16th October, 2010
In October last year, seven-year-old Allan Ssembatya was walking home from school with friends when he was kidnapped.
A frantic search followed before he was found, whimpering, under a bush, laying in a pool of his own blood. He had suffered injuries that can only be described as horrific – an axe had torn open his skull and a section removed. He had been stabbed in the neck and had been castrated.
CAMPAIGNING TO END CHILD SACRIFICE: Kyampisi Childcare Ministries' and its partner the Jubiee Campaign UK have launched an international campaign to put an end to the practice.
“The issue (of child sacrifice) has intensely grown in the last two or three years."
Pastor Peter M. Sewakiryanga, director of Kyampisi Childcare Ministries.
Allan, who lives in the Kayunga District of Uganda - just to the north of the capital of Kampala, is one of the many children taken each year by people looking for children to sacrifice to their gods. Thankfully Allan survived his wounds – although a stroke caused as a result of the horrific attack has left him with epilepsy and weakness and numbness in one arm – but many don’t.
One organisation attempting to tackle the rising problem is Uganda-based Kyampisi Childcare Ministries (KCM) which aims to help vulnerable children. Its data, based on police information, shows that the numbers of children believed to have been killed or disappeared as a result of child sacrifice are growing.
In 1999, figures show 15 children were confirmed as having been killed in ritual sacrifices. By 2008, as many as 318 were reported as having disappeared with 18 confirmed dead. In January this year, a further two children – girls – were confirmed as having been killed in ritual sacrifices.
“The issue has intensely grown in the last two or three years,” says Peter M. Sewakiryanga, director of KCM, an organisation which he co-founded around two years ago.
He says the practice – which includes taking body parts of children such as their facial features or genitals – is aimed at ‘feeding’ spirits to bring people “riches”.
“Others believe they’ll get protection. Others…are just serving their gods and so their gods tell them to sacrifice children…” he says. “They have a belief that because these children are considered to be pure – they are said to live a pure life, they don’t have any attachment to any things – they believe that when you take special parts, especially the private parts or the organs of children, to their gods, they will get blessings…so they give them to appease the gods that they follow.”
Pastor Sewakiryanga, who pastors a community church in Uganda, is in Australia for six weeks until mid-November visiting church groups to raise awareness and gather support for an international prayer campaign to end child sacrifice. KCM is conducting the campaign in partnership with the Jubilee Campaign UK.
The campaign is urging people to pray for a solution and to sign an online petition calling on Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni and the Speaker of the Ugandan Parliament, Edward Ssekandi, to use the “influence” of their offices to urgently address the issue.
Pastor Sewakiryanga says child sacrific-related practices are wide-spread, taking place in both rural and city areas.
“Many children have been killed and dumped in channel’s in the city centre,” he says. “So it is spread all over the country but is mainly in the central region or district.”
The children can be aged anywhere up to 15-years-old (KCM, which has been involved in more than 30 cases, is aware of one case that involved a child of only 18 months in which the child survived).
While some children are targeted by their own parents, those orphans, those living on the street and those living in families affected by extreme poverty are particularly vulnerable. But Pastor Sewakiryanga says rich people are also involved.
DEVASTATED LIVES: Members of families which have been affected by child sacrifice at a meeting at Kyampisi Childcare Ministries.
“Some of the children do survive but they are a few cases. Others get kidnapped and you will never hear from them again.”
- Pastor Peter Sewakiryanga, director of Kyampisi Childcare Ministries.
“(S)ome rich people will also kill their children because the witchdoctors told them that once you kills your child, your wealth will be protected. And so the rich people also sacrifice their children (as well as) the poor people.”
While people can carry out such attacks in the belief they are serving their gods, Pastor Sewakiryanga says that in fact the crimes are often driven by witchdoctors who are looking for financial gain and issue ultimatums suggesting people will have to pay a great sum of money if they don’t sacrifice their children.
Stories like Allan’s – in which the child survives – are rare.
“Some of the children do survive but they are a few cases,” says Pastor Sewakiryanga. “Others get kidnapped and you will never hear from them again.”
The problem is exacerbated by the fact that some of those who carry out such attacks hold positions of power.
“Some of the people that do this are in government,” Pastor Sewakiryanga notes. “And because they have money and the people whose children they’ve sacrificed are poor, the poor families cannot go against them in courts because the courts are not fair. They will pay their way through the courts and they will get away with it.”
While Pastor Sewakiryanga believes that pressure from the international community will help force the government to address the issue – “because, locally, there has been a lot of noise but nothing has been done – he believes prayer is ultimately the only answer.
“The first thing we are doing as Christians is we are asking Christians to pray for Uganda because the children of Uganda are the children of the world…We believe it’s the only way – it’s a spiritual issue – and we believe prayer will do a lot to wipe away child sacrifice.”