Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘children’ Category

When James Katana returned from a church service to his village in the Bugiri district of eastern Uganda he was told that his three-year old son had been taken away by strangers.

“We were looking for my child for hours, but we couldn’t find him,” he said. “Someone rang me and told me my son was dead and had been left in the forest. I ran there and saw him lying in a pool of blood. His genitals had been cut off, but he was still alive.” A witch-doctor is now in police custody, accused of the abduction and attempted murder of the boy.

Despite the mutilation and terror the child experienced, police say he was one of the lucky ones. Uganda has been shocked by a surge in ritualistic murders and human sacrifice, with police struggling to respond and public hysteria mounting at each gruesome discovery.

In 2008 more than 300 cases of murder and disappearances linked to ritual ceremonies were reported to the police with 18 cases making it to the courts. There were also several high-profile arrests of parents and relatives accused of selling children for human sacrifice.

In January this year the Ugandan government appointed a special police taskforce on human sacrifice and announced that 2,000 officers were to receive specialist training in tackling child trafficking with the support of the US government. Since the taskforce was set up there have been 15 more murders linked to human sacrifice with another 200 disappearances, mainly of children and young adults, under investigation.

Both police and NGOs are attributing the surge to a new wave of commercial witch-doctors using mass media to market their services and demand large sums of money to sacrifice humans and animals for people who believe blood will bring great prosperity.

“Cases of child sacrifice have always existed, mainly in the Ugandan central region, but there is a new strain of traditional healers in Uganda and their geographical spread is mainly attributed to increased unemployment and poverty,” said Elena Lomeli. She is a volunteer with the British charity VSO who is supporting ANPPCAN Uganda, a child abuse NGO, in its work with victims in the capital Kampala. “My experience working with victims suggests that the abusers are greedy people who want to get rich quick. In rural areas, people can sacrifice their own child. In urban areas, educated and rich people will look for somebody else’s.”

Looming food shortages and famine hitting Uganda’s poorest in the north and east are also feeding the demand for sacrificial rituals. “These are not poor people paying for these rituals, they are the wealthy elite taking advantage of the desperate poor,” said Binoga. “In January a 21-year-old woman was jailed for 16 months for kidnapping a child and trying to sell him to a witch-doctor for a large sum. These cases are on the increase.”

Ugandan police are increasingly linking the sudden increase in cases to organ trafficking. The anti-human trafficking taskforce said many of the bodies found in the past few months were missing organs such as kidneys, hearts and livers, a detail not consistent with many traditional ritualistic practices.

Government officials have warned that perceived police inaction over the ritual murders could lead to political instability as mob justice takes over.

Roland Kakooza Mutale, director of special duties in Uganda’s state house, said the ritual murders of mostly poor children were “politically frightening” and that action had to be taken quickly.

This is an edited version of a story, which first appeared in The Observer on 6 September 2009. Click here to read it in full.

Read Full Post »

_

Gloria Sherman was 13 years old when Charles Taylor‘s soldiers came for her in 2001. Flushed from her hiding place in the bush outside her village in Lofa, northern Liberia, she was forced to watch as her father and brother were skinned alive. Then she was taken into a captivity lasting nearly two years: a conscript child soldier and a sexual slave in the former president’s army.

She is 18 now, but the memories are still raw. “We used to do bad, bad things that they told us to do,” she said last week. “Sometimes even if you were only 10 years old they would put guns and ammunition on your head to carry to the battle; you have to do what they said or they’d kill you. They killed many children, many girls. All the time many soldiers would have sex with you, every night they would come and have sex and beat you, and if you said no they would kill you or hit you with guns.”

 

DSC_0054

 

Two years of systematic rape and beatings have left Gloria with jagged scars and internal injuries so severe that she has little chance of ever becoming a mother. When she managed to escape from her captors and make her way back to her village, she found that she was now an outcast.

Labelled a “rebel wife” and accused of collaborating in the violence inflicted on her village by drugged and ruthless soldiers during the war, she says that the only way she can survive is by having sex with men – NGO workers, government officials and businessmen – who often pay her in food, sanitary towels or soap.

“They say we are bad girls because of what we did in the war and what we do now,” Gloria said. “But they took me and I had no choice.”

This is an edited extract of an article on Liberia’s former child soldiers first published in The Observer on 12 July 2009. Click here to read the original article in full and to watch the video.

Read Full Post »

Miskito children

When the first white cranes started appearing on the banks of the Rio Coco, deep in the Nicaraguan rainforest, Marciano Washington told his sons to start preparing the family’s three hectares of land for planting.

A month later, the weather-beaten Miskito elder from the town of San Carlos shades his eyes from the baking sun and surveys his cracked and barren land. His seed is rotting or has been eaten by rats. The few rice seeds that have sprouted are only inches high, yellow and discoloured.

“All my life the earth has told me when the rains are coming,” he says. “I don’t understand what is happening to our land.”

Miskito boat

The natural signs that Washington’s father taught him to observe, such as the white cranes, flowering avocado plants, silver fish and rapid flashes of lightning, no longer herald the rains that his community so desperately need.

Climate change is having a devastating effect on the Miskito Indians who live in wooden huts in Nicaragua’s western territories. They subsist on crops planted on a few hectares of land and food hunted from the jungle and rivers.

Ten years ago Washington said he could harvest 60 bags of rice a hectare. Last year he managed seven. “Every year it is getting worse,” he says. “We have floods in the summer and droughts in the winter. We can’t depend on nature anymore and we don’t know when to plant our crops. I don’t know how I am going to feed my family.”

Miskito boy

Environmental researchers are warning that the effect of climate change is likely to hit indigenous communities like the Miskito the hardest. Many of the world’s indigenous people live in isolated communities and their livelihoods depend on nature and on predicting the weather, making them vulnerable to increasingly unstable weather patterns.

Click here to read this article in full

Read Full Post »