My mother was never liked by my father’s family and they were separated by the time I was 9 years old.  My mother was a housewife, whilst my father was a soldier.  My father fell ill with hepatitis, tuberculosis, and ultimately, HIV/AIDS.  When he died, my father’s relatives accused my mother of bewitching him.  My mother was chased away, fleeing with my young sisters when I came home from school.  I was supposed to flee with them, but my uncles grabbed me. That was the last time I went to school. Soon, I was more of a slave than a child in the family, left to skulk in the shadows, to clean, to be chastised for always being an unwelcome addition to their home.

One afternoon, while my cousin was playing, my uncle called for her.  They did not see that I was watching from the shadows.   I watched as he - with his brother standing beside him, frowning - made her drink something I could not see.  When she collapsed, they put her in a sack and took her away.  I stood in fear unsure as to what was happening.  That evening, they returned with her, but when I asked her in whispers what had happened, she said that she had no clue what had happened.  I went to bed confused as to the strange events of the day, telling myself: It does not matter.  She is safe.

Little did l know that this would be the last time I’d see her alive.

That night, she was taken outside while I was sleeping and was sacrificed, bloodily and brutally, to the gods.  I did not know this until the uncle I had seen, looking so unhappy that day, roused me.  He explained that my cousin was dead, killed her in the hopes that it would bring her father riches after being fired from his job in Tanzania.

“Run,” I was commanded, “Or you will be sacrificed.”

I ran.

I ran for my life, not knowing were l was going and who could help me.  With the little money I had, I boarded a bus to Lira, a nearby town. When I arrived, I roamed the streets aimlessly, with no food or place to stay.  I slept in the streets for 3 nights outside one black gate until one day, the owner of the house took me in.  An old lady who was struggling to make a living, even with little for herself the spirit of Ubuntu that we all possess in our African cultures led her to share the little that she had with a stranger, took me in, fed and clothed me, and allowed me the comfort of a hot bath and blankets. gave me hope.

After a day, she asked how I had come to be alone and impoverished in Lira.  I opened up about my ordeal and explained what had led me to my escape.  She took me to the police, who, upon hearing my story, took me to the Actionaid Shelter.  With the help of Actionaid, I am trying to locate my mother and have a normal life, but it is not easy.  I move from shelter to shelter, following leads or where I can be housed from week to week.

Perhaps you think this is a fictitious story.  It is not – it was a story relayed to me, Mpho Elizabeth Mpofu, during my work with Actionaid in Uganda by one magnificent, brave, and sweet young girl who deserved a better life than she had lived.

As she narrated her story, I was in tears.  I am not Ugandan, and so her story was as educational as it was disturbing.

How ruthless could one be?, I wondered, Do these people really believe in sacrifices? Could this be one of many cases that go undetected? How many children have we lost to this gruesome belief and practice?

With all the questions going through my head all I could ask was, “Do you believe in the sacrificing children to gods?”

Her response set me to trembling.

“Of course I do,” she said, “It works.”

I soon learned, to my disappointment but not disbelief, that hers was not the only case of this abhorrent practice.  There are a lot of children that disappear, sacrificed for rituals.  Some are never found, but those who are can be found gruesomely cut, with body parts missing.  The fact that a child so small could believe that sacrificing a child would bring riches meant that this was a prevailing attitude in her community.  If a child is of age to mimic such falsehoods, it stands to reason that a lot of people in her village believed it too, thus fuelling the practice.

I had to put a stop to it.  I had to try, at least.  As we prepared to send her home safely to her mother, who was ecstatic to learn that we had found her daughter, and that she was safe, I was left with questions about how to sensitise the community to the barbarities of this practice, how to bring about change.

Throughout this girl’s ordeal, all she wanted was to go back to school and get an education for herself – to her, education signified safety.  These resources are limited in Uganda – funding is needed to support this girl, and so many others like her, to pay for tuition, books, access to teachers.  Now, I am also looking for well-wishers who can assist with her school fees and ensure she gets the education she deserves after escaping near-certain death.

“Prove beyond reasonable doubt!”, the law says of cases such as this, but all we had to go on was the word of one little girl.  The system dismissed her word as there mere allegations of a child, and so it did not stand in the court of law.  Her cousin’s death went without notice, without justice.  In my own investigations since learning of this practice, I have learned that many high-profile people in Uganda’s political and business elite are implicated or allegedly involved in child sacrifices to win seats or prosper financially.  This knowledge is a heavy burden, but one I would trade for nothing.  It makes the children lost to the practice real.

We must do more than call for an end to child sacrifices – we must truly end them.  Even one child’s life lost to some foolish superstition is too many.  Many children are subject to the whims and rules of adults, which means they are not heeded or supported to make the changes that are otherwise obvious.  They might not be able to speak out, but I am an adult and I can.  So I am.

We must join our collective voice to save these children. This practice has gone undetected for too long, and each day we dawdle, another innocent life is claimed.  We must end the harmful traditional practice of child sacrifices in Uganda, in Africa, and around the world.

 

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