‘Dispatches: Saving Africa’s Witch Children’ brought child abuse in Africa’s Niger Delta to the forefront of media attention in 2008. While following Gary Foxcroft an avid campaigner against child abuse, the programme uncovered a problem that affects thousands of Africa’s children. Abolishing practices that brandish children with symptoms of spiritual affliction and of being possessed by black magic and sorcery have consequently been the foundation of a mission by Foxcroft who has been combating against child abuse for the past ten years with his charity Stepping Stones Nigeria. The impact of Channel 4’s initial series was subsequently tremendous, with the Nigerian government and the United Nations attempting to address child abuse in African nations. Some African governments have even made it a punishable offense of up to ten years to label a child as a witch.
However it seems that such abuses have not been simply limited to Africa’s borders. On-going media attention highlighting controversial activities in some African churches in Britain since 2008 have consequently culminated into another Channel 4 investigation on deleterious effects of abuse amongst children in churches across the United Kingdom. The recent screening of ‘Dispatches: Britain’s Witch Children’ consequently addressed similar practices to those exhibited in the 2008 documentary in some of Britain’s 4,000 African churches. [protected]The increasing prominence of so called ‘deliverance’ services amongst charismatic and so called Bible wielding churches proved to be the main focus; the ethos being that practices enacted often involve children who are part of the congregation or even part takers in ceremonial practices. Trainee journalist Juliana Oladipo who posed as a delinquent 15 year old experienced first-hand the enduring physical and mental repercussions that exposure to abuse could have on young followers. While acting as teenage tear away ‘Buki’, Oladipo was taken to numerous churches by her mother who was seeking for a cure for what she had described as an alteration in her character. The findings however were that she had been affected by a form of spiritual affliction.
The perpetual battle between nature and nurture is apparent in many of these churches and the impact of human intervention in forging a path for Britain’s children appears to be of the upmost importance to pastors that preach spiritual salvation. The insinuation amongst many of these churches is that deliverance services reflect the demonstrative and uplifting elements of spiritual worship. But the staunch reality is that many ministries simply exploit the most vulnerable, using their fear as a mechanism for personal gain. The Gilbert Deya Ministry which has one of the biggest African followings in the UK with over 34,000 members had a turnover of £1.2 million. Ministers on the programme were shown heckling members of the congregation for cash donations which they referred to as ‘Devine Money Transactions’ – they even accepted substantial payments by credit card and cheques. ‘There are people outside waiting to speak to these men’ Oladipo says, ‘and no matter what you say to them, their answers are going to be witchcraft, and this is the fee to get you back to normal’. Regulation of African churches in the UK has been relatively lax and controlled on a voluntary basis. Relatively anyone is able to establish themselves as a pastor and there is also no official register. Campaigners have subsequently fought for legislative changes in Britain on a similar basis to those that have been enacted in numerous African countries.
The impact of change following screenings of programme like Saving Africa’s Witch Children reflects the impact of public awareness and media perseverance. The emergence of agenda’s like the Metropolitan Police’s Project Violet which has been dedicated to monitoring child protection in the UK and tackling problems amongst the African community in relation to abusive activities in churches is also a clear reflection of such efforts. Dispatches have highlighted a problem that campaigners and organisations like Stepping Stones Nigeria have been battling with for years. Abuse of this nature persists not simply in communities in Africa but also amongst African communities in the United Kingdom. But what has become clear from previous endeavours is that with an effective educative and preventive spotlight, issues attributed to child abuse and witchcraft can be eradicated.[/protected]