Child abuse linked to faith or belief – advice for practitioners

Child abuse linked to a faith or belief occurs across the country. In such cases a parent or carer has come to view a child as ‘different’. They have attributed this difference to the child being possessed and as such will attempt to exorcise the child.

Child Abuse Linked to Faith or Belief (CALFB)

There is a variety of definitions associated with abuse linked to faith or belief. The National Action Plan includes the following when referring to Child Abuse Linked to Faith or Belief (CALFB).

Belief in concepts of:

  • witchcraft and spirit possession, demons or the devil acting through children or leading them astray (traditionally seen in some Christian beliefs)
  • the evil eye or djinns (traditionally known in some Islamic faith contexts) and dakini (in the Hindu context)
  • ritual or muti murders where the killing of children is believed to bring supernatural benefits or the use of their body parts is believed to produce potent magical remedies
  • use of belief in magic or witchcraft to create fear in children to make them more compliant when they are being trafficked for domestic slavery or sexual exploitation.

This is not an exhaustive list and there will be other examples where children have been harmed when adults think that their actions have brought bad fortune, such as telephoning a wrong number which is believed by some to allow malevolent spirits to enter the home.

Reasons for the child being identified as ‘different’ may be a disobedient or independent nature, bed wetting, nightmares or illness. Attempts to exorcise the child may include:

  • beating
  • burning
  • starvation
  • cutting or stabbing
  • isolation within the household.

Children with a disability may also be viewed as different, and various degrees of disability have previously been interpreted as ‘possession’, from a stammer to epilepsy, autism or a life limiting illness.

National FGM Centre

The National FGM Centre is a partnership between Barnardo’s and the Local Government Association (LGA) to achieve a systems change in the provision of services for children and families affected by Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). In 2017, the Centre’s remit was extended to include Breast Ironing/Flattening and Child Abuse Linked to Faith or Belief.

The Centre’s website hosts an interactive knowledge hub which provides a ‘one-stop shop’ for quality assured national and international guidance, information and resources regarding FGM, Breast Flattening and Child Abuse Linked to Faith or Belief.

It helps to support the continued learning of professionals, the development of good practice, and the understanding of excellence in the delivery of services.

Oral Infant Mutilation (IOM)

Oral Infant Mutilation involves gouging out the teeth of a toddler/child to prevent common childhood illnesses. IOM  is a traditional practice performed, usually by village healers but also by priests and midwives as an accepted remedy for illness.

Infants presenting with diarrhoea and/or fevers are subjected to the removal of unerupted baby teeth as the swelling of the gums is mistakenly thought to indicate the presence of ‘tooth worms’. The tooth buds, usually of the eye teeth, are prised out of the gum, without anaesthesia, with unsterile tools such as a bicycle spoke, a hot nail, a penknife etc. Blood loss and shock due to the crude nature of the operation can lead to anaemia.

The unhygienic methods can cause septicaemia, tetanus, transmission of blood-borne diseases such as HIV/ AIDS, and can on occasions be fatal. Long term effects can include eradication and/or malformation of other primary and permanent teeth in the area.

Families believing in the practice could travel to other countries to perform the ritual on their infants.

Policies & resources – local

We have adopted the GMSP procedures which can be found at

See also our FGM and breast ironing / flattening resources and our resource on Private Fostering in relation to this issue.

Policies & resources – national

The ‘National action plan to tackle child abuse linked to faith or belief’ (2012) can be found at

Genuine beliefs can be held by families, carers, religious leaders, community. The NSPCC has produced a helpful resource on faith and religion, available from their website at

Other useful websites:


Witchcraft is known by many terms; black magic, kindoki, ndoki, the evil eye, djinns, voodoo, obeah or child sorcerers. All link to a genuine belief held by the family or carers (and in some cases, even the children themselves) that a child is able to use an evil force to harm others.

While these beliefs are not confined to any particular countries, cultures or religions, one message is clear; child abuse is never acceptable in any community or culture, under any circumstances.

The National FGM Centre have launched a new resource to help professionals understand the impact of accusations of witchcraft on a child. Watch Mardoche’s story – Branded a Witch – an animation on Mardoche’s childhood in the UK where he was accused of being a witch by his aunt and uncle.

A second video Mardoche Yembi offers advice to professionals about how to work with children who have been accused of witchcraft –



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