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“…they say if you don’t sacrifice a child while constructing a big building, you will not live in that house for long because the gods will be demanding until you finally die…”

Child Sacrifice has turned into a business

There is growing concern among the Ugandan public and child protection practitioners about the persistent reports of child sacrifice and trafficking which are manifested through kidnaps, abduction, murder and disappearance of children.

The heinous practice of child sacrifice has been linked to a range of other forms of child abuses including trafficking, kidnap and abduction.

It is believed that the practice of child sacrifice has slowly turned into a clandestine business involving traditional healers and business men. Both parties are after obtaining quick wealth.

Child Sacrifice in Uganda has been identified by the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development, National Council for Children, Ministry of Internal Affairs and other line ministries as well as Civil Society as a major child protection concern that demands more public attention.

The problem of child sacrifice is promoted by economic, social and structural factors including: desire for wealth, poverty, trickery by traditional healers, spiritual superstitious beliefs, lack of a regulatory framework for traditional healers and inadequate mechanisms for child protection at the community and family levels.

Kidnapping of Children for Sacrifice

It is believed that child sacrifice incidents usually involve collaboration between two or more parties. These parties include the person intending to sacrifice, an agent contracted to identify and kidnap or traffic a child, and a ritual facilitator, who is almost in all cases claims to be a traditional healer - 'witchdoctor' or spiritualist with supernatural powers.

The high returns from traditional healing have attracted people seeking work to join the business. Traditional healing in Uganda is an informal profession, without any checks and balances.

Additionally, it is also believed that the communities place a lot of trust in traditional healers, especially those who charge exorbitantly.

“For us who have been in the practice of healing for a long time we know that people no longer value the help they get from traditional healers who charge little money. They think traditional healers in Kampala who charge UGX 3 million are the ones who are effective”.  (FGD Traditional Healers, Masaka)

Poverty is an underlying factor

Poverty was identified as a factor underlying the growing wave of child sacrifice. People who are trapped in the poverty cycle, with little or no hope of escaping their circumstances, are easily lured into kidnapping children for sacrifice.

Discussions with the respondents revealed that poor people accept to connive with traditional healers and business men.

The role of the poor in child sacrifice rituals is to identify and kidnap children.

Poor people do not join the transaction as potential beneficiaries of the blessings anticipated from the ritual sacrifice.

Unlike the rich and business people who seek wealth and blessings from the gods and spirits, poor people’s interests are the quick gains anticipated from payments handed down by the ‘sacrificers’.

The poor are agents who seek to benefit from money paid to them by the businessmen.

Witchdoctors and businessmen have taken advantage of the poverty that characterizes the lives of many young people. They promise them money and other material benefits in exchange for a child, or a given body part that is needed for ritual sacrifice.

Child sacrifice networks are solely established to secure the victim for the ritual:

“Witch doctors give directives that I want a human being. Witch doctors may hire or use a stranger to catch the children”. (DPC, Jinja)

“The rich people who want wealth use the poor in the village; they get to know how your head is by first befriending you and then they get used to you. They then make that move and plan together with this poor person and then send him to go and look for a child so that they can sacrifice”. (Elders FGD, Oyam)

The informal and short term nature of these contracts possibly makes it difficult for the community and law enforcement agencies to detect their presence and take action to counter the impending activities.

Community members claim Child Sacrifice is not indigenous to local culture

Although sacrifice is a common phenomenon within African indigenous religions and cultural practices and constitutes an important part of worship, prayers and thanksgiving, there was consensus that child and/or human sacrifice is a new phenomenon which is not necessarily linked to indigenous/traditional religious worship and cultural practice.

The problem of child sacrifice may be linked to immigrant traditional healers. Study participants observed that the lack of a regulatory framework for healers has enabled foreign traditional healers to work unregulated in the country.

“What is happening today is quite different from that of the times of our grandparents. Our grandparents were not so much hungry for wealth. They used to heal people using traditional herbs and medicine but they would not ask for money. They would treat people from different areas indiscriminately. It was not a job meant to earn money. But today our culture has changed; it is becoming a job meant to earn money. In trying to get money, there are our people who have taken it that they have to do such and such a thing in order to become rich. Like saying that if you sacrifice such and such a thing you will become rich. That happens in other cultures and our people are learning from them”.  (Traditional Healers, Masaka)

There is a belief among community members that the practice is being propagated by foreign and fraudulent traditional healers who have introduced sacrifices that are alien to the prevailing beliefs and practices associated with sacrifice as they are conceptualized and articulated through the indigenous cultures in Uganda.

