Ritual Sacrifice of Children on the Rise in Uganda

By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
Staff Journalist

More than two dozen people, 15 of them children, were killed in ritual murders last year in Uganda where the use of drugs made from their body parts is thought to attract wealth.

The Associated Press is reporting that the problem has been on the rise for some time in Uganda where defenseless children are often kidnapped and killed for their body parts.

“The number of people killed in ritual murders last year rose to a new high of at least 15 children and 14 adults, up from just three cases in 2007, according to police,” the AP reports. “The informal count is much higher – 154 suspects were arrested last year and 50 taken to court over ritual killings.”

Moses Binoga, head of the Anti-Human Sacrifice Taskforce, said he believes the increase in these heartless crimes comes from a desire for wealth and a belief that drugs made from human organs can bring riches. These beliefs may be fueled by new and very popular Nigerian films that showcase a common theme of a family reaping riches after sacrificing a human.

“I call it a problem of psychological disorientation,” Mr. Binoga told the AP. “People get disoriented. People stop having respect in humanity and believe more in the worth of money and so-called good fortune, and they lose that natural social respect for people.”

The sacrifices are also linked to a deep belief in witch doctors, who can be found “practically every half mile” in Uganda, the AP reports.

Witch doctors are practitioners of shamanism, which can be found in many varieties throughout the indigenous populations of the world.

Shamanism is based on animism, a belief that all created things have a soul and consciousness.  Mountains, woods, forests, rivers, and lakes are perceived to possess spirits and to be living, thinking impassioned beings like man. Animists believe the world is pervaded by these spiritual forces that hover about man at all times and are the cause of his mishaps, pains and losses. Because man is thought to be helpless against these spirits, he relies on the services of a shaman or witch doctor who knows the appropriate words and acts to perform that shield man from harm and envelope him in a kind of protective armor so that the evil spirits become inactive or at least inoffensive.

The witch doctor is usually a master in the art of divination and is believed to have the power of controlling these spirits. Of the many methods used, the most common is symbolic magic which is based on the principle that association in thought must involve a similar connection in reality. For instance, placing “magical” fruit-shaped stones in a garden is thought to insure a good crop. To bring about someone’s death, symbolic magic calls for the creation of a doll-like image of the person, then piercing it with sharp instruments. Possession by a spirit is another device. In some cultures, such as Korea, the shaman is thought to have power over the spirits only because he or she is possessed by a more powerful demon.

In the Ugandan cases, witch doctors create drugs from severed body parts, mostly facial features and genitals, which they believe will attract wealth to whoever imbibes them.

A recent and particularly tragic case involved eight year-old Caroline Aya who was kidnapped from her front yard in Jinja in January. She was found dead a few days later – with her tongue cut out – which led police to believe she was offered up as a human sacrifice.

“If it is a sickness you try to treat it, and if they die that is one thing,” said Caroline’s father, Balluonzima Christ. “But when you slaughter a person like a goat, that is not easy.”

One 12-year-old boy named Shafik had a knife put to his throat when a female witch doctor realized he was circumcised and let him go. “Witch doctors don’t kill children who are circumcised or who have pierced ears because they are considered impure, the AP reports. “As a result, some parents have taken their children to get piercings or circumcisions.”

More than 500 people showed up for a town hall meeting conducted by Mr. Binoga in Jinja where three suspected cases of child sacrifice occurred in recent months and found the people upset by the government’s lack of action. Of the 30 people charged with ritual killings last year, none have been convicted. They blame police corruption and slow investigations for the problem.

“There is a lack of political will to protect the children. We have beautiful laws but a lack of political will,” said Haruna Mawa, the spokesman for the child protection agency ANPPCAN. “As long as we keep our laws in limbo we are creating a fertile breeding ground for human and child sacrifice to escalate. No convictions. What message are you giving to the police?”

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