Articles on Shifting Sands
Barnardo’s sows suspicion of child abuse linked to faith and belief
Lockdown, we are told, is a dangerous time for children and families. A surge in domestic abuse is to be expected and a 50 per cent increase in killings has already been reported, higher than the average rate for the time of year. According to some charities, children are particularly vulnerable. The NSPCC, “the UK’s leading children’s charity fighting to end child abuse” reminds us that many are trapped in unsafe homes and need our support more than ever to help protect them.
Conspiracy theorists about public health have been assuming a greater degree of prominence for some time and Covid-19 has now been added. Snake oil merchants are also taking advantage. Bishop Climate Wiseman, of the Kingdom Church was a recent example. He claimed that kits containing bottles of oil and red yarn, priced at £91, would protect his followers from the virus.
Charities too are having a tough time because of lockdown. Their survival is increasingly dependent on successful fundraising appeals which have become as commonplace as staying safe guides. Funds are hard to come by at the best of times and many rely on the public’s reputation for generosity. The WWII veteran, Captain Tom Moore, recently inspired us to part with a massive £32M for the NHS.
Some charities find it easier than others to fundraise so new and imaginative ways are constantly sought to persuade us to part with our hard earned cash. Those that promote child safety tend to do well. We all want to play our part in protecting children from the myriad types of abuse that are claimed to exist. But it’s a competitive industry and generating positive publicity is an important part of charities’ work. However, negative publicity, as Save the Children learnt, can be detrimental.
Barnardo’s generally appeals for donations to help it help children in their hour of need. But it has a unique string to its bow. Having set up the National FGM Centre together with the Local Government Association in 2015, one of its niche work areas has become attitudinal change towards harmful practices and abuse linked to faith or belief. That focus was developed when the predicted FGM epidemic didn’t materialise but the Centre still needed to be seen to be relevant. It now boasts its harmful practices E-Learning tool “the first of its kind in the world.”
Barnardo’s recent press release “Increase in witchcraft and spirit possession suspected during coronavirus lockdown” quoted the FGM Centre’s lead, Leethen Bartholomew, saying that child abuse linked to faith and belief might increase but go unreported because of the crisis. And if vulnerable children or adults contract COVID-19 or are accused of bringing it into the home, they could be labelled witches or possessed. Spiritual rather than medical help might then be sought which could result in a rise in exorcisms or deliverances to ‘drive out’ evil spirits associated with the virus.
The associated child abuse could be unrelenting because children are not at school where teachers could keep an eye on them, and their abusers could target them 24 hours a day. He urged communities to be vigilant, and to play their part in reporting suspicions to the police or other agencies. This approach was supported by the National Police Chiefs’ Council lead.
Based on this press release by a reputable charity, one could be forgiven for thinking this type of abuse is commonplace. While it’s probably true that a minority continue to hold superstitious beliefs, and some may even act on them – there are some, mostly old examples on the FGM Centre’s website, those who do are joining the mini-industry of conspiracy theorists about the virus. That this highlighting of superstitious beliefs has been singled out as an important part of the work of Barnardo’s/the FGM Centre, and contribute towards its fundraising efforts through conferences and training is shameful. As is the blatant encouragement of suspicion of peoples faith and beliefs. And asking the public to spy on them, using safeguarding as the pretext is a new low. Shame on them!
About the Author - Bríd Hehir
Bríd is a retired health professional. She started her career as a nurse and midwife in Africa where she worked for almost four years. She encountered FGM/C in Ethiopia. She then moved to London where she worked in the National Health Service as a midwife, community nurse, health visitor, reproductive and sexual health nurse and manager over a period of 30 years. She did not encounter FGM/C during that time despite working with immigrant communities who are reported to practice it still. She is puzzled by the current reported prevalence of the practice, the official response and associated activism. And is worried that they might cause more harm than good.