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HELLFIRE and damnation churchmen may be jailed if they carry out exorcisms on 'possessed' children under the age of 16.

The crackdown will be demanded by MPs next week in the wake of the Anna Climbie tragedy, in which the eight-year-old girl died at the hands of relatives who believed she was possessed.

And it coincides with plans by Channel 4 to screen The Exorcist on prime-time television, sparking fears that the movie could have a damaging effect on susceptible fanatics.

Under the Exorcisms of Children (Prohibition) Act 2001, due to come before Parliament on March 9, anyone found guilty of performing a 'rite or ceremony' to rid someone of 'a menacing or oppressive condition or thing' could be jailed for six months.


Trauma counsellors are backing the Bill, and say they fear exorcism is experiencing a disturbing revival as more and more people turn to pentecostal churches which often perform the practice.

'These ceremonies can provoke hysteria in children and leave them foaming at the mouth, or even swallowing their tongue,' said Harry Cohen, the Labour MP for Leyton and Wanstead, introducing the Bill.

'The dreadful death of Anna Climbie at the hands of her aunt points to the serious and abusive side of exorcism which is carried out in real life. Anna's tormented state was excused as 'possession'. These exorcisms are a form of child abuse in themselves.

'Some churches used to believe in sacrifice. Other faiths believe in the circumcision of girls - and we banned that. We have to draw the line somewhere.'

Little Anna, aged eight, died of hypothermia after being made to sleep in a bath for four months. Her great-aunt, Marie Therese Kouao, had told her boyfriend, Carl Manning, that the girl was possessed by witchcraft.

The obsessive pair took Anna to the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God in North London where they asked the priest to expel her 'demons'.


Health Minister John Denham has announced a full inquiry into the faults of the child protection services - but Mr Cohen says the church should be in the dock as well.

The Universal Church for the Kingdom of God has denied any wrongdoing - and claims it alerted authorities to Anna's plight. It denies that it performs 'exorcisms', but admits to 'praying for people who are afflicted by evil spirits'.

Graham Baldwin, director of Catalyst, a counselling service for people traumatised by religious organisations, said any Bill that could clamp down on potential abuse during exorcisms would be welcome.

'Exorcisms are incredibly traumatising for kids,' he said. 'A number of people we see have been very badly shaken up, and kids get weird ideas. In the worst cases, people die as a result of these.'


DAMAGING... Linda Blair's exorcism in The Exorcist (above) may trigger tragedies like the death of Anna Climbie (below)
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Publication:Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)
Date:Feb 25, 2001
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