“The people who carry out ritual murders are not indigenous people. They come from distant places like Kampala. For example Kateregga who murdered the child was not from Njumaga village he came from elsewhere…. there are times when we get new comers in the village but we do not know what they think or what brought them to the village”. (FGD Boda boda’s Masaka)

It is reported that the local population favours traditional healers from places like Tanzania and South Africa, who are perceived to possess unequalled power.

The respect for the power possessed for healing is translated into blind trust:

“We have a problem like for us in Masaka here; we have people who normally come from Tanzania. When they come here, people think that they are the best; they regard them to be having all the powers, so when they come here they try also to manipulate their own (people’s) ignorance and do whatever they wish”. (CFPU, Masaka)

Local traditional healers also refute claims that child sacrifice is part of the culture, explaining that sacrificial objects must be edible and eaten, and child/human sacrifice is therefore not appropriate and not traditionally practiced.

“In our indigenous practice, there is no situation requiring human or child sacrifice, and there is no one to eat the carcass, as is the case in sacrifices. Every sacrificial object must be edible and eaten. Those who sacrifice people are killers and not healers” (FGD, NACOTHA)

The sacrifice of human beings is viewed by traditional health practitioners as alien to indigenous knowledge and culture of worship and healing and considered a crime.

For example, the traditional healers from the Buganda region indicated that human blood is not permissible in a shrine.

“On our side as traditional healers our culture does not allow us to sacrifice human beings. Even when carrying out rituals you are not supposed to touch human blood. If you accidentally cut your finger while slaughtering an animal for sacrifice or preparing protective medicine we take it that the sacrifice or medicine won’t work. So we do not involve human flesh or dead bodies in our operations. Some of us do not even attend burials. Those who do before you touch any medicine you must wash your hands properly. For that matter I would like to say human sacrifice is something new” (Masaka, Traditional Healers)

This illustrates that human blood is not a part of the traditional healing practice. Traditional healers denied that child sacrifice is a part of their practice. Traditional healers however, conceded that there were cultural practices in the past which involved killing people. These killings however, were not in the context of sacrifice. For example, twins were abandoned or killed in some cultures, but this was done because of the belief that twins are a source of bad omen and it was not as part of ritual sacrifices.

There was consensus in all community discussions and interviews, that child and human sacrifice is a new practice, which is not recognized in indigenous traditional religious rituals and worship.

Nonetheless, respondents acknowledged that the concept has always existed as a myth, but there was never any real evidence of actual occurrence of child sacrifice. Respondents reported hearing about the problem, in their communities when they were growing up, but could not recall any actual occurrence of this practice. Rumors of child sacrifice were in the past linked to ‘big’ projects, such as construction. It was generally said that projects of this nature required a sacrifice of human blood to be accomplished.

“Human sacrifice is a concept that has been prevalent in our human society…..it has always been said that all these roads you see, there are heads of people there. At the dam in Kiyira I understand they put there heads of people for it to allow that bridge to be built. We hear that when the Chinese are constructing, they always put heads of people so that they get blessings and so forth. When people are building big houses, they do those things so the concept has been there” (Commissioner for Culture, MGLSD)

Child sacrifice was perceived by respondents as a new practice currently propagated by alien ‘traditional healers’ and fraudulant traditional healers[1].  The motive of such healers is financial gains through exploitation of unsuspecting clients.

There are those who pass off as traditional healers, taking advantage of the fact that healers are trusted by the population.

There are, however, traditional healers from Uganda who, from their interactions with healers from other countries, learn new ways of practicing traditional and spiritual practices including those that involve human sacrifice.  It was observed that traditional healers were more likely to engage in human sacrifice in areas away from their home communities. In other words, traditional healers engage in human sacrifice in areas where they are less known.

Media can have either a postive or a negative influence

The media was identified as a main player with regards to the issue of child sacrifice. The Ugandan media has turned its attention to the problem of child sacrifice and has played a crucial role in creating awareness about the problem and highlighting the need for better protection of children.

However, the media has also played a role in promoting and sustaining beliefs in superstition and spirits (supernatural powers) through the running of adverts for healers who claim to have such supernatural powers.

Child Sacrifice, Trafficking and the Organ Trade

Child trafficking and organ trade were identified as risk factors that have potential to compound the phenomenon of child sacrifice. Before becoming victims of sacrifice, children are kidnapped and or led away from their homes or schools.

