Luweero — Lack of policy guidelines is frustrating attempts by Luweero District leaders to regulate operations of traditional healers and Pentecostal churches.
According to the District Police Commander, Mr Benson Byaruhanga, self-proclaimed pastors and traditional healers are behind the heinous crimes linked to witchcraft and suspected child trafficking.
"We recently conducted an operation at one of the shrines where we recovered items, which even the owner could not explain. The place was littered with female undergarments. We are highly suspicious that such people are behind the rising cases of crime in the area," Mr Byaruhanga said in an interview on Wednesday.
He also revealed that police have rescued several children from suspicious places run by pastors.
"Recently, we also rescued 15 girls from an illegal children's home owned by a pastor. These girls, aged between 13 and 16, were not at school but were reportedly serving at the church. We have been able to reunite the children with their parents and guardians. Without proper regulation in place, our efforts are in balance," he added.
The illegal children's home has since been closed, according to Mr Byaruhanga.
Police investigations indicate that parents and guardians in neighbouring districts are duped into giving their children to people who claim to be pastors after promising to sponsor their education.
The district chairperson, Mr Ronald Ndawula, recently called for regulation of activities of traditional healers, accusing many of duping their unsuspecting customers.
"We have a big number of people who spend most of their time visiting shrines. At the shrines, they are forced to part with their hard-earned money and domestic animals, among other valuables, in the name of pleasing their gods," Mr Ndawula said.
"Even ailments manageable at health facilities are transferred to traditional shrines where witches extort money without healing the patients," he added.
He said some self-styled pastors direct their followers to spend most of their time praying instead of doing meaningful work. As district leaders, Mr Ndawula said, they are completely powerless on issues involving the churches.
"We need a stronger voice from government to harmonise and possibly regulate activities of these churches," he said.
However, Pastor Emmanuel Kasibante from Christ for All Churches Ministries in Luweero Town Council dismissed allegations that their activities are frustrating development in the area.
"If the Holy Spirit instructs us to pray the whole week, we have to obey. It is also not true that our members are idle all the time. They [district leaders and police], need to visit our churches to get acquainted with what we do as Christians," Pastor Kasibante said yesterday.
Mr Kezaala Salabwa, a traditional healer in Zirobwe Sub-county, challenged the district leaders to produce evidence, implicating them in any illegal activities.
Rising cases- In the last three years, Police in Luweero and Kayunga districts have recorded several cases involving traditional healers who have raped women and extorted money from people under the guise of exorcising evil spirits from their bodies.
Last month, police and military intelligence operatives arrested five witch doctors and recovered five human bodies from a shrine in Kisoga Village, Nazigo Sub-county, Kayunga District. The suspects, now on remand in Luzira prison, are facing murder charges.
The law- Under the revised laws of the Republic of Uganda which came in force on December 31, 2000, in chapter 124, any person who practices witchcraft or who holds himself or herself out as a witch, whether on one or more occasions, commits an offence and is liable on conviction to imprisonment for a period not exceeding five years.