Following BBC investigation findings that cases of witchcraft  accusations have risen significantly in the UK in the last two years,  human rights campaigners have called for the UK Government to do more to  regulate faith groups, many of whom are believed to be behind such  practices.

Gary Foxcroft, Founder of the Witchcraft and Human Rights Information Network

The Metropolitan Police said there had been 60 crimes linked to belief  in witchcraft and spirit possession in London so far this year. It saw  reports double from 23 in 2013 to 46 in 2014. More widely, in local  councils across the UK, recorded cases rose from 10 in 2012, to 21 in  2013 and 31 in 2014. Given the nature of the crime, these statistics are  believed by experts to represent the ‘tip of the iceberg’ of a  widespread phenomenon. Such cases have been widely linked to the Christian and Muslim faith  groups where children, women and the disabled are often labelled as  being witches or possessed by evil spirits and then forced to undergo  “deliverance” or “exorcism” ceremonies, often for a fee.

According to the Executive Director of the Witchcraft and Human Rights  Information Network (WHRIN), Gary Foxcroft: “There are a number of  challenges to overcome to put a stop to this practice. The first is at a  national policy level there is a complete lack of regulation of the  people and practices that are behind these cases. The fact is that most  cases primarily arise due to the practices of faith leaders, often in  Pentecostal churches. These churches are growing at a phenomenal rate  across the UK and most are branches of large mega churches from Africa.  Some of these churches are known to promote the idea that children can  be witches. Indeed the head of one of the biggest churches in Africa was  captured on YouTube slapping a young women and calling her a witch. 

There is currently no regulation in place to stop such people from  entering the UK and establishing churches. This is clearly something  that the government needs to address”. Foxcroft further commented: “Whilst the Home Office has been focusing  strongly on preventing Islamic or far-right extremists from entering the  UK to spread their hate speech, more needs to be done to prevent such  pastors entering the UK and spreading their messages of hate that lead  to acts of terror being carried on children and vulnerable people.  Preventing such people from entering the UK therefore needs to be  prioritised.

Additionally, any places of worship found to be promoting  such beliefs and practices in the UK should be shut down and have their  assets seized. The Charity Commission in particular needs to show  stronger leadership here. Finally, at the local level awareness and  understanding is lacking amongst frontline staff. Most practitioners  that we have trained express how they find the beliefs in witchcraft and  subsequent methods used to deal with them, such as deliverances or  exorcisms, deeply challenging issues to work on. Much more needs to be  done to address this gap and WHRIN believes that all social workers,  police and child protection should receive training on these issues if  more cases are to be prevented.” Other campaigners have also focused on the need for more work to be done  to challenge the beliefs that lead to children and other vulnerable  groups being accused of witchcraft.

Indeed, according to Nigerian Human  Rights Campaigner, Leo Igwe, who has worked to raise awareness of the  issue facing vulnerable people accused of witchcraft in Africa and  Europe: “Any initiative to tackle this problem must include a program  that educates and enlightens people to understand that children  cannot be witches. The belief that they cause misfortune through  witchcraft or magic is mistaken and must be abandoned. Religion or  multiculturalism is not, and should not be, an excuse to condone harmful  practices in Africa or in migrant communities in the UK.”
 

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