Trafficking manifests in kidnapping, elopement and other forms of manipulation of children. It was observed that some organ trade protagonists may be disguising themselves as traditional leaders.

People are confronted with a myriad of unexplained social problems and they respond by engaging in human/child sacrifices (expressive function of ritualisation) manifested in different forms (creative function of rituals) including cutting off private parts, the head, the tongue, the liver etc based on the culturally bound definition of risk.

The organ of the body used for the ritual sacrifice is perceived to have either a therapeutic or protective function against the perceived risk and vulnerability to that particular risk. 

The definition and extent of the risk determines the object to be sacrificed. If the risk is perceived as extreme within the mythology of “traditional healer” or ritual facilitator and the “client”, it may call for human and/or child sacrifices.

Sacrifice said to be a 'normal' part of infrastructure construction

There are unsubstantiated statements that ritual practices are “normally” performed (that involve child sacrifice) while constructing and commissioning heavy infrastructure such as roads, industries and big commercial building, among others.  However, until recently there was never evidence of the actual practice of child sacrifice in relation to these undertakings.  

Giving up something highly treasured: it also denotes giving up something to which a high value is attached. Sacrifice in traditional healing involves killing an animal in a ceremony and the person undertaking the sacrifice should have a deep and personal attachment to the sacrificial object.

“Sacrifice - there must be an attachment to what you sacrifice.  It must have value to you but not to another person. You cannot sacrifice what does not belong to you. You cannot go to the market to buy a cow or chicken and then present it as a sacrifice to the spirits. That is an acquired item. A sacrificial object must be something you already possess and value deeply” (KII PROMETRA)

Sacrifice in traditional practice involved offering animals to the gods as an act of thanksgiving or in an effort to secure protection and long life.

“…. those days people would sacrifice to make life longer. Sacrifice was also common when young babies were born. Chicken and other animals would be slaughtered and some of the body organs like the hearts and kidneys which would be buried together with the removed part of the umbilical cord of the new born babies. But these days people say that chicken and animals do not work and that’s the reason they have turned to child sacrifice” (Men’s FGD, Oyam)

Sacrifice as a Business

This illustrates that the current practice of child sacrifice, which involves abducting and killing children who are in most cases, non biological and not connected to the ‘sacrificer’ might be a form of manipulation by those involved.

In traditional healing, the sacrificial object signifies the magnitude of the problem or issue for which the sacrifice is being made.

Many people approach healers seeking for help with their misfortunes.

One of the views emerging in this rapid assessment is that children are more susceptible than other age groups, because of the belief that gods prefer the blood of innocent people as sacrifice.

“I think the meaning and beliefs of child sacrifice is that those seeking wealth believe that children are clean and free from sin and of course are therefore holy. They have never committed any sins at all and gods treasure such and when those people looking for riches, they kidnap children and take them to gods through the witch doctors, that is what child sacrifice means, of course the children are killed definitely” (Men’s FGD Oyam)

3,000 children disappear each year

According to ANPPCAN (2009), close to 3000 children disappear from their homes annually; the plight for the majority of these children is never known nor documented. There is suspicion among child protection activists that some of the children reported as disappearance cases are eventually sacrificed, although this information is never brought to public notice[1]. It is also believed that not all cases are actually reported to the police, and as such, the exact magnitude of the problem remains to be ascertained.

Discussions with study participants at national and community level, revealed a higher perception of the magnitude of child sacrifice than what is actually reported to police. They believe that some cases of child sacrifice are not reported; and as such the statistics that are available within police records, may not reflect the actual magnitude of the problem.

The Victims

Victims are usually known to the agents or to the sacrificers. In many cases the agents know the victim or the victims’ family and take advantage of conditions in the family such as lack of parental supervision or poverty.

It has been reported that children without parental care including orphans, abandoned children, school drop-outs, children involved in child labour and street children were particularly vulnerable to child sacrifice. This is, however, contrary to evidence from police case profiles which indicate that all children (including those being cared for by their parents) are susceptible to sacrifice.

Some parents (especially fathers) have been found guilty of sacrificing their own children.

Close relatives and neighbours have also been involved in some of the reported cases.

Review of newspaper articles relating to child sacrifice reveals a number of cases of children murdered under the context of ritual murders:

Joseph Kasirye - age 12

The story of a 12-year old boy, Joseph Kasirye, from Masaka who was allegedly murdered in a classic case of ritual sacrifice continues to evoke the emotions of those who value and respect mankind. 

