Juliana Oladipo, goes undercover for Britain's Witch Children and writes about her brutal and frightening experience.
The first time I sat in the back of the producer's car driving to a 'child deliverance', I was seriously afraid. I was a 23-year-old journalism student surrounded by a team of filmmakers. More importantly, how would my character, 15-year-old 'Buki' feel? She had just returned from Nigeria and because of one or two typical teenage tantrums, was being dragged into a dark church on a dark street with her mother to be assessed by a pastor.
I asked God to watch over me. Very out of character for Juliana...
Not a Religious Person
It was when I began studying at university that I realised I didn't consider myself a religious person. As well as being lured into the bureaucracy and at times complete coldness that comes from working and studying in an ego-driven newsroom, I became more aware and sickened by the hundreds of hate crimes and murders that take place across Britain each year, all in the name of God.
Although I was born and raised in London, taking into consideration that both my parents are Nigerian and religion plays such a predominant part in African culture, and more specifically in the upbringing of African children, I almost feel a touch of guilt when I say out loud that I have shied away from the church. In some corners, to deny the church is to deny your identity.
Getting Involved in the Film
I was initally apprehensive about signing on to the film when I was approached by the production company making it, Oxford Scientific Films.
The producers informed me that some children from an African background living in Britain, were being abused – sexually, physically and emotionally – by their parents and guardians as they believe their child has been possessed by evil spirits. In the case of Victoria Climbie, who was killed by her guardians in 2000, abuse could lead to murder.
I was only 14 at the time but I can vividly remember the strong public outcry when details were released of how that little girl year had died. During their police interviews, both killers had claimed that Victoria was possessed and described her as 'satan'. They were also known to have strong affiliations with the church. Young Victoria's suffering included being burnt with cigarettes, being tied up for periods of longer than 24 hours and being hit with bike chains, hammers and wires.
Accused of Being Possessed by an Evil Demon
Still feeling slightly ignorant, I watched for the third time the award-winning Saving Africa's Witch Children. The film highlights the sickening plight of the poor and vulnerable, inflicted by people with a strong belief in black magic and sorcery.
Throughout the undercover filming process, I was confused and physically harassed by large male pastors. I was screamed at and accused of being possessed by an evil demon. As far as these pastors were concerned, I was 15 years old and had been locking my bedroom door at night.
Exploiting the Vulnerable
What happened to love thy neighbour and thou shall not judge? What happened to protecting our children from exploitation without making any excuses for the parents of the children being forced into these frightening, disturbing exorcisms? The people that these unholy African priests are targeting are on the whole ostracised by society. As well as having immigration problems, they are often unemployed, uneducated and lost in the system.
Is it a surprise then that children like 'Buki' (my character in the film) are so angry and disconnected from society? She and others like her are being blamed by pastors for being the cause of family grief because they are 'witches'.
If nothing else, my only hope is that the film highlights the serious and growing issue of child exploitation taking place in a small minority of our African churches.