Child Sacrifice in Uganda

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Child sacrifice in Uganda is a phenomenon that has embedded itself within traditional customs but that bears no genuine relationship to local culture. The appeal to "cultural beliefs" is actually an excuse used by witchdoctors to justify their crimes, and by the Ugandan government to avoid taking action. The government tries to minimize the magnitude of the problem because politicians fear losing votes and this is a a country where witchdoctors wield surprising influence at the polls.

Most victims are children. Behind the torture, mutilation and killing of the victims lies just one single cause: money. This fraudulent business moves through every social class, from the poorest villagers who live out of the capital to rich tycoons and generals who determine the wealth and stability of the country.

Children are beheaded when new buildings are under construction -- because misinformed individuals believer that their heads, once buried beneath the foundation, will bring success to business. People looking for money, sexual performance or love visit healers who don't hesitate to kidnap children from their families or from the streets to acquire body parts, thus enabling them to charge their clients more. Witchdoctors perform cheap tricks for clients who are easily cheated, blackmailed or threatened -- and who are often turned into killers.

Organ trafficking due to ritual murder is another alarming side effect. Street children become easy targets and disappear every week.

The fraudulent branches of some Pentecostal churches play a role in this as well. These congregations have power, money, radio and TV channels -- and thousands of followers. The preachers use persuasion, threats, and blackmail to extort money from people, while children are killed to heal someone else from AIDS or cancer. Little has been done to bring the perpetrators to justice.

Dying for Magic in Kampala (in Italian)

The Ugandan Police is hunting traditional healers who kidnap children to sacrifice them. And it's fighting against the greed of a new middle class, which rely on magic rituals to get richer.

Note: This article was originally featured in the German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung, which ran this story shortly after Marco left Uganda. Story by Arne Perras, photos by Marco Vernaschi.

Click on the image above to read the article in Italian.

Uganda: A lawyer's brief, a mother's grief

Richard Omongole, a Ugandan lawyer and former country director for Amnesty International, is legal adviser to the Gideon Foundation, a small organization that was founded by the father of a child who was killed during a ritual sacrifice.

Uganda: The Man Behind RACHO

Job opportunities were low in Kampala so when a friend offered Paul Odida a job in South Africa the prospect of some money was encouraging. He sold his car, left Kampala on a bus, and headed for Johannesburg. What Paul didn’t know was that the job was to work as a “traditional healer”. Ugandan traditional healers are renowned throughout much of Africa as experts, but Paul had no idea of what the work was about.

Uganda: Response to Critics

Merco Vernaschi, for the Pulitzer Center

(Editor's note at end of post)

During the past week a few blogs have unleashed a wave of criticism on my work about child sacrifice in Uganda, questioning my ethics and values and the Pulitzer Center's guidelines. Much of the criticism has focused on the picture of Margaret Babirye Nankya, a child who was killed during a ritual sacrifice, and whose body was exhumed to be photographed.