The court in Masaka recently heard that Kasirye lost his life after city tycoon Kato Kajubi allegedly connived with a witchdoctor, Mr Umar Kateregga a.k.a Bosco and his wife Ms Mariam Nabukeera to murder the child so that its body parts could be buried in a house which Mr Kajubi is constructing in Kampala[1]

Shammim Muhammed - age 5

In another incident, Ms Jalia Katusiime, a hair dresser from Njeru town, Mukono District left her five-year-old daughter, Shammim Muhammed, with a neighbour, Mr Francis Muwanga, to go and attend to a customer. When she returned, both Shammim and Mr Muwanga were missing.

Shammim’s decomposing body was later found, her two fingers chopped off, and her tongue plucked out. Her private parts were also missing.

Police arrested Mr Muwanga as a key suspect and he later confessed that a witchdoctor, Mr Yunus Samanya had asked for the body parts in exchange for riches.[2]

Isaac Kyanakyayesu - age six months

Isaac Kyanakyayesu, was brutally murdered by his father, six months after his birth (in Nakinyuguzi village in Makindye, on the outskirts of Kampala city. 

Upon returning, home from the market one afternoon last October, her mother found the headless body of her baby in a polythene bag. Overwhelmed, she collapsed.

Police later said that the 30-year-old father beheaded his son in a witchcraft-inspired ritual (Mubatsi, 2009)

Dan Makubuya - survivor tells his story

In another incident a child [Dan Makubuya] was traded to be used in ritual sacrifice:

My uncle sold me to two men and women. I heard them go aside and haggle over the price.

I heard my uncle say that he wanted 4.5 million shillings (or $2,700 US dollars), but the buyers insisted that they would pay only four million shillings.

After agreeing on the price, my uncle grabbed me by the neck and with the help of a woman bundled me up into the car through the window.

I was then sedated and on gaining consciousness I found myself in a witchdoctor’s shrine.

Makubuya says he managed to escape after the buyers determined he would not suit their needs.

He said his body was scarred, which made him unsuitable for the ritual.

It required someone who had not shed blood before and to those who’d purchased him, the scars indicated that he had.”[1]

Circumcision and Piercing May Be Seen as a Way of Protecting Children from Sacrifice

All the stories above are linked to murders inspired by strong beliefs in spirits and witchcraft for quick wealth, promises of riches, pleasing ancestors and protection from evil spirits.

The story of the survivor indicates a growing belief that children who are scarred could escape being used for ritual sacrifices.

This may partly explain the growing popularity of circumcising and piercing of children ears (adorning them with earrings) as a form of protecting them from becoming victims of child sacrifice.

The Agents

Agents are a key player in child sacrifice transactions.

These are usually poor people who are paid by the witchdoctors or the sacrificers to identify and abduct children for sacrifice.

In some cases, the witchdoctors are also the agents. It has been reported that family members, including parents are also agents.

Parents, particularly fathers, have been reported in the sale of their children for sacrifice.

The Sacrificers

These are the main players in child sacrificial rituals.

The sacrificers are the main beneficiaries of the sacrifice and provide funds to facilitate transactions.

Sacrificers are an engine in child sacrifice transactions.

Traditional Healers

The traditional healers execute the actual sacrifice rituals. They are the 'mediator between the sacrificer and the deity.' The traditional healer is required in order to carry out the sacrificial ritual in a way that is 'acceptable to the gods.'

Factors Contributing To Child Sacrifice

Child sacrifice is attributed to a range of factors including economic, social and spiritual factors as well as ineffective structures. Respondents unanimously agreed economic motives are the main driver for child sacrifice.

Inadequate Legislation and Policy Framework on Traditional Healing and Medicine

Uganda’s 1957 Witchcraft Act prohibits acts of witchcraft that involve threatening others with death. 

According to this Act, “any person who directly or indirectly threatens another with death by witchcraft or by any other supernatural means commits an offence and is liable on conviction to imprisonment for life.”  The Act also prohibits acts of witchcraft.

Accordingly, “any person who practices witchcraft or who holds himself or herself out as a witch, whether on one or more occasions, commits an offence and is liable on conviction to imprisonment for a period not exceeding five years”. The Act also forbids hiring of an individual to practice witchcraft or who for evil purposes consults with another person who practices witchcraft. 

However the law has rarely been enforced, reducing its deterrent and retributive functions against those involved in witchcraft practices, particularly those which involve human sacrifice.  

