KINSHASA, CONGO, May 21, 2009— -- In a dirt-floored, back-alley church, 8-year-old Bobby and his 6-year-old brother Henock were made to kneel before a pastor wearing a white, flowing robe adorned with pictures of Jesus.
Looming over the boys, Pastor Moise Tshombe went into a trance, during which he claimed the Holy Spirit took over and the voice of God spoke through him. "I see that witchcraft is in these two," Tshombe said. "The threats inside of them are very strong."
These young brothers were the latest victims in an epidemic of accusations of child witchcraft here in the Democratic Republic of Congo. It is raging in the name of Jesus. It continues seemingly unabated despite flags raised by organizations such as the United Nations, Save the Children and Human Rights Watch.
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Bobby and Henock were brought to this pastor by their stepmother, who said she believes her stepsons are witches and claimed the boys were stealing their stepsister's blood and using it to fly at night. Pointing to Henock, whose left arm is covered in bandages, she said that, in the "spirit world," he is an elderly man who injured himself while trying to kill his father. The boys' father was not present; he was out of town on work and apparently unaware of the ceremony.
In a small, squeaky voice, Bobby said that family members had told him he and his brother were infected with witchcraft after eating bread and green beans their older brother gave them.
Tshombe's denunciation appeared to have traumatized the boys, who were barely responsive.
Their fear was not unwarranted; the fate of children accused of witchcraft in the Congo is often nothing short of horrific, critics say.
ABC News' "Nightline" gained exclusive access to four churches, where we saw scores of children -- including toddlers -- who were denounced as witches. The accusers were powerful and often politically connected pastors, who some say get paid to perform so-called "deliverance ceremonies," or exorcisms, which can be unimaginably brutal.
Arnold Mushiete, a social worker for "Our House," a small, Catholic organization funded entirely by donations, which helps children accused of witchcraft, was our guide into this frightening world. He said a new breed of Christian pastors are manipulating the faith.
"Our work is to repair what they have destroyed," he said, "and to give another image of Jesus, not one who tortures children."
Unwanted Children Accused of Witchcraft, Abandoned
Accusing children of witchcraft is a relatively new phenomenon in the Congo. Experts say it's the result of a toxic combination of causes, including decades of war, an economy in collapse, and a new breed of Christian pastors who profit by telling impoverished parents that all of their problems -- economic, medical and emotional -- are caused by the family's weakest members.
Unwanted children are often accused of witchcraft as a pretense for abandoning them. Save the Children estimates 70 percent of the estimated 15,000 street children in the capital city of Kinshasa have been accused of witchcraft.
Why would a parent ever believe their child is a witch? Mushiete says in a culture where death and divorce have destroyed families, parents are easy prey for greedy, ruthless pastors.
On our tour of Christian churches in Congo's capital city of Kinshasa, we saw Pastor Ngoma Madilu Orlain accuse two sisters, Sarah, 13, and Lufuakenda, 9, of being witches -- with their father, Albert Kanza, looking on.