BBC Doc Highlights Continuing Abuse of Children Accused of Witchcraft in Congo

BBC Three has broadcast a documentary entitled Branded a Witch, in which young British mother of Congolese heritage named Kevani Kanda visited Congo to see the consequences of child-witch accusations in the country. The statistics are grim: 50,000 children held in churches for abusive “deliverance” sessions, and 20,000 living in the streets after being thrown out by relatives who believe that they are the cause of misfortune or ill-health. As the programme notes, the problem is the result of years of chaos and conflict in the country, which have led to the distortion of traditional beliefs.

The film included visits to two churches in Kinshasa where children are accused of witchcraft and subjected to “deliverance”; at the first, the pastor explained how he chooses which children are witches, and he introduced a teenage-aged girl – obviously traumatised and unable to speak – who he explained had eaten her mother:

These two children have bad works inside them. The Holy Spirit has revealed that these kids have been possessed by witchcraft. Others haven’t eaten anyone yet, but this one, she ate her mother. The Spirit is like the wind, it is not something you can see.

One boy at the church explained that deliverance had cured him of bed-wetting.

At another church, a five-year-old boy is subjected to a distressing ordeal to remove a “witchcraft telephone” from inside him, by which he supposedly communicates with other witches: the crying and terrified boy, standing before a group of women, is repeatedly smacked, force-fed hot palm oil, starved for three days, and given a palm-oil enema and then not allowed to relieve himself. According to the female pastor:

It’s going to be like that because when you are hitting him like this, his going to feel pain because the thing that has been placed in him is being removed and when it’s being removed he has to feel pain, because it’s a foreign object in his body. So of course he will cry. The Holy Spirit will look at him and see he really has witchcraft, that he has already started killing people and he has started drinking people’s blood.

Accusing a child in this way is actually illegal in Congo now, but the pastor is unconcerned:

I am not afraid of anything. I don’t think God would let someone come and arrest me.

Ten to twelve children are brought to the church for such treatment each week.

Neither church was identified in the programme, although both appeared to be small and ramshackle. Church members wore distinctive items of clothing; at the first, a while sash marked with red crosses, and at the second, white dresses with gold trimmings and blue head-scarves. There did not appear to be any connection to wider neo-Pentecostal networks, which was a subject I raised in relation to Congo here.

Kanda also spoke to the victims of witchcraft accusations: they included a teenage girl who had gone to primary school in London but had been sent back to Congo by relatives; two young children who had been badly burnt by a relative, and were now living in a hostel for accused children; and her own cousin, who had been cast out by her family – Kanda expressed frustration with her relatives’ deep belief in witchcraft and their willingness to disown an “infected” family member.

In Paris, Kandy met with the sister of Kristy Bamu, who had been tortured and murdered by another sister and her partner in London, and she concludes:

If we don’t do more to promote the idea that calling a child a witch is totally unacceptable, we may well end up with another case like Kristy Bamu, murdered in the bath on Christmas Day.

I’ve expressed the same sentiment, in relation to child-witch accusation in Nigeria; some pastors who promote the belief in “child witches” claim that their deliverance sessions are mild and beneficial, but to make such an accusation is always abusive –  and the concept is always going to lead to pointless tragedies.

The programme also mentioned other cases in the UK, and the problem of child-witch stigmatisation in Britain was highlighted by a Channel 4 documentary in 2010. There was also a reference to “Adam”, the  boy whose dismembered torso was found by the Thames in 2001. However, as noted previously, this murder is a different issue which ought not to be conflated with “child witches”.

6 Responses

  1. i watched this programme last night, i was horrified, the ‘deliverance’ of the young boy had me in tears to the point i had to turn it off and only put it back on as i felt i needed to watch it in full to have an educated opinion on it. it was child abuse, horrific and i am disgusted that the film crew/presenter did NOTHING to help the boy. this kind of abuse might be happening everywhere, but the crew were there in that church watching a child being abused! this documentary will haunt me for the rest of my life because of that. to think that if that child isn’t dead before he is adult he will know that the whole of the UK and more had seen him abused and didn’t intervene. bringing this subject to the public eye is one thing but airing what they did to that poor child is sick. i don’t know how they can live with themselves.

    • This programme has changed my life forever!!

      I was baptised in the Vineyard Church, St. albans U.K, this Sunday gone19-5-13……………The Witchcraft doc couldnt be more symbolic.

      I was in an amazed good feeling bubble about the whole experience and then – BAM i watched the withcraft doc.

      I feel utterly sick and deeply upset by what I saw and like I expect everyone else that watched it – i too wanted to switch over.
      If I had have switched off – I like the rest of the world will remain ignorant to what abuse really goes on in so called unnessessary deliverences.

      I wanted to to take her out of the tent and p[our hot oil into her with the same treatment!
      That’s not what true Christians believe or act out.

      My heart poured out to all bust mostly for the five year old boy, his poor defenseless face will stay with me forever. I only wish I can do something. I will at least make an attempt to raise more awareness in prevention of these dispicible and disgusting acts

      I was bawling my eyes out saying stop it! Stop! Again I knew why the filmcrew didnt stop but could not understand any intervening didnt take place.

      Have they ever stopped to wonder that some of these poor kids may have underlining special needs that has layed undetected? nether the less its the 21st century.

      I believe it is a scapegoat reason, poverty – must be your fault! bad luck, its barbaric and needs to be stopped!
      I cuddled my little 2 year old boy so hard the next morning.

  2. […] The branding of children as “witches” by pastors in places like the Democratic Republic of the Congo continues. The BBC has a new documentary where a British citizen who was born in the DRC finds out her cousin has been accused of witchcraft and races to find her. Quote: “Journeying from her home in London to her birthplace in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kevani tries to discover how ancient traditions have been hijacked in the name of Jesus, why families are singling out vulnerable children and hurting them and why toddlers are having to endure excruciating rituals in order to ‘rid them of demons’.” It should be noted that branding children as witches is illegal in the Congo now, but the pastors seem unconcerned. […]

  3. I cried like a baby watching this doc. That poor little boys face will haunt me for the rest of my life. What sickens me the most is that I know that it is happening to other children right now and nothing is being done. Those poor children are being abused and the people doing it don’t care that it is illegal, they really believe they are getting rid of demons. Pure ignorance if you ask me.
    I hugged my 4 year old boy so much I cried the next day. It is half term so he is home from school, if it was a school day I’d have kept him home anyway as I just wanted him next to me all day. It is heartbreaking to think of anyone hurting a child like that, and now I have seen it being filmed, I will never forget it.
    If I had millions of extra pounds like alot of rich people do, I’d be doing everything I could to rescue those poor kids. And if I had the room I’d take them into my home. I cannot praise the young woman enough for enduring the things she saw during filming, and some were her own family too.
    Heartbreaking……just pure heartbreaking

  4. […] BBC Doc Highlights Continuing Abuse of Children Accused of Witchcraft in Congo ( […]

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