New regulations on traditional and complementary medicine relate to herbal products rather than unethical practices

The emerging policy framework (as reflected in the new policy on Traditional and Complementary Medicine) on traditional healing and medicine in Uganda has largely focused on issues of patent rights relating to herbal products, protection, cultivation, propagation (of medicinal plants), environmental protection to ensure sustainability of the supply of herbal products and research into the medicinal properties of medicinal plants. 

There has been limited focus on regulation of traditional practitioners’ practice and putting in place minimum standards for ethical practice.  This problem is compounded by the lack of a systematic body of knowledge on ethical principles on the practices of traditional healing. 

There has also been conspicuous failure to focus on aspects of traditional medicine beyond herbal remedies such as the socio-cultural aspects and spiritual aspects related to traditional healing and medicine. 

The lack of regulation makes it possible for those without any knowledge or qualification to join traditional healers.

The beliefs in superstition, spirits and witchcraft have created an enabling environment for vices such as human sacrifice to thrive.  Many unscrupulous people are also taking advantage of the weak legislation as well as the prevailing beliefs in spirits to engage in human sacrifice as well as organ trade under the guise of traditional healers.

The lack of a regulatory framework means that unscrupulous traditional healers easily engage in child sacrifice, without any close supervision or monitoring into their activities.

While the MoGLSD through the directorate of culture has the mandate to regulate the traditional healers, the ministry lacks capacity to effectively carry out this role.

At the district level, there are no cultural officers to oversee the activities of traditional healers. The lack of supervisory capacity within the MoGLSD and structures at district and community levels means that traditional healers are not regulated. For example the Local councils do not have the capacity to screen and assess traditional healers living in their areas of jurisdiction.

This is compounded by the fact that many traditional healers’ activities are shrouded with mystery. The assessment revealed that there are a myriad of associations to which traditional healers subscribe. These associations lack a central commanding point. This situation enables traditional healers who are involved in illegal activities to hide away from the public eye and engage in horrendous practices such as human sacrifice.

This is worsened by the fact that there is no well established system with checks and balances to regulate the practices of traditional healers. Because there are no clear procedures to regulate who practices traditional medicine, anyone can join an association and begin to practice. This lack of a system and proper procedures has provided a leeway for impostors to begin practicing traditional medicine. What is emerging is that it is these impostors who are responsible for the current surge in child sacrifice.

“Lack of regulation has given fraudsters and self seekers to use this opportunity to claim to be healers. They pretend to have a lot of powers and use this to exploit the unsuspecting public” (FGD, NACOTHA Healers)

Economic Motives

The assessment identified four key economic factors which play a role in offsetting and sustaining child sacrifice. The actors in child sacrifice rituals usually have economic interests:

  • Desire for wealth and business prosperity
  • Insurance
  • Poverty
  • Trickery/Fraud by traditional healers

Wealth and Prosperity

Desire for wealth and business prosperity is the main reason those for involvement in sacrificial rituals by those seeking wealth. The economic motives of such people are the motivators behind the origin of child sacrifice. Under this, sacrifice is conducted in order to gain favour in the form of protection and blessings and to appease the gods. In all the districts visited during the rapid assessment, child sacrifice was blamed on rich people who wanted to increase their wealth.

Traditional healing has over the years evolved from a service rendered to the community, into a lucrative business, benefiting mainly the traditional healers.

“My son, for me I think it’s mainly the rich people in town who want to get more richer quickly who are involved in this acts of child sacrifice. What they do is they go consult witch doctors who demand for heads of children or even other parts so that they become more richer and live in their houses for a longer period of time without anyone in that family dying”.  (Men’s FGD, Oyam)

The perception that many Ugandan communities have embraced materialism as a core value was expressed by respondents. People earn respect and recognition in their communities because of the wealth they possess.

The adoption of wealth as a value has driven some people to seek means of acquiring possessions at all costs.

This value has overridden the value that emphasized the sanctity of life.

Study respondents expressed the perception that contemporary society attaches more value to money and wealth than it does to human life.

“Actually these days we are living and managing a different life in society where people value riches more than life. That is why at times people say, ‘I rather die of a may be a bullet but not poverty.'”.  (CFPU, Masaka)

Traditional healers have realised that child sacrifice is a lucrative business opportunity. It was reported that some traditional healers are taking advantage of the fact that a number of businessmen and women have a strong belief in child sacrifice.

