Child Sacrifice Scourge Alarms North

Forty children have died as a result of ritual killings this year alone – but no-one has been convicted for the crimes.

Child Sacrifice Scourge Alarms North

Forty children have died as a result of ritual killings this year alone – but no-one has been convicted for the crimes.

Friday, 17 July, 2009

The Ugandan parliament is in the process of drafting a law that will make the ritualistic sacrifice of children, which is not specifically defined in local law, a capital offence.

It comes amid concerns that some of the growing numbers of abducted children in the north of the country may have been killed in this way.

Local authorities say that child abduction is becoming an increasing concern for parents in northern Uganda who are trying to rebuild their villages following two decades of devastating war and conflict.

According to the inspector general of police, Kale Kaiyhura, there were 318 reported cases of child abduction in Uganda in 2008, up from 230 in 2006.

“We are yet to unearth the reason behind the missing children,” said Christopher Uchamgiu, the head of Lira's police investigation unit. “The police are increasingly focusing their energies on ritual murders.”

According to James Ongom, a police investigating officer, 40 children have died as a result of ritual killings this year alone. Out of these cases, 15 have so far been investigated, but not one has resulted in legal proceedings, according to Ongom.

Raymond Otim, Lira district police chief, says that almost all cases of child sacrifice have revolved around witchcraft.

Despite the growing problem of child sacrifice in the north, law enforcers complain that it is very difficult to catch and punish offenders.

“Nobody has yet been caught red-handed sacrificing a child," Rebecca Otengo, a legislator from Lira, said. "Since a person remains innocent until proven guilty, this makes it extremely difficult to prosecute child murderers."

Last month, a witchdoctor suspected of participating in the ritual murder of a two-year-old child was acquitted of all charges for lack of evidence.

On July 2, the mutilated remains of a one-year-old child were discovered in Loro village, about 35 kilometres from Lira northern town.

According to police reports, the child, who had been reported missing on June 25, was found dead with a severe cut on the neck and some body parts missing.

“We found footsteps of a man suspected of having stolen the baby, but we failed to track him down,” said Geoffrey Ogwal, father of the deceased.

“When it comes to child sacrifice, we need a lot of evidence to make an allegation, but sometimes it’s really hard to get evidence or to apprehend the culprit,” said Otim.

Another serious problem is that Ugandan law does not specifically define the crime of child sacrifice, which means it’s up to individual judges whether they treat it as murder. But under new legislation, it will be regarded as a capital offence.

As well as reforming the law, Lira resident district commissioner Joan Pacoto says it is important to educate parents about the dangers of child abduction.

“I encourage local councils, parents, neighbours and religious leaders to be more vigilant in inquiring about children who go missing,” he said. “We should warn children about child kidnapping and child sacrifice in the same way that they are being warned about sexual abuse and AIDS. This would make them alert to the dangers of being lured away or being kidnapped.”

Meanwhile, the need for a revision of the law on child sacrifice is underlined by concerns over vigilante justice.

Local police say that there is already evidence of villagers taking the law into their own hand and. In recent weeks, they say, ten people in northern and central Uganda have been stoned, shot or beaten by angry mobs who have accused them of participating in child sacrifice.

Police officers attribute these killings to trauma caused by the brutal LRA attacks on civilians over the past two decades, which has created a culture in which people are quick to turn to violence.

Bill Oketch is an IWPR-trained reporter.

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