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Democratic Republic of the Congo

Volume 448: debated on Wednesday 12 July 2006

2. What steps he is taking to protect children accused of witchcraft in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. (84328)

The UK raised awareness of the problem of children being accused of witchcraft in the DRC as part of our EU presidency, and we are working with civil society, established Churches and the Congolese Government to push for action to bring those who abuse children to justice. We have supported training on child protection, and we are also making significant contributions to the 2006 UN action plan and the International Committee of the Red Cross appeal, both of which include programmes to protect vulnerable children.

I thank my right hon. Friend for his support for the DRC. He will be aware that the all-party group on the Great Lakes region and genocide prevention visited that country in April. We visited a centre for children accused of witchcraft, where we heard stories of appalling abuse conducted against children, including beating to death, blinding and amputation of parts of the body. Will my right hon. Friend work with his Department and with Home Office and Foreign Office officials to ensure that whatever Government are elected on 30 July, we do not allow visas to preachers from evangelical and revivalist churches who preach such witchcraft stuff to come to this country for treatment? May I further ask him to increase the supplies for NGOs—

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend and her colleagues for raising this matter, in which she takes a close interest and which we have discussed previously. We are working with NGOs in the DRC to compile information on pastors who are responsible for identifying children as witches, leading to their being subject to the abuse that my hon. Friend has drawn to the attention of the House. We are working on that with the FCO and the Home Office. It would be helpful if other European countries would do the same, because pastors come not only to the UK, but to France and Belgium because of the historic links between the DRC and the Francophone world. Sadly, this is not part of the tradition in the DRC, but something that has arisen in recent years, partly because of poverty. Charlatans set up these charismatic churches, and when their prayers do not work they finger poor innocent children and blame them for it. It is a scandal, and we will continue to raise it with the Government of the DRC.

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for his interest in this issue. Does he agree that the Vatican has an important role to play in strongly condemning the way in which some pastors are not taking as strong a line as they should on child witchcraft? Given that the all-party group has a meeting with the Papal Nuncio on 20 July, will he lend the Government’s support to our efforts to get the Vatican to take a firmer and more public line against this practice?

I wish the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues a successful meeting with the Papal Nuncio. Indeed, I would urge all those who can bring influence to bear on these churches to do so. This terrible practice has nothing to do with any faith that I understand, and it is important that those in positions of responsibility speak out openly and honestly to encourage pressure to be brought to bear to bring it to an end.

Does my right hon. Friend think that the forthcoming elections in the DRC, to which the House is sending five observers, will assist us in dealing with issues such as that raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mary Creagh)? How will his Department and the Government work with the DRC during and after the elections to resolve such difficult problems?

I agree that the elections, the first phase of which will take place on 30 July, are fundamental to the future of the DRC. Indeed, the people of the DRC have invested an enormous amount of hope in the democratic process as a way of improving their lives. We have provided help with the electoral registration process, and to the observers who will be going, and I wish good luck to the Members of the House who will be taking part in the elections. The two most important factors are, first, that the international community should support the newly elected Government and help them to do their job of improving public services; and secondly, and most importantly, that those who take part in the electoral process—including those who do not win—stay with that process. It would be unforgivable if, after three years of transitional government, those who have come into it then went back to conflict just because they were not successful. The fact is that democracy is the only hope that the DRC has of moving forward.

Given that the right hon. Gentleman has already had substantial discussions with Congolese officials, will he tell the House whether any church that conducts these abusive child deliverance ceremonies has been either suspended or outlawed? Can he offer the House a follow-up to Project Violet, the landmark event that was organised last year?

If the hon. Gentleman is talking about any of those churches being suspended by the Congolese authorities, I am not aware that that has happened. However, I shall make inquiries about that and come back to him. I know that our ambassador, Andy Sparks, has raised the issue directly with President Kabila, and I pay tribute to the work that he, DFID colleagues and others have done in pursuing the matter. The hon. Gentleman can rest assured that we will continue to raise the issue, and I would be very happy to consider any suggestions that hon. Members on both sides of the House would like to make about further ways in which we can help.