Some traditional healers have fuelled the practice, through encouraging the business people and acting as their allies They offer to acquire for them children who will be sacrificed, in exchange for huge sums of money. These traditional healers engage in the child sacrifice transactions, not because of the belief in the effectiveness of the sacrifice, but because they see an opportunity to make quick money from the business men. In this way, the traditional healers are themselves driven by economic motives.

“For me I think, child sacrifice is due to poverty. Many young people can easily accept to be paid some little money (even as low as 100,000) and they can murder someone. Many youth are unemployed, so a traditional healer does not have to pay much money to such a person in order for him to murder someone. There are some people who have never earned 100,000/= in their life or 200,000/=, if such a person is given 500,000/=, they won’t hesitate because it will look like it is a lot of money compared to human life. People are capable of doing anything if they are promised money”.  (Boda Boda FGD Masaka)

Child Sacrifice as Indemnity Insurance

Child sacrifice is carried out as a measure to protect against future risks and loss. Discussions with respondents revealed that those who were involved in child sacrifice were motivated by the need to protect their investments against future risks.

“You cannot construct a building to its completion and have it make money without pouring blood in it. I do not think so myself”.  (FGD Boda boda cyclists, Masaka)

“…they say if you don’t sacrifice a child while constructing a big building, you will not live in that house for long because the gods will be demanding until you finally die…”.  (FGD Men, Oyam)

It has been identified that the lack of a developed insurance sector could possibly be a key factor behind child sacrifice.

Sacrifice of children becomes an indemnity to prevent against future losses of wealth. Instead of insuring their properties and business through the insurance sector, businessmen rely more on superstition and belief in divine protection, which involves sacrifice, including that of children.The nature of the market and the beliefs of the population have provided leeway to conmen and fraudsters to make empty promises to their clients in exchange for money and other goods.

The assessment reveals that traditional healers use child sacrifice as a ploy to divert clients from demanding a refund of their money. This happens after the clients’ problems do not cease, even when they have offered a lot of money and possessions to the gods.

Respondents in the assessment reported that traditional healers extort huge amounts of money and material items from businessmen who come to them seeking help, but fail to deliver the change they promise to their clients. When the circumstances in the life of the person seeking help do not change, the traditional healers keep asking for different forms of offering in order to please the gods.

Ultimately, in a bid to rid themselves of the clients, the fraudulent traditional healers, make demands for child sacrifice.

Respondents observed that the traditional healers use this as a trick to get themselves out of a difficult situation, especially after they have extorted and taken a lot of money from their clients. Traditional healers underestimate the desperation of their clients, who at times are willing to do anything, to solve their problem.

“Because some people want money and they have faith in traditional healers they go ahead and kill thinking that their businesses will thrive”.  (Boda Boda FGD Masaka)

Spiritual Factors

Fear drives people to sacrifice children

Belief in supernatural powers and the metaphysical world was identified as one of key factors responsible for child sacrifice.

Individuals with strong belief in supernatural powers have unquestionable faith in traditional healers. It was observed that it is easy for such people to engage in acts of child sacrifice, as long as they believed it was required by the spirits and or gods. There is a lot of respect and obedience towards the gods. Individuals are interested in appeasing the gods for protection, good luck, blessings and fortune.

It was reported that whatever the gods asked for, is availed by faithful followers. If the agents of the gods asks the followers to sacrifice, it is likely that they will comply, out of respect and fear of annoying the gods.

This creates a setting of unquestioned obedience, which leads to criminal activities such as child sacrifice. For example during the elders’ group discussion in Oyam, one respondent said:

“Sometimes it’s the gods who demand for children’s parts through witch doctor and this happens when we don’t bury our relatives well so they keep coming as ghosts”.  (Elders’ FGD, Oyam)

Blind faith in the supernatural renders people incapable of doubting what is perceived as instructions from the deity.

The growing culture of individualization as opposed to collectivism undermines the community child protection structures that were a feature of the African society.

In traditional Africa, a child did not only belong to his biological parents, but to the entire community. Every community member was obliged to protect children within the community.

This value has however been eroded over time and has been replaced with individualism, leading to a situation where children are less protected within their communities.

According to the discussions held, in the past, there was universal concern for every child and all community members looked out for the interests of every child. Today however, individuals are concerned about their biological children and do not show any interest in other people’s children.

“When I was growing up seven miles from my home they knew me, son of Mugira and even if someone found me doing something wrong on the way he would take responsibility and even punish me. So, there was collective responsibility over our children as parents irrespective of whether I am the Biological father, the child belonged to the community. For me that was a very good security mechanism for our children. But it has now faded away”. 

