Child sacrifice in Uganda

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In Sub-Saharan Africa, "the practice of ritual killing and human sacrifice continues to take place ... in contravention of the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights and other human rights instruments."[1] In the 21st century, such practices have been reported in Nigeria, Uganda, Swaziland, Liberia, Tanzania, Namibia, and Zimbabwe,[1] as well as Mozambique,[2] and Mali.[3]

This is the harmful practice of removing body parts, blood or tissue from a child who is still alive.[4]

Background and context[edit]


Rural districts near Kampala, Uganda's capital, have been badly affected by kidnappings of vulnerable people, children in particular, for sacrificial purposes.[5] It is a modern phenomenon that is pretending to be part of the country's old custom, through the use of traditional medicine, which roughly 80% of people rely on.[6][7] Villages have been left gripped by fear and bewilderment from such activities. In exposed communities’, roadsides posters, workshops, and alert systems have been erected to warn children and their families of the danger posed by Witch Doctors abducting for the purpose of child sacrifice.[4]


Witchdoctors, who also identify as traditional healers, will consult the spirits for anyone who can pay their fee.[6] The spirits will communicate via them the kind of sacrifice for appeasement that they want. Often these sacrifices are chickens or goats, but when such sacrifices fail to make the client prosper instantly, ‘the spirits' will demand human sacrifices.[8]

In most cases, it is a strategy used to give the client an impossible task so that the witchdoctor does not appear to have failed. The witchdoctor is able to gain a lot of wealth by facilitating and carrying out human sacrifices as the fee charged is normally very high.[8] The desire for instant wealth on the part of the client and greed on the part of the witchdoctor has created a ready market for children to be bought and sold at a price. Children have become a commodity of exchange and child sacrifice is more than a religious or cultural issue, it has become a commercial business.[8]


Children are often victims of sacrifice for various reasons, the most common being they are relatively easy to abduct.[6] As they are far more vulnerable than adults, children are more easily lured in or unable to fight back.[9] Another reason children are abducted is that spiritually they are seen as more ‘pure’; a sacrifice that is “pure” or “unblemished” is believed to bring better results.[10][11] If a child has been circumcised, scarred or has had their ears pricked this represents disfigurement or impurity and they may be spared from sacrifice.[11] Some parents have marked their children in these ways to protect them.[11][6]

In other cases children are given to witchdoctors by relatives out of desperation for money. A child's' life is worth a high price and it provides instant money for struggling families.[10] Another cause for children being abducted is the belief that children represent new growing life, and offering them as a sacrifice will bring prosperity and growth to the one procuring the sacrifice.[12]

Child sacrifice[edit]

Generally, a witchdoctor will try other methods first to bring about change of a person’s misfortunes or desires using herbal remedies or animal sacrifices.[13] When change is not successful, resorting to child sacrifice is proposed because it is believed to be the most powerful.[8] When a child is sacrificed, the witch doctor and his accomplices will generally undertake the whole process.[6] This includes: the Witch-hunt, the abduction, followed by the removal of certain body parts, the making of a potion and lastly if required the discarding of the child's body.[6]

The removal of body parts depends on the type of outcome desired. Most commonly heads, limbs, tongues, genitals, eyes, teeth, and organs are removed.[13] The child is usually alive during the removal process. Figures suggest only a very small proportion of children survive.[14] One type of sacrifice is the removal of blood, which is then used in medicines or mixed with herbs.[13][6] It will be used in the place where success, healing or wealth is desired. In other cases a child is buried under a building foundation, either dead or alive, or only their hands, feet and genitals to bring good luck to the new building.[8][6]


A child that survives sacrifice is left with traumatizing consequences for the rest of their lives. Most commonly survivors are left with large scars across their body, head and neck in particular.[6] Genital mutilation is also common. Survivors are left with urinary issues and distorted puberty development.[6] The psychological damage to children affects their entire development; victims can struggle to develop ‘normal’ relationships after such an attack.[6] Families are also affected as parents often bear the financial burden of covering short-term or long-term treatment.[8]


