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Africa

Children sacrificed in Uganda to bring wealth and power

media Government and NGOs' campaign against Child sacrifice © DR

At least six cases of mutilation and murder of children as "good luck" sacrifices have been reported in the past months in Uganda. Several children disappeared in the run-up to the general election and immediately after the February 18 polls.

According to people in Uganda who have been working on this issue, child sacrifice is widespread, was happening long before the elections and throughout the country.

People go to traditional healers, or witch doctors, hoping their lives will improve thanks to sacrifices like these.

"People sacrifice children with the belief that they will get wealth and protection. So they will stab children, use their body organs or genitals or ears or tongue - cut them off and mix them with witchcraft practices with the belief that this will help them out," Peter Sewarkiryanga, the founder and director of Kyampisi Childcare Ministries, an NGO which works with survivors of attempted child sacrifice, told RFI

He explained this practice was above all an economic issue.

"Another example: people building huge construction sites burry children alive under the buildings, or cut off the heads and bury them under hte building, hoping the constructions will be successfull."

He said that when people are very poor and desperate, they tend to turn to this kind of practice. 

However, there's another issue. Albino children have long been targets as well. The UN warned that attacks on albino people were on the rise in Africa.

So the worry is that this could be linked to political candidates who believe that albino body parts could help them during elections.

"There was an issue in Tanzania where albino people had been attacked. And then the government of Tanzania cracked down on healers and witch doctors. So there was a huge exodus of some of these witch doctors to Uganda," said Peter Sewarkiryanga.

He explained that because they were not controlled, they were able to advertise themselves on the radio and then were they able to attract a lot of people.

"And the children, they're mainly attacked because they are vulnerable, and albino children are deemed to be more pure. It's a lie that has taken our country and we need to move very fast and deal with this issue."

But he was adamant about the fact that he could not for sure say that the recent sacrifices were linked to politics.

But because people still believe in the power of healers and no one knows the real number of victims, it can be hard to prevent this from happening. That is why activists say prevention campaigns need to become more and more agressive.

Especially when traditional healers and witch doctors remain very popular.

"Some people have never seen a modern hospital, and some people who would never want to go to a modern facility to seek treatment... They'd rather go to traditional healer to get that, people still believe in that so much.

"When it comes to issues such as, someone seeking love, or children... of course you can't get these in a hospital, these are things you ask for to a traditional healer," Kato Nkimba, a researcher who worked on a World Vision report on Child Sacrifice in Uganda.

He explained that people end up engaging ithese practices, which perhaps they may not want to do, but they find themselves having to do it anyway.

"It's quite popular. And I wouldn't say it's only popular with people who are not educated, even the elite themselves believe in it, that's why we've heard about what could have happened with politicians during the elections."

Not only is it still common and popular, but he also pointed out that the police don't have the ressources and unfortunately, cases collapse because people are scared about giving evidence and so on.

"People really need to be sensitized, that's the first thing. They need to be made aware that you cannot get rich, you cannot get love or things like that by going to a witch doctor," said Kato Nkimba.

According to him, the issue of child sacrifice needs to be 'de-mystified' so that people get to know the truth and stop believing in such practices.

"But above all, we need to strenghten our legal systems, because frankly they are really weak. After some research on police statistics, we found that over the past at least 10 years, only two people had been convicted. That tells us that there are some loopholes in our legal system."

He said that corruption was part of the problem as well. But according to him, without corruption and with a stronger legal system, this could be stopped.

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