The significant rise in cases of witchcraft allegations and persecution in the UK has been attributed to the activities of African – especially Nigerian – churches in the country.
Gary Foxcroft, Executive Director of the Witchcraft and Human Rights Information Network, said in a statement Monday that the churches are growing at a phenomenal rate across the UK.
“Most of them are branches of large mega churches from Africa,” said Mr. Foxcroft.
“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 woman 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.”
Cases of witchcraft allegations and persecution have risen in the UK over the last two years, according to a BBC investigation.
The Metropolitan Police said there had been 60 crimes linked to belief in witchcraft and spirit possession in London so far this year, with reports doubling 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, the police stated.
Experts, however, believe that the statistics represent the tip of the iceberg of a widespread phenomenon, with human rights campaigners calling for the UK government to do more to regulate faith groups, many of whom are believed to be behind such practices.
Mr. Foxcroft linked cases of witchcraft allegations and persecution to Christian and Muslim faith group where children, women, and the disabled are often labelled as witches or possessed by evil spirits, and then forced to undergo ‘deliverance’ or ‘exorcism’ ceremonies, often for a fee.
“There are a number of challenges to overcome to put a stop to this practice,” Mr. Foxcroft said.
“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.”
Mr. Foxcroft said whilst the Home Office had 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 stop pastors who commit acts of terror on children.
“Preventing such people from entering the UK therefore needs to be prioritized,” he said.
“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.”
Other human rights campaigners have also focused on the importance of challenging the beliefs that lead to children and other vulnerable groups being labelled as witches.
Leo Igwe, a human rights activist, said that any initiative to tackle the 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,” said Mr. Igwe, who has worked to raise awareness of the issues facing vulnerable people accused of witchcraft in Africa and Europe.
“Religion or multiculturalism is not, and should not be, an excuse to condone harmful practices in Africa or in migrant communities in the UK.”