BBC Report on Human Sacrifice in Uganda Claims UK Link

A few days ago the BBC broadcast “The Witch Doctors’ Children” as part of its Our World strand; parts of the programme, which was presented by Chris Rogers, previously went out last week as segments on Newsnight. The documentary focused on Uganda, and covered child human sacrifice, the use of human body parts in juju rituals, and child trafficking to the UK.

The programme made more of a case than Newsnight’s 2010 report on the subject, which relied on the dubious confession of an ex-witch doctor turned Christian and which left a number of questions hanging. This time, there was some hard evidence: this included an account of Allan, a boy who had narrowly survived a sacrifice attempt with serious injuries; interviews with bereaved relatives in Mukono District, where the problem is most severe; and  – most crucially – secret filming in which a village witch doctor offered to acquire a child and perform a sacrifice.

A tie-in BBC report here describes what happened:

…Awali invited us into his shrine, which is traditionally built from mud bricks with a straw roof. Inside, the floor is littered with herbs, face masks, rattles and a machete.

The witch doctor explained that this meeting was to discuss the most powerful spell – the sacrifice of a child.

“There are two ways of doing this,” he said. “We can bury the child alive on your construction site, or we cut them in different places and put their blood in a bottle of spiritual medicine.”

Awali grabbed his throat. “If it’s a male, the whole head is cut off and his genitals. We will dig a hole at your construction site, and also bury the feet and the hands and put them all together in the hole.”

…Awali boasted he had sacrificed children many times before and knew what he was doing. After this meeting, we withdrew from the negotiations.

We handed our notes to the police. Awali is still a free man.

Allan had previously identified Awali as the man who had tried to kill him; Awali had been arrested but released without charge. I hope there’s some follow-up to this.

The programme also featured testimonies from children who have been trafficked to the UK and whose blood and hair have been forcibly extracted  for ritual use; it seems that these materials may have reached some the African spiritual healers who advertise in London newspapers:

Witch-doctors, or traditional spiritual healers as they prefer to be known, are becoming more prominent in Britain.

Many offer “life changing rituals”, involving prayer and herbs. A price tag of £350 ($547) would not be uncommon.

But there are some who engage in more sinister practices.

Posing as a couple with financial problems, I visited 10 witch-doctors. All offered herbal potions to end our money worries, but two also made the offer of a ritual involving human blood.

One healer produced a bottle, which was found to contain “human blood, as well as excrement and chemicals”.

Less clear, though, is the extent of the problems documented in the programme. According to the BBC:

The Anti-Human Sacrifice Police Task Force, launched in response to the growing numbers, says the ritual murder rate has slowed, citing a figure of 38 cases since 2006.

Pastor Sewakiryanga disputes the police numbers, and says there are more victims from his parish than official statistics for the entire country.

The work of the police task force has been strongly criticised by the UK-based charity, Jubilee Campaign.

It says in a report that the true number of cases is in the hundreds, and claims more than 900 cases have yet to be investigated by the police because of corruption and a lack of resources.

However, while the “900 cases” figure is cited by the Jubliee Campaign, it’s not the source – the report in turn refers to “newspaper reports” from May 2010, specifically an item from a newspaper called the Weekly Message News. This is not available on-line, so can’t be independently assessed.

The material on trafficking, it seemed to me, seemed to risk conflating two separate issues, and this wasn’t helped by the editing. The intro to the programme included the following (from 00:55):

Rogers voice-over on footage of witch-doctor: We expose the witch doctors who offer child sacrifice.

Cut to Rogers listening to voice on phone: …even if you want a hundred, no problem for me.

Rogers: A hundred children? OK.

Rogers voice-over on footage of child trafficker: We uncover the traffickers who abduct children to meet the demand for witch doctors in Africa and abroad.

The casual viewer might think that Rogers was on the phone to the witch-doctor, when in fact the “hundred children” figure has come from the child-trafficker (a certain Yunus Kabul). Further, although Rogers explained that the trafficker “claims to have been selling children for use by witch-doctors”, we don’t see the trafficker say that himself and it was by no means clear that witch-doctors were his primary clients.

As for the UK, the BBC reports that:

Figures compiled by Ecpat, combined with those of the Metropolitan Police and Ceop, the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre, show that at least 400 African children have been abducted and trafficked to the UK and rescued by the British authorities.

…According to a US State Department report, Uganda has become one of the main source countries for children to be bought and smuggled to Britain. Some 9,000 children have gone missing in the country over the past four years.

The “9,000 children” figure, according to the programme (3:15), comes from a 2010 Ugandan government report; somewhat sloppily, this becomes the “US report” on the website. Rogers states that “many are thought to have been trafficked for juju rituals, including child sacrifice”, although it’s not clear if that conclusion was also part of the report. The testimonies of rescued children speak for themselves, but the programme did not establish now much child trafficking from Africa involves witch-doctors.

The programme also referenced the case of “Adam”, the murdered Nigerian boy whose torso was found by the Thames in 2001, and Rogers says (14:57) that there have been “other cases” of human sacrifice in the UK – I suspect that Rogers is here repeating the mistake, which I discussed here, of conflating sacrifice with the killing of children believed to be witches.