“Child sacrifice is real — it’s not a myth. It’s a reality and it’s happening on a huge scale in Uganda.”
Fifteen years ago, young Ugandan pastor Peter Sewakiryanga travelled to Kyampisi, a village he describes as the country’s “epicentre of witchcraft”.
“I saw, with my own eyes, three children who had been sacrificed from the same family,” he tells RN’s Counterpoint.
“It broke my heart, I saw the pain of the mother who lost three children.
“It was real and right in front of me.”
Warning: This story contains details that some people may find distressing.
Witchcraft has long been practiced throughout Uganda, and traditionally involves the sacrificing of animals like goats or chickens.
But witch doctors, he says, now claim their work is “more powerful when you sacrifice the blood of a child”.
“The witch doctors believe that when you sacrifice a child, you get wealth, you get protection, you get some sort of blessing,” he says.
“It’s a form of desperation that people have because of poverty and disease.”
He describes child sacrifice as the “ritual mutilation of children”. Unbeknown to their parents, children are often kidnapped for these sacrificial practices.
“Children are kidnapped by so-called witch doctors or people that practice witchcraft,” Mr Sewakiryanga says.
“They cut their body parts and most often facial features — it could be ears, it could be eyes poked out, nose, tongues and more often genitals are cut off for ritual practices.”
Hear more from pastor Peter Sewakiryanga
The children are then left for dead. Few survive, and those who do are left with horrific injuries.
Mr Sewakiryanga says the practice bears no genuine relationship to the local culture.
“There’s freedom of worship and there are people that believe in worshipping ancestral spirits and witchcraft practices,” he says.
“But when it comes to demeaning the life of a child, it becomes a human rights issue and that needs to be responded to.”
Supporting victims and prosecuting the perpetrators
This is what drove Mr Sewakiryanga to establish Kyampisi Childcare Ministries (KCM), a charity that aims to end child sacrifice, support victims of the brutal practice and prosecute the perpetrators.
The charity is based in Kyampisi, the small village where Mr Sewakiryanga first witnessed child sacrifice.
“The work we mainly do is rescue the kids that are almost in the hands of those that will probably hurt them,” he says.
“For those that have been killed, we will work with the police to find the witch doctors and make sure that they are taken to court for justice.”
Mr Sewakiryanga says his organisation deals with between 20 and 30 confirmed cases of child sacrifice each year, on average.
The majority of those children don’t survive.
In some cases, Mr Sewakiryanga says, parents have even sacrificed their own children.
“It has come to that level of injustice and pain — even thinking that a mother or a father could do that to their own child,” he says.
And, he says, the number of victims could be much higher.
“Because it’s so secretive you can’t really know the number,” he says.
Mr Sewakiryanga’s charity is based in the Mukono District in central Uganda, an area home to roughly 600,000 people. More than 30 children have gone missing so far this year.
‘When you save one child, that keeps you going’
Mr Sewakiryanga says it’s difficult to find and prosecute the perpetrators because the practice is shrouded in secrecy.
“Unless there is a very coordinated effort to investigate these cases and a desire and an interest from the parties to follow these cases, you can’t catch them,” he says.
The other issue is that the Ugandan prosecution system is grossly underfunded and in some cases, not funded at all, Mr Sewakiryanga says.
And that’s where Rodney Callanan comes in.
A Brisbane-based civil engineer, Mr Callanan also runs Droplets in a Stream, a charity which partners with KCM to fund the process of bringing the perpetrators to justice.
“Our purpose is to bring justice, to help Peter bring justice and to publicise this fact and to apply international pressure on the Ugandan Government,” Mr Callanan says.
Mr Callanan, who was born in South Africa, previously lived in Uganda and now visits the country frequently.
The Ugandan Government has legislated to protect children against child sacrifice, but prosecution is difficult. Mr Callanan says more funding is needed to ensure those responsible are caught and convicted.
From what he’s observed, “the police are willing, [but] they’re just unfunded”.
“We literally had to pay the police wages, hired a car for them, fuelled the car, paid for court orders,” he says.
“It’s so foreign, it’s hard to comprehend — you call police to come to a crime and they say they don’t have fuel.”
But they’re starting to see results.
Mr Callanan says the perpetrator of a child sacrifice committed 10 years ago has finally been caught and his trial will commence next month.
“When you save one child, that keeps you going,” he says.
Mr Callanan says a big part of his work is campaigning for the Ugandan Government to take a firmer stand against child sacrifice.
“We can’t fund the Ugandan Government forever,” he says.
“We are bringing it to their attention to fund the police forces and the judicial system properly.”