By Henok Gabisa LLM, Human Rights Analyst
As callous and as remorseless a practice as it is, human sacrifice is one of the bizarre and absurd phenomena that is on the raise in the Great Lakes Region of Africa. Children are the common target hunts for their particular body parts to perform the ritual procedure for the superstitious purposes which allegedly range from wealth accumulation to personal healing. In recent years, this preposterous practice emerged with a dramatic revival and taking place at the hiking rate in Uganda, where 200-300 cases of child sacrifice is reported every year. Many agree that this indicates a disturbingly post-modern appearance of the practice since ancient times when it was rampant in different parts of the world.
This eye-wateringly tragic cost of children’s’ lives in Uganda begs some serious criminological debates as to why the existing legal framework in Uganda is far from tackling this lingering plight faced by the innocent children on a daily basis. It also throws a conscious thinking into perspective as to why the world must aggressively continue to integrate the international human rights standards of child protections into the daily business of national governments particularly in developing nations. This short article is inspired by the predicaments of the little souls of Uganda as they always sleep at night with a knowledge that they may fall prey to their predators in the morning.
Child Sacrifice: Definition and Components
Despite no cosmopolitan instrument to rely on for an authoritative definition, the prevailing view that is being reverberated generically on the subject classifies the act as a form of human sacrifice, where children are killed with or without ritualistic reference in order to gratify and appease some supernatural beings to achieve a desired result. In revitalization to this, different studies carried out on Child Sacrifice in Uganda define the subject as the act of murdering a child by a witch-doctor or their accomplices in order to use the child‘s blood, organs and/or limbs mixed with herbs and other elements in a ritual witchcraft ceremony. The term is commonly used throughout Uganda to designate a harmful practice of removing children where body parts, blood and tissue are removed. It is the harmful practice of removing a child’s body parts, blood or tissue while the child is alive. These body parts, blood or tissue are either worn, buried or consumed by an individual in the belief they will assist with a number of issues including overcoming illness, gaining wealth, obtaining blessings from ancestors, protection, initiation, assisting with conception and dictating the gender of a child. As the practice shows in Uganda, the most parts of body found missing in majority of the attacks is tongue, genitalia, blood, legs and entire heads. The vast majority of those attacked are children between the age of 3 and 18 years; and there are also a number of cases where mothers in the latter stages of their pregnancy have been attacked and the fetus has been removed and mutilated.
Child Sacrifice: Criminology and the Joint Criminal Enterprise
The practice of child sacrifice is attributed to a high demand from communities where people have a strong belief that when traditional medicine contains body parts, it becomes stronger. It is a deep-rooted belief throughout Uganda that the use of body parts, blood and tissue in traditional medicine makes it stronger and more powerful. The practice poses a strong harm to the personal security and well-being of Ugandan children which needs cautious investigations as to the social behavior behind it. This brings into play the question of who the perpetrators are and their shared roles and common goals out of the activity. Answering this will enable us to legitimately examine if the current legal framework of Uganda, mainly, the law of homicide, is adequate enough to address the predicament.
Uganda is one of the African countries where traditional healing is widely practiced. Traditional healers play an important cultural and traditional role in village life, as well as serving important medicinal and conflict resolution roles. According to a young NGO in Uganda, Restoring African Culture Harmony Organization (RACHO), it is estimated that there are 650,000 registered traditional healers in Uganda but around 3 million practicing traditional healers. This indicates that there are a whole lot of “self-appointing healers” operating under the masquerade of the practice of traditional healing. This means that corrupt people can use the cover of traditional healers and can work unmonitored and exploit the belief and abuse vulnerable people. These unregulated groups who operate under the mask of the traditional healing but widely run the enterprise of child body sacrifice are commonly referred to as the “witch-doctors”.
The witch-doctor organizes the abduction and sacrifice and the act is undertaken for payment. They convince their client that this ritual murder will make their magical rite more powerful and that it will be able to fulfill their wish of gaining wealth and prosperity. The witch-doctor exercises all power and authority in their controlling role over the process and the client relies on their knowledge and ability to enable their magical powers to bring them riches. Clients are prepared to pay whatever amount the witch-doctors demands and they become convinced that the sacrifice of a human is required by the gods in order to secure a fast track to prosperity.
The arrangements of the sacrifice vary as some witch-doctors may play a part in the abduction or they may employ an agent to identify and groom a child who is considered appropriate for the ritual; the agent may also be responsible for the disposal of the body after the ceremony has been completed. Alternatively, they could rely on a child trafficking gang who operate in a network and kidnap children for these and other illegal purposes. The witch-doctor would be expected to pay such an agent for their role in the kidnapping and this would be taken from the larger fee paid to them by their client.
As incongruous as it looks, this criminal enterprise has its own common goal and purpose commonly shared by all the participants in the activity. Notwithstanding the multiplicity of the ultimate goals of the practice, which of course varies depending on the demand of the client, all the participants who take part in the child sacrifice have a shared vision and responsibility from the soup-to-nuts of the criminal act. The criminal behavior of all the participants exhibits an independent and distinctive type of moral and legal wrong prohibited under the ordinary law of homicide. The fact that the witch-doctors secretly pose under the veneer of traditional healing practice makes this criminal activity absolutely difficult to detect at its earlier stage of preparatory acts and attempts. In other words, the prevention possibility of this specific crime is more unlikely than any other ordinary crimes of homicide. In that kind of cases, an average and reasonable criminal justice policy recommends that states would stress more on the apprehension and criminalization of the offenders such that it would completely deter future acts. It is dubious to expect to achieve this via the existing criminal framework of Uganda.
While Advocates for Human Dignity commends the advancements in legislation for the protection of children in Uganda, we feel compelled to compel further efforts including a super conscious criminal justice policy commanded by a new penal legislation that only focuses addresses the cross-cutting injustice of child sacrifice in Uganda. Presently, the legal framework that is in operation in Uganda does not yet go far enough to be effective tackling this criminal issue sufficiently. The incumbent criminal justice administration of Uganda must take further steps in order make a distinction that acts of child sacrifice, even if it involves killing, are different from murder in that they have processes and intentions that go beyond the act of homicide. This demands a self-contained-regime of penal legislation that comprehensively governs the harmful act of child sacrifice. As a matter of fact, this brings into play the legal equations of defining the substantive legal content of the act and the procedures thereof. Leaving the act of child sacrifice only to the attention of the regular criminal law of Uganda makes the problem as ordinarily as the crimes committed on the daily basis in the country. It is only then that the children of Uganda sleep soundly every night in the knowledge that the country’s law can safely shield them from their tormentors
International Human Rights Law as a Complementary Path
States are the primary entity under international human rights law to bear the obligation to respect, protect, and fulfill the widely recognized rights and freedoms as enshrined in treaties and other instruments. These treaties, which thematically and also on a basis of address the rights and freedoms, have also devised a procedural guarantees through which the individual or group of victims can shop appropriate venues to petition their complaint in the defaulting situations by the respective state. Therefore, the government of Uganda bears all types of obligations in making sure the innocent children live free from any fear of sacrifice. In order to achieve this, not only legislative measures but also the educating the society is as necessary as executing the national strategic plan to eliminate or curb these unconscionable acts against children.
AHD/EACO’s Every Child is Anybody’s Child Campaign
Advocates for Human Dignity is developing a project to help combat child sacrifice in Uganda in partnership with Empower and Care Organization Uganda. Please support our project by donating today.