Why child sacrifice is on the rise in Uganda


The mutilation and death of children at the hand of witch doctors is on the rise in Uganda. But thanks to help from Australia, many victims are fighting for justice against this disturbing modern crime.

After surviving a child sacrifice attack, will 16-year-old Allan finally see his attacker brought to justice? Watch How to Catch A Witch Doctor On Demand.

Child sacrifice might sound like an ancient ritual, but for many people in Uganda it’s a terrifying, modern crime.

The practice – where children are mutilated for their blood or body parts has been on the increase in the country, coinciding with an economic boom and rapid social change that began in the 1990s.

Witch doctors use the cover of traditional medicine to extract money from the greedy and gullible. Developers, businessman and even politicians have pursued child sacrifice believing it will bring financial gain and success

“They (witch doctors) manipulate the mind of their clients”, local Judge Margaret Mutonyi, tells Dateline.

“And when they see this one is interested in money, is interested in wealth and is so greedy, they go ahead and ask the impossible. They ask you to sacrifice a human being, and people have gone ahead to do it.”

Peter Sewakiryanga and his team at Kyampisi Childcare Ministries have been trying to stamp out the practice for almost 10 years.

“Child sacrifice is a recent phenomenon and mostly done by those we call witch doctors,” he tells Dateline.

“They mutilate children and use their blood, tissue or any body organs with the belief that when you use those body parts in witchcraft rituals you get wealth, you get protection, you get some form of blessing.”

The Kyampisi Childcare Ministries is one organisation that provides medical treatment and rehabilitation to the few children who survive this ordeal, and works with authorities to ensure it doesn’t go unpunished.

Sewakiryanga and his team investigate up to 25 cases of child sacrifice each year, but they’re afraid there are many more victims they don’t hear about.

Peter and Rodney work together to seek justice for victims of child sacrifice.
Peter and Rodney work together to seek justice for victims of child sacrifice.

The Australian connection         

Far from the villages of Uganda, Rodney Callanan runs the Brisbane-based charity, Droplets in a Stream, supporting vulnerable children in the region.

The group raises funds to support the Kyampisi Childcare Ministries and Peter’s work in both treating victims and chasing justice.

“The trauma he and his team go through… it’s just overwhelming,” Callanan tells Dateline. “No human being should be exposed to what they see.

“The police, the courts in Uganda are grossly underfunded.

“Many cases actually don’t go to court or to trial because of lack of funding. And that’s one of our biggest roles in this area and that’s financial support.”

For victims of child sacrifice including sixteen-year-old Allan Ssembatya, Australia has also provided important medical support

The quietly-spoken teenager is one of the few who survive. He was taken by two witch doctors in 2009, and was stabbed in the neck and head with a machete. Ten years later Allan still bears the scars.

“My son was coming home from school,” his father Hudson recalls. “They took him to the bush. They cut him.

“This cut on his head, this cut on his neck, damage to his private parts, in my view it’s very surprising that Allan is alive.”

After he travelled to Australia for reconstructive surgery, Allan was asked to give evidence in a Ugandan court. He identified two men who he said attacked him – but the two witch doctors he accused were released because the court refused to accept a six-year-old’s testimony. 

“Sometimes when I talk about it I start crying,” Allan says.

“Because I remember the injuries I got, I remember when I was taken, I tried to struggle, to run, they hit me up and they did whatever they wanted.”

Allan Ssembatya recovers from surgery in Australia
Allan Ssembatya recovers from surgery in Australia.

A high price for justice

One of Allan’s alleged attackers was arrested again in March this year, but the other, Kiyumbi Awali, went on the run.

Thanks to Peter’s detective work and Rodney’s fund-raising efforts in Queensland, the fugitive witch doctor was also arrested, much to the relief of the unlikely pair.

“Uganda is beautiful,” Sewakiryanga adds. “Child sacrifice does not represent Uganda.  It carries shame for me as a Ugandan.  But if this will save one child, I will carry on.”

The arrest and trial will cost Rodney’s charity an estimated $20,000 – and he admits it’s a strange role to be playing in another country.

“I've had people ask question me about the value of spending that sort of money on one person's capture and trial. But that then gets publicised in the media, and it sends a message to the rest of the population that this is not right. That I think is value that we just can't measure.”

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