According to a recent BBC report, Ugandan children are increasingly targeted in human sacrifice rituals believed to bring wealth, health, and prosperity. For example, in 2008, ritual murders increased 800% from 2007, with most of the victims being children.
The Jubilee Campaign, a UK organization fighting child sacrifice in Uganda, defines child sacrifice as “the act of murdering a child by a witch-doctor or their accomplices in order to use the child’s blood, organs and/or limbs mixed with herbs and other elements in a ritual witchcraft ceremony.” Although the Witchcraft Act of 1957 prohibits this practice, witch-doctors typically organize the abduction and perform the sacrifice in exchange for monetary payment without any threat or fear of criminal prosecution.*
In a 2011 report, the Jubilee Campaign found that:
these ritual sacrifices are offered to appease and invoke the gods or spirits or ancestors to use their supernatural abilities to carry out the wishes of the witch-doctor or his or her clients…[and] [s]ome witch-doctors believe that child sacrifice increases the power of their magic. Their rituals use the blood of victims, along with their body parts like fingers, genitals, or the heart; these are mixed with herbs to make potions or they are used to make charms, amulets or talismans that are given to clients.
In Uganda, it’s widely believed that the shedding of some kind of blood is necessary to celebrate achievements, prevent misfortune, and to keep evil spirits at bay. For example, it’s customary for an animal to be sacrificed when one purchases a new car or builds a home. Despite this tradition and history of sacrifice, human and child sacrifice have no place in Uganda’s history, traditions, or use of traditional healers. Ugandans recognize human and child sacrifice as a criminal act performed by individuals who pose as traditional healers for the purpose of exploiting Ugandan’s religious beliefs to profit financially.
In its 2010 report entitled Uganda: Child Sacrifice Not a Cultural Issue, the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting stated that:
[child sacrifice] has slowly embedded itself within traditional customs, although it is not genuinely related to the local culture. The claim that it falls within Ugandan ‘cultural beliefs’ is just an excuse used by so-called traditional healers to justify their crimes, and by the Ugandan government to avoid taking action. The government tries to minimize the magnitude of the problem, as politicians are afraid of losing votes in a country where witchdoctors yield such influence as to define election results.
The Jubilee Campaign suggests that inadequate legislation and a lack of police resources have hindered efforts to eradicate child sacrifice. For example, between 2006 and 2010, there were 135 arrests relating to human sacrifice, but only 83 cases proceeded to court and only one conviction was secured. Most Ugandans are not even aware that the Witchcraft Act of 1957 exists, but the larger issue is that the victim’s family cannot afford (and often does not have access to a local attorney) the legal costs to prosecute the case.
To address the growing problem of human sacrifice, the Anti-Human Sacrifice and Trafficking Task Force was established in January 2009 by the Inspector General of Police, Maj. Gen. Kale Kayihura (under the leadership of Commissioner Moses Binoga). The Task Force’s roles include: directing, overseeing, and coordinating investigations; intelligence collection; and liaison with, and mobilization of, the general public against human sacrifice. Since its inception, 2,000 police officers have been trained to detect and respond to human trafficking cases. The Task Force has also identified the lack of prosecutions and convictions as two major hindrances to their work.
So what’s next? Among its many recommendations, the Jubilee Campaign believes that new legislation on child sacrifice is paramount to eradicating this grave injustice. According to the Jubilee Campaign, “the Penal Code, the Children’s Act, the Anti-trafficking in Person’s Act, and the Ugandan Constitution are all relevant in prosecuting acts of child sacrifice but they do so as murder. They fail to distinguish that acts of child sacrifice are different to murder in that they have processes and intentions that go beyond the act of homicide.” Moreover, new legislation is needed to separate acts of witchcraft from acts of genuine traditional healers, because the “lack of clear policy on the conduct and operations of witchdoctors makes identifying criminal acts committed under the guise of cultural rituals difficult to categorize and prosecute.” A new law would eliminate this confusion, and establish a clear, firm policy that is useful in securing convictions.
Additionally, the Jubilee Campaign believes that the Ugandan government should establish a new department to coordinate its efforts to combat human and child sacrifice. Establishing this new department would give greater attention to this issue, and signal the government’s commitment to eradicating human and child sacrifice. The Campaign also recommends that the government establish a special court to handle human and child sacrifice prosecutions in order to give special priority to these cases.
Finally, the Jubilee Campaign recommends that the Ugandan government simplify and streamline its human and child sacrifice reporting process, and establish a comprehensive National Action Plan which incorporates community education and awareness programs, and fosters cooperation between the police, the Anti-Human Sacrifice and Trafficking Task Force, and all non-governmental organizations.
For more information, or to support the Jubilee Campaign’s work, please go to http://www.jubileecampaign.co.uk/uganda-campaign.
Here are two short videos from the BBC News report on Child Sacrifice in Uganda. The investigation was conducted in partnership with the Jubilee Campaign, and is the result of many months of undercover work.
* It’s important to note that all witch-doctors are considered traditional healers, but not all traditional healers (or herbalists) are witch-doctors; many traditional healers do not perform human or child sacrifice ceremonies.