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Child abuse linked to faith or belief up by a third in two years

Councils in England dealing with 38 such cases every week, Local Government Association figures show

Caroline White

Friday, 15 November 2019

The number of children in England councils say have been abused for reasons associated with witchcraft has risen by a third in the past three years, reveal the latest figures collated by the Local Government Association (LGA).

Abuse of children based on faith or belief, to include witchcraft, spirit possession and black magic, rose from 1460 cases in 2016-17 to 1950 cases by 2018-19, a rise of 34%. Councils now deal with 38 such cases a week.

The new figures also show that the number of children identified by councils through a social work assessment as either having had or at risk of female genital mutilation (FGM) has reached a record high, with 1000 cases in 2018/-9, up 6% on the 940 cases the previous year.

The National FGM Centre, a joint initiative between the LGA and children’s charity, Barnardo’s, says both sets of figures are hugely worrying, of significant national concern and probably don’t reflect the true prevalence of this “hidden” crime.

Council social workers have become better at identifying cases, and the work of the National FGM Centre, which provides services for children and their families affected by FGM and abuse linked to faith or belief is vital, says the LGA.

The figures also reflect the pressure children’s services face, with social workers starting new “episode of need” cases for more than 1,000 children every day.

The next government needs to ensure that councils have the funding needed to continue to take effective action to keep children safe from harm and abuse, it says.

Councillor Anita Lower, LGA lead on FGM and chair of the National FGM Centre’s Advisory Board, said: “Rising cases of FGM and child abuse linked to faith or belief are extremely worrying and are destroying the lives of children and young people in communities across the country.

“Social workers have become better at identifying the signs of FGM and belief-related abuse, but the true incidence rate is likely to be higher as these crimes are under-reported.”

She added that councils were committed to doing all they could to safeguard children. But to do that, “children’s services departments need to have the funding to address the huge demand for help from children and their families and maximise the effectiveness of prevention and intervention work,” she insisted.

Leethen Bartholomew, who heads up the National FGM Centre, added: “It is alarming and unacceptable that the number of children affected by child abuse linked to faith and belief and FGM has risen dramatically.

“While it is positive that cases are being referred and affected children are receiving the care and protection they need, a lot more needs to be done to put an end to these harmful practices.

“We want to help end new cases of FGM in England by 2030 and to safeguard children from other harmful practices like child abuse linked to faith or belief. In order to achieve this, we need more partnership working, resources to tackle the issue, mandatory training for professionals, and more awareness raised among communities.”

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