Killing Kids for Luck, Money … and the Word of God

There are times I wonder “How does anybody even GET such ideas?”

From the BBC, a report from Uganda:

Schoolchildren are closely watched by teachers and parents as they make their way home from school. In playgrounds and on the roadside are posters warning of the danger of abduction by witch doctors for the purpose of child sacrifice.

The ritual, which some believe brings wealth and good health, was almost unheard of in the country until about three years ago, but it has re-emerged, seemingly alongside a boom in the country’s economy.

The BBC news team

posed as local businessmen and asked around for a witch doctor that could bring prosperity to our local construction company. We were soon introduced to Awali. He led us into a courtyard behind his home, and as if to welcome us he and his helpers wrestled a goat to the ground and slit its throat.

“This animal has been sacrificed to bring luck to us all,” Awali explained. He then demanded a fee of $390 (£250) for the ritual and asked us to return in a few days.

At our next meeting, 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.”

For me, there is something weirdly poignant in the fact that another superstition salesman, Pastor Peter Sewakiryanga of the Kyampisi Childcare Ministries is the often-quoted spokesman in stories on the subject.

Seeing the pitches for donations, and the story-details of 7-year-old victim Allan Ssembatya, puts me in two minds.

One is that child sacrifice is a horrifying thing and any ally is welcome in publicizing and stopping it. So, more power to the Kyampisi Childcare Ministries.

Second, I’m always disturbed at church-based missions in places like Africa. I can never lose the suspicion that some significant part of these campaigns are for the benefit of the organization, or for the benefit of Christianity itself, rather than the victims pictured.

We have started providing free and accessible education to the needy children from the ages of 3 to 10 years. we provide them with basic necessities like clothing, food, scholastic materials, medication and Bible study programs.

I don’t want to speak too strongly against the organization, or its efforts, in case it discourages donors from helping end child sacrifice.

At the same time, I wonder where the donated money goes. How much to this campaign, how much to victims … and how much to the church and further proselytizing?

Because in a sense, if the church makes money off the campaign, or gains influence it uses for its own purposes, it too is sacrificing children.


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  • Avicenna

    In this case the church is quite honestly the lesser of two evils.

    There is no atheist response on a similar scale to the church. Firstly as a group we are too fragmented and disparate to achieve such things. And secondly we are outnumbered (but never outgunned) so we cannot drop the same amount of money on the problem.

    The thing is how do we go around punching witch doctors in the face? It’s simple. We seriously need to start encouraging skeptics in the region to start drumming up support. It will take time but we have to stop this problem at the source. Because in third world countries life and particularly those of children is very cheap.

    It’s very difficult to clear these superstitions out. Only time and indeed punishing these crimes prop[erly works. And it doesn’t help that local politicians may avail themselves of the witch doctor’s services.

  • Aliasalpha

    …fucks sake…

    Whats next? Wearing children’s feet as a pendant for good luck?

    If it brings good luck to bury a child alive under the foundations of a business, how much luck would it bring to bury a witchdoctor alive under the same conditions? I think it should be tried at least once, just to find out…

    • davidct

      I would hope that you could get the very best luck by burying the witch-doctor under the foundation of the outhouse.

  • Ray Moscow

    I remember a similar article in an India newspaper some years ago about a similar practice that still occurred in rural areas: draining a human’s blood for powerful magic, in that case as an anti-snake charm. The victims were generally poor kids that no one was likely to miss.

    It’s the logical consequence of a belief in magic and the complete lack of empathy that some people have for others. Human blood and life is the most powerful mojo they can imagine — and the fact that it’s all imaginary doesn’t stop the very real violence.

    The cure is a mix of common sense, reason (magic isn’t real) and decency (don’t hurt other people to make money).

  • davidct

    Mother Theresa did not become a saint for spending the church’s money on major pain killers (aspirin)for the dying poor. No it was for kicking up major bucks to the home office.

    People are in this world to suffer. That is god’s will and it is a mistake to spend too much good money trying to change that. One has to keep the senior clergy in luxury so that they will not feel out of place in happy land.

  • crissakentavr

    The church encourages this belief in witches and demons, thereby making the situation worse. It’s not like the church is saying these things aren’t real – they do the opposite.

    If you want to disempower something, you can’t be saying that it’s real at the same time you say it’s false.

    In many places, the only people finding these child sacrifices are missionaries… Which leads me to wonder if they’re true reports or not.

  • Irwin

    Child sacrifice as well as child witchcraft accusations have been part and parcel of African religious life for many centuries. It ties in with the widespread belief that witchcraft is the cause of all evil and misfortune while the right sacrifices and rituals can bring blessing and fortune. Witchcraft is the use of magical powers to bring about destruction while witchdoctors claim to overcome the evils of witchcraft and bring fortune and blessing using magical charms and medicines. Throughout Africa it is believed that the most powerful charms contain human body parts as somehow the life-force of the victim is harnessed and used to make the owner of the charm prosper. The underlying motivation is human greed to the extend of being willing to sacrifice another human being for one’s personal gain. Before condemning the Africans too harshly, we must also look at our own societies, our defence industry flourishes because of the deaths of other human beings, our economies flourish because of our protectionist policies and strict immigration controls so that we do not need to share our wealth with the majority world. These and other policies sacrifice millions of children’s lives every year. Being a theologian in Africa I am concerned about the dubious role of the church as well. While I applaud every effort to help children in danger, I do question the uncritical embrace by many churches of the same magical world view. Unlike other commentators I am not an atheist at all, but I do not believe in a God that leaves humanity to the mercy of magical powers, evil spirits and the like. One may argue that one finds some references to such things in the Bible but a careful study will reveal that the Bible writers considered such things a fraud and while they affirmed the existence of demons and the devil, the responsibility for evil is put solely at humanities feet. The demons and devil are portrayed as the source of temptation and deceit and the source of dehumanization and hatred, but it is up to humankind to resist and overcome such impulses by doing good. We are not the helpless victims of demonic forces, nor are we called to engage in some semi-magical Lord-of-the-Rings style spiritual warfare, but rather focus on practically doing something about the evils in this world, that includes resisting such evils as child sacrifice, but it also includes resisting the magical notions that give rise to the underlying beliefs, both in the church and in society. It also includes addressing sacrificing millions of people on the altars of the defence industry, protectionism and immigration barriers.

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