Desire for wealth[edit]

A study of the Ugandan context shows great disparity between the rich elite and the average Ugandan who struggles to make ends meet. It is almost impossible for someone born in a poor family to climb up on the social ladder. The gap between the rich and the poor combined with discontent with the political status quo, endemic corruption and general feeling that the country has lost direction breeds a lot of discontent and frustration. It is in such an environment that the witchdoctors thrive, promising desperate people a miraculous way to bridge the gap from have-not to have, from failure to success and from poverty to wealth.[15]

The small elite who gained wealth in a relatively short time during Uganda’s economic boom in the early 21st century is an example promoted by witchdoctors for their successful profession. They claim that they have aided many of the nouveau riche to gain their wealth. According to the head of the country's Anti-Human Sacrifice Taskforce, the child sacrifice is directly linked to rising levels of development and prosperity, and an increasing belief that witchcraft can help people get rich quickly.[15]

Mike Chibata the top law enforcer of Uganda said the growing appeal is due to superstition and a desire to get rich quick that people buy into; witchdoctors tell them that child sacrifice is the best spell and that it is needed.[14] It is thought that child sacrifice increases the power of a witchdoctors magic because it makes the charms, amulets or talismans that are given to clients, stronger.[6] For this reason, witchdoctors stay practicing, along with great financial benefit. [16]

Witchdoctors and Traditional Healers[edit]

All witchdoctors identify as traditional healers but not all traditional healers are witchdoctors and most do not perform child sacrifice.[17] This identification has caused witchcraft to be associated with the healing practices of the indigenous culture; generating a rise in fascination with witchcraft.[17] This has resulted in a damaged reputation of those traditional healers and herbalists who do not use human flesh but are still blamed for these crimes.[17]

Politicians seeking fortune[edit]

There is an increased risk of child sacrifice and increased work for witchdoctors around the elections. This is because high-profile Ugandans have brought into the practice by being convinced they need to sacrifice a child to win a seat as an MP.[18]

Case Studies[edit]


BBC news investigated a seven-year-old boy called Allan Ssembatya.[19][17] He was attacked by a local witchdoctor and two acquaintances on his way home from school while walking with friends.[19][17] In the witchdoctor's shrine he was struck on the neck, across the shoulders, and in the head with a machete.[19][17] One of his testicles was removed and he was left for dead in a bush, he survived, but was in a coma for a month.[19][17] The local witchdoctor admitted to this but the case is still pending due to slow investigation and allegation of corruption. Allan’s family had to move homes and jobs to get through the ordeal and there are still adverse effects to this day.[19][17]

Killed victim[edit]

Steven (Emmanuel) Kironde was killed at the age of six in 2009.[17][20] He was in the care of his grandmother, who left the family home briefly for an errand, when he was abducted.[17][20] His body was found the next morning decapitated behind the house.[17][20] The witchdoctor was arrested but three weeks later the police offered a pay out to the grandmother to drop the case.[17][20] This was declined and further developments have not been made.[17][20] There are several cases like this in the court system.[17][20]

Former witchdoctor[edit]

Polino Angela gave up this work in 1990 since then he has dedicated his time to converting 2,400 other witchdoctors.[16] He admitted to killing seventy children including his own ten-year-old son in his past.[16][15] James Nsaba Buturo, the Minister of Ethics and Integrity agreed with Polino’s approach stating persuading change is better than retrospective punishment, which would cause a problem for justice.[15]


Statistics of child sacrifice can be hard to accurately gauge in Uganda.[10] The Uganda Human Rights Commission published a report in 2014 that warned of an underestimation of cases.[21] This was based on late claims and tampering of crime scenes.[21] Over 2007 and 2008 there was an 800% rise in the number of reported ritual sacrifice cases.[22]

The African Network for the Prevention and Protection against Abuse and Neglect (ANPPCAN) reported that almost 3000 children disappear from their homes every year.[23] This is not close to the reported number. A UNICEF report stated 13 cases of child sacrifice were reported in 2014 and 2015 and six of the 2015 ones were related to elections.[17]

