Child Sacrifice Emerges as Disturbing Uganda Trend

Witch doctors teach that burial of children's body parts can bring wealth.

February 25, 2010, 10:39 AM

Feb. 25, 2010 — -- Uganda is a country so beautiful that Winston Churchill once called it "the pearl of Africa." It has world-class wildlife, fertile rolling hills and a breathtaking lakeshore.

Here, the ancient and the modern meet. The poor scrape a living from the soil, and many still cling to the mystical beliefs of their ancestors. They speak with the spirits, they cure with potions.

In the cities, commerce and capitalism now reign. There's fast money to be made, and a new middle-class lifestyle to be had. Uganda is thriving.

But from this clash of cultures, a gruesome new phenomenon has emerged -- and Uganda's children are paying the price. Children are disappearing, victims of human sacrifice.

Asima Baguma knows the horror. Her 17-month-old son, Nicholas, was murdered, a victim of child sacrifice. She found his body in a banana plantation on a remote farm in her village, near the border of the Congo.

"I pulled my son's body out of the soil," said Baguma. "I realized he had no head."

Detective Chris Yashaba, from the Uganda Criminal Investigations Department, was stunned at the brutality of the case.

"I have never seen something like this," he told ABC News. But perhaps the most shocking aspect of the case was the revelation that the child's killer was his own father. And the motive? Money.

The father, Andrew Baguma, apparently received $2,000 from a rich businessman in the area for his son's head.

In an interview with ABC News from a Ugandan prison, Andrew Baguma admitted that he had had his child killed. He says he wanted the money to set up a busines, fixing bicycles. So, he says, he and a friend beheaded Nicholas, dug a shallow grave and buried his headless body.

Andrew said that he still loves his wife and hopes that she will forgive him one day.

For her part, Asima Baguma believes her husband should die for his crime. She said she will never forgive him for killing her only child. At 20 years old, she feels as if her life is over.

"Now that he is gone, I will never be happy again," she said.

'People Who Have Gone Crazy'

Andrew killed his child for money from a businessman who believed that the head of the child would bring him more wealth. The businessman is also in jail, accused of being an accessory to the crime. From behind bars, he denies everything.

This belief, that burying a child's body parts will make you rich, is, police say, being promoted by some traditional healers, known locally as witch doctors (English is one of Uganda's official languages). But Paul Bukuluki, a sociology professor at Makerere University in Kampala Uganda, says there's actually nothing traditional about the gruesome practice at all.

"I don't want to say it is for everybody," says Bukuluki, who has been studying the problem. "But there is a certain category of people who have gone crazy when it comes to money."

Ugandan law enforcement officials say parents have sold their children to the witch doctors for slaughter. If they can't find a child to buy, they snatch one.

That's what happened to a 3-year-old we'll call Geoffrey to protect his identity. Geoffrey went missing three months ago while playing with his five brothers and sisters. His mother and father and other village members searched for the boy. Geoffrey's father, Godfrey, found him. He says what he saw will haunt him for the rest of his life.

"I saw him lying in a pool of blood," says Godfrey. "I thought he was dead."

A neighbor who also happened to be a witch doctor had snatched Geoffrey and cut off his genitals. Police believe he wanted the genitals of a child as a good luck charm to bury under a new house.

The neighbor is now in prison for his crime. Somehow, despite massive loss of blood, Geoffrey survived.

But he will need specialized medical care at least until he is an adult, care that his impoverished mother and father can't afford. The family is relying on a local children's activist organization, the African Network for the Prevention and Protection Against Child Abuse Network (ANPPCAN), to pay for Geoffrey's routine surgeries and transportation.

But to get this care, the boy has had to relocate to his grandmother's house in Kampala, splitting up the family.

Godfrey still cries when talking about the effect the incident has had on him and his family, and how he feels about the perpetrator.

"I still can't understand why he did this," Godfrey says.

The Influence of Film

These hideous crimes are becoming more common. But why now? No one is totally sure.

ABC went undercover to learn more about the shadowy world of witch doctors. Posing as a married couple building a hotel, we sought help from this witch doctor to fight the "evil spirits" working against our enterprise. At the witch doctor's compound were mothers with babies, men with business worries: They were all there seeking help.

We met with the witch doctor four times, and before he would take any action, the witch doctor and his associates asked for money -- a lot of it.

At the last meeting, we were summoned and told that our enemies have already resorted to human sacrifice. When we ask what we can do to fight this, we're told that the spirits are demanding that we come back the next day with $1,500 and he will tell us what to do next. And if we don't take the next step, one of us will die.

We did not return. We do not know if this witch doctor was trying to set up a sacrifice, but police believe he is involved in this sinister practice. He is now under police surveillance.

Two thousand officers have been trained to tackle the hideous crime, forming the Anti-Human Sacrifice Task Force, equipped in part by the U.S. government.

Police are visiting churches and mosques, trying to crush the growing belief in the power of child sacrifice.

Commissioner Moses Binoga heads the task force. He says it's a challenge to convince people that the act of human sacrifice is not spiritual but a crime.

"We tell them the disadvantages and the dangers which they are causing," said Binoga.

And the police plead for sanity.

"Uganda, I think, is a country of hope," said Bukuluki. "And hope against hope, I think it is possible to deal with this vice."

But the fear is until the people of Uganda deal with this vice, Uganda's children will not be safe.

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