The interviews held with families whose children had been killed through ritual sacrifices also indicate that inadequate child protection presents major risks for children.

In addition to inadequate protection at the community level, families do not provide protection for their children at the household level. In the two interviews with victims’ families, the assessment notes that there was a degree of negligence on the part of the families which provided the kidnappers an opportunity to abduct children for sacrifice.

We hope that by embarking on this project, we are able to not only offer support to those that need it, but take a step towards a safer future for the people of Uganda. This project is absolutely vital within the realms of our work and once this project is underway, we would like to continue with proposed projects in other districts. We really believe that this is the only way forward with this problem. It is very difficult to try and change views of people once they have reached adulthood, unless they have become victims themselves. However, if we are able to reach a younger audience and offer them a fun, interactive lesson in how to avoid these dangers, then maybe the future will be a better place for them in which to live.

It is observed that the police force lacks adequate resources to follow up reported cases of child trafficking and sacrifice. An effective response to child sacrifice and trafficking requires a police force that is well facilitated and resourced with trained personnel, transport and effective communication for effective coordination. However the police sometimes fail to respond to cases due to lack of resources.

Communities with-hold information from the police

The assessment further observes that police investigations are hampered by lack of cooperation by the communities. Individuals within the community withhold information from the police due to various reasons. These include fear of reprisal from those who are suspected of engaging in child sacrifice, lack of trust in the police’s commitment to investigate crimes, as well as lack of confidentiality. The following quotations are illustrative of this:

“People are unwilling to give information.  People fear the police. Others say those who may have useful information fear to testify a person might come out of police or court and revenge. People may want to talk in the community but do not want to appear in court to provide evidence. The court complicates cases asking for evidence and many questions to the witnesses so that scares them off from attending court sessions”.

Discussions with the community reveal a high level of dissatisfaction with the police investigation of cases involving child sacrifice.

There is always suspicion that the police may collude with suspects of child sacrifice in order to hide evidence. However, in the discussions with the police force, it is observed that practical limitations such as lack of transportation is a main hindrance to the police force in relation to investigation of child sacrifice cases.

According to the commissioner for culture in the MoGLSD, there is lack of a national database for all traditional healers in Uganda.

The MoGLSD does not have adequate resources to map and register traditional healers. It is acknowledged that having this information is a key prerequisite to regulation and monitoring of traditional healers and their activities, including issuing them with practicing licenses. In addition, there are potential difficulties of identifying and tracking down healers, especially those who practice in rented premises in the urban areas.

“We would have wanted to do to carry out a national mapping and registration but we do not have the resources; it is very expensive exercise to undertake. In order to regulate traditional healers, all we need to have is a data base and a registration mechanism and know who is where. I have cultural officers in all districts of Uganda, we have LCs, they know where they are, the issue is that if you are going to practice we must give you a practicing license which they get like a diver, like a pharmacist so that we know that so and so is practicing like it used to be in those days when we were a bit more organized. But now they are unfortunately too many, new ones working in urban centres, someone has a small rented room and night he is getting clients, so some of these things we need to do”. (Commissioner, Culture).

Although there are culture officers within the local governments, culture is a distant appendage to their main responsibilities.

The responsibility for culture is usually given to government officials whose main brief is other areas other than culture. In addition, many activities related to culture are not funded. As such, there are no activities including support to and regulation of traditional healers. It is evident that local government structures lack the capacity to support and regulate traditional healers’ activities.

The lack of this capacity ultimately provides cover for those with intentions of child sacrifice and trafficking.

“There is a Community development Officer in charge of culture at the district level. But if you go into the districts looking for a cultural officer, you will not find one. However, there is always an officer in charge of culture although some of them are combining different offices. These officers may not be very keen about culture because it does not have money”.  (Commissioner, Culture)

Although the staff within the culture department possesses necessary knowledge and skills, they are unable to develop and implement programmes targeting the traditional healers due to funding constraints. Government funding commitments to the cultural sector are low. At the national level, the sector receives an annual budget of 80,000,000 Uganda shillings (equivalent to $43,000). The sector has not been able to attract substantial funding from development partners, due to a dearth of local and international donors willing to fund activities related to culture.

Tackling Child Sacrifice

There is an urgent need for a comprehensive ethnographic study on the phenomenon of child sacrifice taking into account its socio-cultural, socio-economic and legal dimensions, within the broad context of child rights abuse.