Current Law[edit]


There are three pieces of legislation currently governing child sacrifice in Uganda. The most recent of these was the October 2009 Prevention of Trafficking in Persons Act, this contained relevant sections on trafficking for the use of body parts.[24] Prior to this there was only the Witchcraft Act of 1957 and the Children’s Act 1997.[25][26] Child sacrifice through witchcraft has been allowed because the authorities did not implement the Witchcraft Act on the ground.[6] The Act itself is hard to try anyone under because of its vague expression.[6] Child sacrifice is not specifically mentioned in it. This means that giving a maximum sentence for the murder of a child by sacrifice is extremely difficult and the courts rarely use it. [6]

In 2016 an amendment to the Children’s Act was passed. Under clause 10 it protects children from violence and provides a right to access child protection services.[27][28] This development for Uganda specifically prohibits child sacrifice, trafficking, sexual exploitation and female genital mutilation.[28] It also ensures a service for children who have been victims and sets a mandatory structure for reporting abuse.[28]

Anti-Human Sacrifice and Trafficking Task Force[edit]

This force was created in 2009 along with the Prevention of Trafficking in Persons Act. The government established the force with the intention that they would to oversee and coordinate investigations, collect statistics and work with the general public to stop this practice.[6] The Force are covering more cases than before its establishment, but there is still a struggle to gain adequate evidence for convictions.[6]

The task force consists of an officer with a motorcycle and it works without a proper budget.[29] Consequently, many Ugandans believe that the gesture of the Ugandan government is more a matter of window dressing to avert local and international criticism than a genuine attempt.

International Obligations[edit]

Uganda is obliged under multiple treaties to protect the rights of children. The 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child requires Uganda to act in the best interest of the countries children by ensuring they all have basic human rights.[30] Uganda also ratified the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights.[31] Several articles within this charter set out clear obligations to protect human rights. In particular Article 4 and 5 protect everyone's right to life and freedom from bad and cruel treatment.[31] Article 18 specifically identifies the protection for children.[31] This international instrument works to promote and protect basic human freedoms and human rights throughout Africa. Uganda is obliged to fulfill these expectations by continuously establishing state mechanisms to prevent tragedies like child sacrifice.


The issue of child sacrifice in Uganda has been highlighted in the media over the past three years with ABC (Australia) and BBC producing compelling reports and documentaries.[32][33] The media attention coincided with media campaigns by Ugandan NGOs such as RACHO, ANPPCAN-Uganda, faith-based organisations such as Kyampisi Childcare Ministries (KCM) and Rose's Journey—a collective effort of Ugandans and friends of Uganda to end child sacrifice.[29]

The media attention has put the government of Uganda under pressure to be seen as doing something about the issue of child sacrifice. This resulted in the formation of the official government task force, the new bill, and the 2016 amendment.

Future development[edit]

