Witchcraft child abuse cases have risen by a third in two years, as experts blame “cultural sensitivity” and “political correctness” as barriers to protecting children.
Abuse of children based on faith or belief – which includes witchcraft, spirit possession and black magic – increased from 1,460 to 1,950 cases between 2016/17 and 2018/19.
This marks an increase of 34 per cent, with councils dealing with the equivalent of 38 such cases a week.
The figures, published today by the Local Government Association (LGA) also show that the number of children identified by councils through a social work assessment as either having or being at risk of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) has reached a record high – with 1,000 such cases in 2018/19, up 6 per cent on the 940 cases in the previous year.
This comes after a trial at the Old Bailey earlier this year which saw a woman who mutilated her three-year-old daughter become the first person in the UK to be found guilty of FGM.
Responding to the figures, Nimco Ali OBE, co-founder and CEO of The Five Foundation, the global partnership to end FGM said: “this is so depressing”.
She added that while there is increasing awareness in reporting the issue, there is also a cultural sensitivity, political correctness and fear of being accused of racism when it comes to authorities confronting the issues of witchcraft and FGM which occur predominantly among West African communites which have increasingly high birth rates.
“I’m so angered by these figures,” she said. “For so long the political power that black people have has been dismissed… People are scared to tackle FGM and witchcraft as they’re scared of being accused of racism - but it’s racist to ignore it.
“It’s more racist to look away… It really hurts that we still have to tell people that black kids need protecting.”
The National FGM Centre, a joint initiative between the LGA and Barnardo’s, says both sets of figures are hugely worrying, of significant national concern and probably don’t reflect the true prevalence of this “hidden” crime.
The LGA said that council social workers have become better at identifying cases, and that the work of the National FGM Centre – which provides services for children and their families affected by FGM and abuse linked to faith or belief - is vital.
Lisa Oakley, Chair of the National Working Group for child abuse linked to faith or belief/ Associate Professor University of Chester, said that the LGA figures were “concerning” and added that they may be “under-estimations”.
“The figures do demonstrate the need for more effective education, awareness, prevention, intervention and response,” she said.
“To develop these in the area of child abuse linked to faith and belief requires significant financial investment , which is not currently in place.”
The mother of a three-year-old girl has become the first person to be convicted ofFGM in the UK, following a failed bid to "shut up" her accusers with witchcraft.
The Ugandan woman, 37, and her Ghanaian partner, 43, both from Walthamstow, east London, were accused of cutting their daughter over the 2017 summer bank holiday.
Forty limes and other fruit were found with pieces of paper with names written on them stuffed inside, including those of police officers and a social worker involved in the investigation.
The spells and curses intended to deter police and social workers from investigating were found at the Ugandan woman's home, the trial heard. Police also found two cow tongues bound in wire with nails and a small blunt knife embedded in them when searching the Ugandan woman’s home.
There was also a jar with a picture of a social worker in pepper found hidden behind the toilet in the bathroom.
Leethen Bartholomew, Head of the National FGM Centre, said: “There are many reasons why a child might be accused of witchcraft or that they are possessed by an evil spirit. When people are experiencing "misfortunes" such as poverty, ill physical health or have mental health needs a child could be blamed for this.
“There are a number of factors as to why local authorities are discovering more cases. The National FGM Centre is providing more training for Local Authorities and communities in England which has lead to an increased awareness around the issue, enabling professionals and communities to better identify cases.”
The LGA said the next government needs to ensure councils have the funding needed to continue to take effective action to keep children safe from harm and abuse.