Squeezing a toddler’s eyeballs and shoving his thumb into her tiny nose a Catholic priest purges a child of the devil, one of many exorcisms he carries out every day.
Flicked with holy water, her face smeared with olive oil and poked violently in the stomach, two-and-a-half-year old Angel bursts into tears as she is rid of the evil spirits that lurk within her.
The child wriggles to free herself but her mother holds on firmly, insistent that she endures the exorcism to protect her from the sorcery that many in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) believe controls their lives.
Distraught: Angel, two, cries with fear as she undergoes an exorcism to purge her from the evil that a Catholic priest believes lurks within
Evil spirits: A woman takes part in an exorcism ceremony in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where many have embraced Catholicism while holding on to traditional beliefs surrounding evil spirits – with some truly horrifying consequences
Confused: Eleven-month-old baby Grace endures an exorcism at a Catholic church in Kinshasa, DRC
Cleansed: Anyone can be possessed by evil, people believe, including children – even newborns. These children are being blessed and purged of the spirits, but if it isn’t successful, they will be thrown out of their homes, and exiled from their communities
Possesed: It is thought there are 50,000 child ‘witches’ living on the streets of the capital Kinshasa as a result of these beliefs; children like Dorcas, eight, and Therese, 18. These youngsters are accused of horrific ‘crimes’, including eating the flesh of their own relatives
Angel and Grace, an 11-month-old baby exorcised the same day, have been ‘saved’ by the ceremony, the devil banished, and for now they remain safe in their homes.
But tens of thousands of other children in this troubled central African country have been branded ‘child’ witches and flung out onto the streets by their families into a life of destitution, violence and abuse.
MailOnline ventured into the frightening world of the occult in this African heartland, famously described as the ‘heart of darkness’, as part of series examining the challenges facing the United Nations trying to help these children.
In the capital Kinshasa, at the Gallicane Catholic Church, Father Alexis Katziota Mungala talks almost matter of factly of his work releasing thousands of children from the devil.
Exorcism is a daily ritual he performs in his church.
‘These witches they eat human flesh, they drink human blood,’ Father Alexis told MailOnline.
‘It is the work of the devil. Witchcraft kills the love within the child. It fills them with hate, it makes them eat their father, fight with their brother.
‘Witchcraft is part of our tradition; it is part of Congolese culture.
‘Children can become infected with sorcery but we carry out exorcisms to help children find their families again.’