Ritual child sacrifice is a growing problem in Uganda, with many children killed, and hundreds more missing yearly.

“Child ritual murder is one of the most extreme manifestations of violence against children in Uganda. This gruesome practice involves mutilation and removal of children’s body parts and blood (while the child is still alive) for wealth,” said the World Vision director spearheading efforts in Uganda to stop child sacrifice.

The head of the child is the most prized body part. Witch doctors severe the head with machetes to draw out the kidnapped child’s blood. Other body parts often mutilated from the children include genitals, limbs, fingers, toes, throats, eyes, teeth and organs. The sacrifice demands that kidnapped children are alive while their body parts are harvested. Very few survive the ordeal.

Witch doctors and kidnappers abscond with the body parts they need, often leaving behind bodily remains of the child, in locations close to home. In many cases, the child is worn on the body, buried or eaten for good luck. People close to the child – including neighbours, villagers and even family – often orchestrate the kidnapping and sacrifice.

Figures on child sacrifice are impossible to gauge. Governmental figures reveal very low yearly numbers, while figures from NGOs have reported figures as high as 77 child sacrifice cases in one year. KidsRights said that these statistics are a “tip of the iceberg, as data is insufficient and the real scope of child sacrifice is not yet visible”.

2019 marks the thirtieth anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The Convention recognizes “the right of every child to a standard of living adequate for the child’s physical, mental, spiritual, moral and social development.” On October 17, the world celebrated the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty.

In Uganda, poverty leaves for abysmal children’s rights. Uganda is the 17th highest country in Africa for income inequality, according to a 2017 report. It also ranks 137th on the KidsRights Index, which measures the national implementation of children’s rights in 165 countries. The country has seen economic gains in the past two decades, as its population living in poverty falls from 56% to 19.7%. Oxfam reports that the richest 10% of the country share 35.7% of the national income, while the poorest 10% share 2.5% of the national income, and the poorest 20% share 5.8% of the nation’s income.

Intergenerational economic inequality is an inevitable problem for Uganda’s poor population. With no resources or agency for social mobility, witch doctors exploit national instability, promising instant wealth and financial success through ritualistic child sacrifices.

Pastor Peter Sewakiryanga, heads of Kyampisi Childcare Ministries, a Christian organization that fights child sacrifice in Uganda, said: “It’s a serious problem but we are fighting it with the help of the government.”

“It’s a brutal ritual that destroys the lives of our children and affects their parents mentally. We are working with the police to arrest witch doctors involved in the ritual. We are also assisting the survivors financially and with moral support.”

Child sacrifice is illegal in Uganda, under five different Acts, including the Witchcraft Act 1957 and the 2009 Anti-Human Sacrifice and Trafficking Taskforce which is responsible for investigating and prosecuting human traffickers and child sacrificers. Nevertheless, child sacrifice remains a big threat in Uganda, because the law is rarely enforced by the police or the courts. The Anti-Human Sacrifice and Trafficking Taskforce possesses very little resources and manpower to investigate witch doctors who practise child sacrifice.

One of the most corrupt countries in the world, Uganda has little governmental investment in its courts and police force. Corruption is a huge political problem, and a great financial drain on the country. Oxfam reports that: “Many of those in charge of public resources have dipped their fingers into the public purse with impunity, and corruption has become a lucrative business.” The burden of educating Ugandans on the dangers and impossibilities of child sacrifice has fallen on charities and NGOs, many of whom seek out child sacrificers on the run, to bring them to justice.

World Vision, for example, reported success in its focused efforts on the Buikwe District (“The Capital of Child Sacrifice”). In 2018, eight children were saved through its amber alert system which teaches tribes to use a “specific drumbeat to alert the community” as soon as a child has been kidnapped. Through its efforts, child sacrifice pummelled 74% between 2015 and 2017. It’s Child Protection Clubs, it says, empowers Ugandan students to know their rights as children.

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