There was previously an issue with the application and implementation of relevant legislation on the ground and in court.[6] To make this change in legislation successful its effects will need to be taught properly to the Task Force, where change can start from the ground. The second area of concern is within the court systems. Cases on child sacrifice currently go straight into the general court system.[6] Cases get held up easily and take a long time to actually go through.[6] A department of court set up to specifically tackle child sacrifice cases would provide a suitable structure for victims and their families. This has been supported by local authorities because it will help simplify the monitoring of activities.[6]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ a b Igwe, Leo 2010. Ritual Killing and Human Sacrifice in Africa, a statement made at the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights, 48th Session (November 11, 2010) in Banjul, Gambia.
  2. ^ Akosah-Sarpong, Kofi 2007. Mozambique tackles Witchcraft and Human Sacrifice, Mmegi (August 10, 2007).
  3. ^ Kante, Sadio. Mali's human sacrifice - myth or reality?, BBC News Africa (September 20, 2004).
  4. ^ a b Nkimba, K. (2015). "Impact Stories: Testimonies of Change CAACS Project"
  5. ^ Sseppuuya David, “Christians Unite against Human Sacrifice”, The New Vision (Uganda) Tuesday, February 24, 2009, P.12
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u Jubilee Campaign and Kyampisi Childcare Ministries. (2011) "Child Sacrifice in Uganda - report"
  7. ^ Kasilo, O., & Trapsida, J. M. (n.d.) "Regulation of Traditional Medicine in the WHO African Region | African Health Observatory"
  8. ^ a b c d e f Rogers, C (2011). "Where child sacrifice is a business" BBC News Africa (11 October).
  9. ^ Nilsson, Ann-Charlotte. (2013). "Children and youth in armed conflict" 2 vols. Leiden: Koninklijke Brill. P 48.
  10. ^ a b c Smitheram, E. (2014, March 4). "How one charity is working to prevent child sacrifice in Uganda". The Guardian.
  11. ^ a b c Kawaawa-Mafigiri, D., & Walakira, E. (2009). "Child Abuse and Neglect in Uganda" (p. 167).
  12. ^ Mbogoni, L. E. (2014)."Human sacrifice and the supernatural in African History". Dar es Salaam, Tanzania: Mkuki na Nyota Pub. P. 139
  13. ^ a b c KidsRights Foundation. (2014). "No Small Sacrifice Child Sacrifice in Uganda, in a global context of cultural violence"
  14. ^ a b Thomas, G. (2017, March 24). "The Country Where Sacrificing Children Is a Thriving Business"
  15. ^ a b c d Whewell, T (2010)."A BBC investigation into human sacrifice in Uganda" BBC News. Newsnight. (7 January).
  16. ^ a b c Angela, P. (2010, January 16). "Uganda Child Sacrifice" Interview by T. Whewell. In Our World Documentary. BBC News.
  17. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Jubilee Campaign and Kyampisi Childcare Ministries. (2011)"Child Sacrifice in Uganda - report"
  18. ^ AFP. (2015, June 15). "If they're told to win a seat as an MP 'You must sacrifice a child', they'll do it"
  19. ^ a b c d e Ssembatya, A. (2010, January 16). "Uganda Child Sacrifice" Interview by T. Whewell. In Our World Documentary. BBC News.
  20. ^ a b c d e f Akbar, J. (2016, June 17). "Snatched on their way to school then castrated or decapitated: Horrifying rise in child human sacrifice in Uganda at the hands of witch doctors"
  21. ^ a b Uganda Human Rights Commission. (2014). "Child sacrifice in Uganda and its human rights implications: A research study"
  22. ^ Bienvenu, M. (2010). "Child Sacrifice in Uganda"
  23. ^ ANPPCAN. (2016). "The African Network for the Prevention and Protection against Child Abuse and Neglect"
  24. ^ The Republic of Uganda. (2009). "The Prevention of Trafficking in Persons Act"
  25. ^ The Republic of Uganda. (1957). "The Witchcraft Act"
  26. ^ The Republic of Uganda. (1997). "Children Act"
  27. ^ The Republic of Uganda. (2016.)"The Children (Amendment) Act"
  28. ^ a b c Unicef. (2016). "The Children Act Amendment 2016"
  29. ^ a b "Uganda: Child Sacrifice Not a Cultural Issue". Pulitzer Center. 2010-04-16. Retrieved 2019-08-12.
  30. ^ United Nations. (1989) "Convention on the Rights of the Child"
  31. ^ a b c African Unity. (1987) "The African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights"
  32. ^ ABC 2009. -killing/1439848 "Men severed albino boy's legs in ritual killing" ABC News. (23 September).
  33. ^ ; BBC 2010. "Human sacrifices 'on the rise in Uganda' as witch doctors admit to rituals" BBC Investigation quoted in the Telegraph (7 January).

External links[edit]

Across Outreach:[1]

Africa Outreach: [2]

ANPPCAN-Uganda: [3]

Cawsocia: [4]

Jubilee Campaign UK: [5]

KidsRights Foundation: [6]

Kyampisi Childcare Ministries: [7]

RACHO: [8]

The Republic of Uganda: [9]

UNICEF Uganda: [10]

Rose's Journey [11]