Working to protect children from abuse linked to faith or belief (CALFB)
Leethen Bartholomew outlines how The National FGM Centre works to protect children from the unique issue known as CALFB.
The National FGM Centre is a partnership between the UK’s largest children’s charity, Barnardo’s, and the Local Government Association (LGA). The Centre was established with a vision to end new cases of female genital mutilation (FGM) by 2030. To achieve this, we work closely with key partners from local authorities, health, education, police, and the voluntary sectors to cover child abuse linked to faith or belief (CALFB). In 2017-18, harmful practices associated to CALFB resulted in four cases a week being referred to local authorities nationally; a 12% increase on the previous year. Since those results, the Centre has worked on 38 such cases in just under 18 months, from September 2017 to March 2019.
What is CALFB?
The National Action Plan, alongside The National Working Group, have drawn up a non-exhaustive list of potential instances which would be defined as CALFB. This list gives practitioners a baseline to work from. As such, CALFB is defined as the belief in concepts such as:
• Witchcraft and spirit possession, demons or the devil acting through children or leading them astray (traditionally seen in some extreme Christian beliefs)
• The evil eye or djinns (traditionally known in some Islamic faith contexts) and dakini (in the Hindu context)
• Ritual or muti murders where the killing of children is believed to bring supernatural benefits, or that the use of their body parts is believed to produce potent magical remedies
• Use of belief in magic or witchcraft to create fear in children to make them more compliant when they are being trafficked for domestic slavery or sexual exploitation.
Why does it happen?
CALFB often occurs where families experience some form of misfortune and the most vulnerable within the family is then blamed or scapegoated. Women can also often be accused and in these cases, children can become secondary victims. Examples of misfortunes could be death, illness, perceived behavioural problems in children, or disability.
In addition to these, CALFB cases are often found where family members experience physical and mental health issues. This means it is important that practitioners holistically assess family and environmental factors when looking at risk.
Why does it happen?
There are many reasons or situations that can lead to instances of CALFB, including:
The carers of the child believe that evil spirits can ‘possess’ children is often accompanied by a conviction that a possessed child can ‘infect’ others with the condition. This could be through contact with shared food, or simply being in the presence of the child.
There are often situations in which a child is singled out as the cause of misfortune within the home, such as financial difficulties, divorce, infidelity, illness, or a family bereavement.
Sometimes bad or abnormal behaviour is attributed to spiritual forces. Examples include a child being disobedient, rebellious, overly independent, wetting the bed, having nightmares or falling ill.
Physical difference or disability
A child could be singled out for having a physical difference or disability. Documented cases included children with learning disabilities, mental health issues, epilepsy, autism, stammers and deafness.
If a child has a particular skill or talent, this can sometimes be rationalised as a form of possession, witchcraft, or satanic influence.
Complex family structures
Research suggests that a child living with extended family, non-biological parents, or foster parents is more at risk.
There is no specific legislation associated with CALFB, but there are a number of laws that allow the prosecution of those responsible, whether the abuse was physical, psychological, sexual, or neglectful. Unfortunately, there are many cases where abuse linked to faith or belief was a featured factor, and where children had been accused of being ‘possessed’, ‘evil’, or ‘witches’. For example:
• The case of Ayesha Ali, 2013, Possession
• The case of Kristy Bamu, 2010, Witchcraft/Possession
• The case of Eunice Spry, 1986-2007, Possession
• The case of Victoria Climbe, 2000, Witchcraft
• The case of Patrick Erhabor, 2001, Sacrifice
• The case of Faith Lovemore, 2009, Possession
• The case of Khyra Ishaq, 2008, Evil spirits.
The best way to prevent CALFB is by working with families to help them with the problems they encounter. We need to ensure that families understand what constitutes normal child development; engage with faith institutions; raise awareness in schools and communities; and train professionals like teachers and social workers to spot at risk children and to report it. We educate professionals on how to identify that a child might be or is at risk of CALFB so that it can be prevented.
There is a misconception that CALFB is not an issue in the UK, but this is not the case. Local authorities and health, education, police, and the voluntary sectors need to work together to prevent and eventually eradicate these horrific crimes.
For more information about the National FGM’s work on CAFLB, go to
<p class="font_8">For more information about the National FGM’s work on CAFLB, head to <a href="
<p class="font_8">Leethen Bartholomew is Head of Centre at The National FGM Centre.</p>
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