Child abuse linked to faith or belief

Faith and belief-based child abuse, including practices around ‘spirit possession’ and ‘witchcraft’, is a hidden crime, which makes it difficult to quantify in terms of magnitude. However, from our own experience and in consultation with London’s communities, we know this kind of abuse is under-reported.

Forms of abuse

Abuse can be separated into five different areas;

  • Abuse as a result of a child being accused of being a ‘witch’
  • Abuse as a result of a child being accused of being possessed by ‘evil spirits’
  • Ritualistic abuse which is prolonged sexual, physical and psychological abuse
  • Satanic abuse which is carried out in the name of ‘Satan’ and may have links to cults
  • Any other harmful practice linked to a belief or faith

The forms of abuse that follow fall into the four main categories below.

Physical abuse

This can involve ritualistic beating, burning, cutting, stabbing, semi-strangulating, tying up the child, or rubbing chilli peppers or other substances on the child’s genitals or eyes.

Emotional abuse

Emotional abuse can occur in the form of isolation. A child may not be allowed near or to share a room with family members, and threatened with abandonment. The child may also be persuaded that they are possessed.


In situations of neglect, the child’s family and community may have failed to ensure appropriate medical care, supervision, education, good hygiene, nourishment, clothing or warmth.

Sexual abuse

Children who have been singled out in this way can be particularly vulnerable to sexual abusers within the family, community or faith organisation. These people exploit the belief as a form of control or threat.

Where does it happen?

Child abuse linked to faith or belief is not confined to one faith, nationality or ethnic community. Examples have been recorded worldwide across various religions including Christians, Muslims and Hindus. The number of known cases suggests that only a small minority of people who believe in witchcraft or spirit possession go on to abuse children.

Abuse may happen anywhere, but it most commonly occurs within the child’s home.