Pastors in child exorcism pledge

London, England - Pentecostal church pastors have signed a child protection pledge following allegations that children accused of witchcraft faced exorcism ceremonies.

More than 70 UK pastors put their names to a new code in the presence of children's minister Beverley Hughes.

Pastor Jean Bosco Kanyemesha of the London Fire Church said that steps were being taken to help those who were "misinterpreting" the Bible.

Ms Hughes added that she did not believe British laws needed tightening.

'Improve the theology'

The issue was brought to public attention with the discovery of a young boy's torso in the Thames in September 2001.

Police believe the child, later named Adam, had been the victim of a west African-style ritual sacrifice.

In 2005 a court heard how an eight-year-old child, brought to the UK from Angola, was beaten, cut and had chilli rubbed in her eyes after her aunt and two others believed she was a witch.

And Victoria Climbie who was abused and then eventually murdered in 2000 by relatives who believed she was possessed by evil spirits.

Pastor Kanyemesha, who leads a group of Congolese church leaders set up to tackle the problem, told the BBC that the code was about policing abuse.

He said: "I'm not saying that it never happens at all, but we have put in place a structure to improve the theology of those who are misinterpreting the bible and using them for their own perspective.

"You will not find a better place for our children to stay than in a church because outside there is gun crime, outside there is bullying, outside there is discrimination.

"But the church is a social place where they find themselves at ease."

A Metropolitan Police report in 2005 suggested that abuse linked to churches was rife, although critics said it was largely based on hearsay.

The force has set up a special unit specifically aimed at tackling religiously-motivated child abuse, called Project Violet.

Ms Hughes said calls for fresh legislation were unnecessary.

She added: "I think our laws, which are more general laws, which relate, not only to the physical abuse, but to the emotional, psychological abuse of children, are sufficiently robust to take action."