This is not a debunking. For all I know, Ugandan witch doctors really may be using the bodyparts of sacrificed children in their magical ceremonies, as has recently been claimed. But I’m skeptical.

… which is apparently a pretty rare attitude vis a vis child murders by Ugandan sorcerers. Early this morning (Friday, January 8th), the pan-African publication Newstime Africa was reporting that the Ugandan government had issued a statement condemning the “barbaric crime” of child sacrifice, and that former witch doctors were coming forward with grisly tales of child murder and black magic. Then a BBC story on the same subject began making the rounds on Twitter, and then the Telegraph’s day-old blurb entitled “Human sacrifices on the rise in Uganda as witch doctors admit to rituals” trumped them all by getting itself posted on The Drudge Report.

But really — this thing is probably a crock. Have a gander at that BBC story, and read more after the jump.

Note the evidence. One murdered child was found in the brush with his organs removed. Sick? Obviously. Witchcraft? Probably not. (At least in the U.S., most child killers, even the very weird ones, act more out of deranged psychosexual compunction than out of any impulse toward mysticism, and I can only assume the same is true in Uganda. Human nature doesn’t change much from place to place, and most folks, even atavists, will balk at killing children in the service of the spirit world. That’s why God took such a shining to Abraham: He was uniquely cuckoo.) But when another child had her throat slit a few miles away from the site of the other murder, the public reached collectively for its torch and pitchfork and set about blaming — gasp! — witches! How original! Never mind that, according to Interpol, Uganda has long suffered a murder rate of 10.25/100,000 per annum, which is worse than Kenya or Zimbabwe, and never mind that plain old regular criminality is a far better explanation for throat-slittage than magic.

According to the Beeb, two dozen children other than these unfortunates have been “ritually” killed. But this claim is made by the same authorities who apparently read ritualism into the slitting of a young girl’s throat. Why should we believe them — especially when we Westerners know, from bitter personal experience, that police can read ritualism into crimes that demand none?

In the Beeb’s report — which is surely the most comprehensive of the ones presently on offer — we are presented with three other bits of evidence. None of them are very impressive.

The first is the testimony of a plainly crazy person by the name of Polino Angela, who claims to be a former witch doctor and is personally ‘fessing up to the murder of 70 kids. Sorry, but I don’t buy it. Name names and direct the authorities to the bodies. Angela’s claim — which, if true, would make him the fourth most prolific confirmed serial killer of the last century — is extraordinary, and its substantiation demands extraordinary evidence.

Polino escorts the Beeb’s reporter, Tim Whewell, to the shrine of an “especially notorious” witch doctor. Whewell says it takes some doing to “convert” him, as though the necessity of an old pagan’s conversion by a self-described child murderer is a foregone conclusion. Outnumbered and admittedly terrified of lynching, the old pagan acknowledges that his clients bring him human blood as many as three times a week to use in his rituals. That this is the blood of murder victims is never established. Whewell is content to insinuate that it is.

The final piece of evidence presented by the Beeb is the testimony of a boy who claims to have escaped death at the hands of the witch-doctors, allegedly because he was circumcised and therefore unfit for sacrifice. I feel terrible that this child had to endure whatever he endured, but I also believe it’s worth postulating that, whatever it was, it wasn’t part of a Uganda-wide conspiracy of witches to murder children for their own dark ends.

This is worth postulating because we’ve been here before, time and time again, young witnesses and all. No witch-scare to date has resulted in the confirmation of widespread diabolism. Rather, the usual result of a witch-scare is a witch-hunt — wretched affairs that, in retrospect, inevitably reveal themselves as useless and tragic miscalculations on the parts of the frightened and gullible. Developed nations are not immune. Why should the BBC and Telegraph assume Uganda is any different? And why should they lend credence to these wild claims without doing due diligence — without bothering to ask, for example, whose children have gone missing, and under what circumstances? Until more evidence is presented, it would appear that these news organs have reported on crimes that are, as of yet, still seeking their victims. I predict that when suitable victims are found, they will not be children, but the old, unpopular, infirm, and weak. Stay tuned.