Uganda: Delivering Them From EvilBy Kari Costanza, World Vision U.S., Editor, Special Projects
For centuries, as part of cultural belief systems, traditional healers in Uganda have been sacrificing animals to cure illnesses. But there is growing belief that sacrificing children will now bring them economic prosperity.
“Poverty has affected [people’s] mindsets,” said Obed Byamugisha, child protection and development facilitator – World Vision Uganda. “People believe in witchcraft as a way of reviving their fortunes and getting money to boost the family income.”
Some witchdoctors take the heads, hearts, genitals and fingers of children and encase them in foundations of new businesses to ensure they are successful. They sprinkle the blood of children into fishing boats to guarantee larger catches.
To protect children who were being abducted and killed for use by witchdoctors, some by their own family members, Mr. Byamugisha worked with the community in the Buikwe district to devise an innovative warning system.
Based on technology and tradition, the system brings together local leaders, response agencies, the justice system and traditional healers, who want to weed out the ones who perform child sacrifice so they do not share in the blame.
“We use drums when a child is stolen,” he says. “It causes a chain reaction in the community. When you hear the drum, you know that there is danger and you immediately rise to search for recovering the child.” Immediately, the main roads are physically blocked by motorbike drivers, who are alerted by sounds that carry over loudspeakers.
“We are fighting heavy crimes. We are seeking justice. We work with people in the community who see us as a threat,” said Mr. Byamugisha. So far, the new system has saved two children, and the program holds promise to cut down on other forms of violence against children in Uganda. Children are now engaging the community in conversations about harmful social norms and ways to strengthen local reporting mechanisms.
“I think it is so effective because it applies technical rigor in regards to programming approaches, to an emotionally galvanizing issue,” said Bill Forbes, director of child protection – Child Development and Programming Effectiveness.
“It is easy to get fired up and emotional about an issue like child sacrifice. But it is not easy to be effective in reducing and eliminating it,” he added.
The work is sobering to Mr. Byamugisha, who no longer lives in the community after witchdoctors came looking for him one night. “I see these victims who have been sacrificed. I have their photos. I see them daily. But our goal is what makes us do the work.”