance” takes place, using undercover footage. A young  journalist named Juliana Oladipo agreed to pose as a difficult teenager being brought to church by her mother; in each case witchcraft is diagnosed as the problem, and aggressive exorcism prescribed as the cure.

First, they go to the Tower of Refuge Ministry in Tottenham, where Pastor Godwin Obed performs deliverance; the second church featured is the Faith and Victory Church, run by a certain Pastor Mwembe Morea (not sure about spelling). Morea explains that in 2005 he met a 12-year-old girl who told him that

she’s a great queen in the kingdom of darkness. She stated that she is a witch and she had a mission to kill her step-mum.

Morea also teaches that children can become infected with witchcraft by eating poisoned food, and that they fly on sticks and umbrellas. However, Morea is also a sexual predator, and there is an interview with a young woman named Kay. Kay’s father was suffering from kidney failure, and Morea explained to her that it was because she was a witch. The cure? Sex with Morea, 21 times.

Next, we meet someone I’ve blogged about several times before now: Kenyan “Archbishop” Gilbert Deya, who astonishingly has still not been extradited to Kenya for his part in the tragic “miracle babies” scam. I noted his obsession with witches back in 2004, and his teaching on the subject:

With my experience of witches who killed my brother Wilson in 1979, I know how dangerous they are. They can destroy families and wipe out generations. Many people have suffered because their ignorance of witches and witchcraft. The witches have been destroying some Christians, destroying their marriages, jobs, peace in the family and killing people with incurable diseases.

According to Dispatches, he still has 34,000 followers, and his ministry is the fastest-growing in the UK. At Deya’s church, a woman pastor tells the congregation that witches need human blood to perform rituals. To get the blood, they

set up accidents at junctions, they set up women in hospitals.

Witches can be found “all over the place” causing misfortune, and another pastor at the church urges members to donate £700:

You can afford it, the devil has been killing your family members

Oladipo is brought before a certain Pastor James, who explains that a person can be contaminated by witchcraft by any kind of contact, including through the phone. He asks for a donation in order to “deliver” her – he doesn’t give a fee, although suggests £1,000, and recalls that in one case £12,000 was donated just for a chat. The undercover journalists hand over £170 – this is enough for a “deliverance” session, although the pastor takes a call on his mobile phone while conducting the ceremony. The programme also shows scenes of a general deliverance session at the church, including children looking obviously frightened and upset.

The programme also details the Church of Christ in Mission, led by a certain Dieudonné Tukala. A woman named Fifi Mayingi explained that she had been abused and abandoned by her husband after Tukala told him that she and their children were witches; the husband then killed himself out of guilt. Tukala tells the woman posing as Oladipo’s mother that someone blew on her head while she was on holiday in Nigeria, and this has contaminated her with witchcraft.

The experience of her various deliverances is something of an eye-opener for Oladipo, who is dismayed that “nobody’s speaking out”. However, she also acknowledges that there is a great fear and reluctance to challenge the authority of a “man of God”.

Of course, the programme had its limitations: something could have been said about the churches and pastors who have put in place child protection measures, and it should be remembered that the manipulation of spiritual fears in order to abuse is also known in other contexts (see Roland Howard’s book Charismania for some examples).

The Independent newspaper has an article to accompany the programme, with a quote from Joe Aldred:

There are more than 4,000 African churches in Britain, serving half a million people. “At the moment you can set up a church anywhere, any time … in the same way we wouldn’t tolerate somebody setting themselves up as a lawyer or surgeon without proper training and regulation, we shouldn’t expose the souls of people to anybody who happens to think they can set up a church,” said Bishop Dr Joe Aldred, secretry of minority ethnic Christian affairs at Churches Together in England.

The problem with Aldred’s solution is that such regulation would be impossible to enforce: far better simply to firm up the law to recognise witch-accusations as abusive and as incitement to abuse – and for church leaders with standing in the African community to speak out firmly against the pastors stigmatising children as witches. In 2007, the Evangelical Alliance issued a statement:

The Evangelical Alliance unreservedly condemns all forms of child abuse, and considers any accusation of witchcraft levelled at a child to be abusive, immoral and unbiblical.

This is in line with our previous statements on this issue, and we strongly contest any suggestions that the activities of Pastor Dieudonne Tukala are associated more broadly with black African evangelical churches, or that this is part of a growing church trend.

…”The African and Caribbean Evangelical Alliance has been working with black majority churches to address the issue, and has developed model child protection policies for their use.

“Since the Climbie enquiry, we have ensured that our member churches and organisations demonstrate a clear commitment to child safety.”

ACEA is also continuing pro-active multi-agency work with organisations including Churches Together in England, the Churches Child Protection Advisory Service, African anti-child abuse organisation AFRUCA, DfES and NSPCC on this issue…

Excellent sentiments, but clearly a more proactive strategy is needed. Pastors in the UK or abroad who stigmatise children as witches need to be rebuked and rejected by their peers, and efforts should be undertaken to educate churchgoers about the subject. It would be nice not to have to still be blogging about this subject in another four years.

Clicking the logo below would be a start…

Child-Witch Stigmatisation in UK Churches to be Highlighted by Channel 4 Tonight

Channel 4 Dispatches is tonight broadcasting a documentary on child-witch accusations in churches in the UK (8pm, or 9pm on Channel 4+1). From the blurb:

Dispatches goes undercover in some African churches in the UK, where evangelical pastors perpetuate a strong belief in witchcraft. They preach that some people are possessed by evil spirits, and that these spirits bring bad luck into the lives of others.

The only way to rid the possessed from the witchcraft spell and lift their curse is to ‘deliver’ them: a kind of exorcism that can be very traumatic. Some pastors charge significant sums of money to perform these deliverances.

Often it is children who are denounced as witches by these pastors, and this labelling can lead to the physical and emotional abuse of those children at the hands of their families. In extreme cases it has led to the deaths of some children.

In parts of Africa, branding a child a witch is now outlawed, but in Britain this practise is perfectly legal, despite the fact it can have horrific consequences.

Dispatches reveals just what goes on behind closed doors in these African churches, exposing the pastors who exploit the religious beliefs of the most vulnerable.

This comes in the wake of two Dispatches documentaries on child-witch stigmatisation in Nigeria (see here and here; the first was also shown in the USA in May). However, the UK context also got some attention in a BBC documentary in 2006, which I blogged on here. That programme concentrated on churches with links to Congo.