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Geneva - Hundreds of children are believed to have been kidnapped in Africa and brought to Britain for brutal voodoo rituals, a UN watchdog said Thursday, urging London to step up its fight against the scourge.
“We're concerned about reports that hundreds of children have been abducted from their families in Africa and trafficked to the UK, especially London, for religious rituals,” said Kristen Sandberg, head of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child.
“They are used in so-called voodoo rituals, and are also raped and sexually abused. The number of convictions is extremely low,” said the former Norwegian supreme court judge.
British police are reported to have recorded scores of cases over the past decade of children who have faced torture and abuse as part of witchcraft rituals.
The case of eight-year-old Victoria Cimbie Ä born in Ivory Coast Äbrought the issue into the public eye in 2000 when she was killed by relatives who said she was a witch.
They were jailed for life.
A year later, police found the dismembered corpse of a Nigerian boy in London's River Thames, believed to have been used in a ritual.
And in 2010, 15-year-old Kristy Bamu died after being tortured by his sister and her partner, both originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo, who claimed he was cursed.
They also received life sentences.
The British government launched a campaign against faith-based child abuse in 2012, saying there was a need to make a stand, working with African migrant associations.
Critics have pointed to what they say is a tendency to view ritual abuse differently from other forms.
They argue that while the authorities need to raise awareness of the problem, they already have the tools to fight it, and that it is a matter of using them better.
Sandberg said child trafficking for rituals was part of a wider problem, with thousands of minors brought into Britain every year for sexual exploitation and labour.
The UN committee is made of up 18 independent experts who monitor the implementation of international children's rights treaties.
It held a hearing with British officials last month.
In its conclusions on that session, released Thursday, it said Britain should “strengthen the capacity of law-enforcement authorities and judiciary to detect and prosecute trafficking of children for labour, sexual and other forms of exploitation, including for religious rituals”.
The committee also raised the alarm about British paedophiles who prey on children abroad.
“There are continued reports that United Kingdom citizens, including some convicted sex offenders, set up charities or travel abroad, where they sexually abuse children,” said Sandberg.
She said Southeast Asia - notably Cambodia and Thailand - was a favoured destination and that orphanages were a source of victims.
The committee said Britain should set up a specialised police unit to deal with extra-territorial sex offending.
It also called for measures to strengthen identification, investigation and prosecution of British citizens involved in such crimes abroad, and for travel bans on convicted and alleged abusers.
And it said London should review its 2003 Sexual Offences Act in order to stem the problem.
“We need to ensure that British sex offenders who undertake these activities abroad are held accountable,” said the committee's deputy chairman Benyam Mezmur.
“They need to fill some of the loopholes that create an opportunity to travel abroad and commit these offences,” added Mezmur, an Ethiopian human rights law lecturer at the University of Western Cape in South Africa.