There is also a need to review current psychosocial interventions to make sure that they address the needs of survivors, their families and families of children who have been victims of child sacrifice.

A need to build capacity of community and school based structures for both prevention and response interventions that address child sacrifice within the context of children's rights violations

A need to develop a communication and advocacy strategy addressing issues of prevention and response to issues of child sacrifice.

A need to develop a regulatory framework for traditional healers in Uganda as a means of developing checks and balances within the sector and preventing entry of fraudulant healers into the traditional medicine market.

Given that Ministry of Health may not adequately handle the spiritual and socio-cultural related aspects of traditional healing, a semi-autonomous agency bringing together stakeholders from several line ministries and Civil Society Agencies provides the best option for tackling this.

A need to support the police anti-trafficking and anti-sacrifice units to effectively investigate reported incidents and hold perpetrators accountable.

There needs to be a great deal of education amongst the communities of people of various backgrounds, tribes and religions Traditional healers, Boda boda cyclists, Children in school, vulnerable women, particularly widows, vulnerable children, youth, and the elderly.

EACO - Working to Abolish Child Sacrifice

Empower and Care Organization (EACO) is situated in the Mukono District in central Uganda.

The district of Mukono covers an area of 12, 438km?. There are a total of 143 registered schools within this district.

Kyampisi, in the Mukono district has one of the highest levels of reported cases of child kidnapping and human blood sacrifice.

In most cases, children are kidnapped as they walk back home in the night.

EACO has designed a project, working with local schools, leaders, parents and boda-boda drivers (bike-taxis) and community members, to raise awareness about child sacrifice.

    1. EACO would like to sign a petition to send to the parliament of Uganda and request for a tougher law and if possible a separate court to charge the offenders so that eventually justice is achieved.
    2. Give moral, physical and spiritual support to victims & their closest friends and relatives, communities and survivors of child sacrifice.
    3. Create awareness and thus improve levels of responsibility towards the children so that at the end of the day we have an “EVERY CHILD IS ANYBODY’S CHILD” attitude.
    4. To create options for those who would have otherwise resorted to sacrificing children as a solution to their problems.
    5. Work in partnership with the government task force to bring to justice the offenders – hence, come up with statistical data in realtion to child sacrifice and also come up with stragtegies to reduce child sacrifice.
    6. An inductive and qualitative approach will be used to obtain people’s perspectives on child sacrifice and trafficking. This study will be conducted at district level focusing on 5 subcounties which were purposively selected: Kyampisi, Nama, Ggoma, Nakisunga and Mukono Central Division. It will employ participatory research and learning methods, to facilitate generating descriptive, analytical case studies and general findings mainly from focus group discussions, key informant interviews, in-depth interviews and informal discussions.

EACO are need of vital equipment to make this project a reality.

Please see the list below to assess whether it is something you are able to donate:

  • Stationary: pens, pencils, paper, ink cartridges
  • A camera, so that we are able to take photos of the work that we do and keep people involved. (Long-term)
  • A Mobile generator (Long-term)
  • Photocopier (Long-term)
  • Two Projectors to allow our team to show their material, these do not need to be digital, but they do need to be transportable (Long-term)
  • Accommodation costs for 8 members of staff for the two months it will take to embark on this project (estimated Guides and security guards –This is essential to getting around safely.
  • Petrol- (estimated 40 litres of petrol per day

 

Transport is also desperately needed.

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For further information, please email


 Data was collected using a FGDs, KIs and documentary review. However, FGDs were the main method of collecting primary data. The FGDs targeted general community members in the study area. In order to enrich and to triangulate some of the data collected in FGDs, KIs were conducted mainly targeting government officials and relevant actors in Civil Society Organizations.

[1] Enkoko, a Kiganda word for chicken rhymes with okukokola, which means getting rid of calamities

[2] Embuzi is a Luganda word for goat and sounds like okubuza, which means to make something disappear, or to lose something

[3] Okuliga is a luganda word for defeat, and rhymes with endiga, which is the word for sheep

[4] Ente is the luganda word for cow but also sounds like entee which means, letting go

[5] This is believed to be a spirit that sometimes manifests itself in human form

[1] Quack traditional healers are untrained persons who pretend to be healers and are involved traditional medicine. These people are described by healers as impostors and self seekers

[1] ANPPCAN Uganda Chapter (2009) Statement at a Press Briefing During the Launch of the Child Abuse Awareness Week, June 8 2009