THE squeals of happiness from George Mukisa hide the terrible truth behind his trip to Australia from Uganda.
George is a survivor of child sacrifice. He was aged just two, playing football with his brothers, when a neighbour, John Otebati, offered to take him into town for sweets. Instead, Otebati, a witch doctor, took him to a nearby banana plantation and removed his genitals with a knife. In Uganda, children live in fear of child sacrifice, driven by unscrupulous witch doctors and their accomplices or fraudulent traditional healers who claim they can bring power, prosperity and money.
A report by the British charity Jubilee Campaign and Kyampisi Childcare Ministries last year described the crime as a “relatively recent phenomenon” that was not a part of traditional culture.
According to the research, “greed and a growing middle class in Uganda” have fuelled the demand for child sacrificial rituals, during which the youngsters' organs, blood and limbs are used after they have been killed.
George survived that brutal day in February 2009 only because passers-by heard his cries and interrupted Otebati, who fled, leaving George in a pool of blood.
He was rushed to hospital where doctors used a flap from his forearm to perform penile replacement surgery.
“He's a fighter. He's gone through a lot of pain. He remembers vividly what happened to him even though he was so young,” said the founder and executive director of Kyampisi ministries, Peter Sewakiryanga.
When George's artificial penis stopped working two years ago, a urethral catheter was inserted into his abdomen, which allowed him to pass urine. But he is an active child and the tube constantly became dislodged. It had to be painfully removed and replaced weekly – causing him pain and leading to dangerous infections.
In 2010 a chance meeting between Pastor Sewakiryanga – who was visiting Australia from South Africa to talk to politicians and church groups about child sacrifice – and Geoff Mitchell, an Australian professor of general practice, changed his life. Professor Mitchell was horrified to learn of George's ordeal and approached a friend, a Brisbane urological surgeon, David Winkle. A week ago Dr Winkle and a plastic surgeon, Scott Ingram, performed a life-changing operation to re-route George's urethra. They also revised previous reconstructive surgeries, to make George look completely normal.
Dr Winkle said the surgery was rarely done in Australia, but was quite straight-forward.
He was reluctant to claim credit.
“George is the main game here. What we did was just help out and it's not really much at all," he said.
The surgeons were assisted by an anaesthetist, who also donated his time. Church groups in Australia, Britain and the US covered the rest of the costs.
Professor Mitchell said the group was delighted with the results.
“Without this surgery, George was likely to develop chronic urinary infections, renal failure and eventually die,” he said.
Otebati, who goes by the alias Otenge, was sentenced to 15 years' jail in November.
Lieutenant-General Kayihura, the inspector-general of the Ugandan police, said his force had "defeated" the threat of child sacrifice after forming a taskforce in 2009. There were 15 reported cases in 2009, nine in 2010 and seven last year, police statistics show.
These figures, however, have been criticised.
Pastor Sewakiryanga said there were hundreds of cases of missing children in Uganda, possibly linked to child sacrifice or trafficking, and they were not being investigated due to a lack of police resources.
As a result, the real number of victims was likely to be “considerably higher”.
George, who arrived in Brisbane with Pastor Sewakiryanga three weeks ago, is expected to stay for another month or two. They are staying in the Brisbane suburb of Corinda and when he returns to Africa, it's hoped he will be able to live with his family.
He will never have children and, when he is older, will need hormone replacement therapy, which Pastor Sewakiryanga will facilitate through fund-raising.
But for now, George – whose surname means “blessing” in his native tongue – is looking forward to going to the beach for the first time and seeing a koala.
“He loves Australia. Often times he tells me 'you go back and I'll stay',” Pastor Sewakiryanga said. “He loves the hot showers and wants to see koalas.
“His recovery is surprising everybody. He is talking and laughing and running and he even plays a bit of soccer.”
George has also made friends with local children, who raised the money to buy him a scooter. Pastor Sewakiryanga hopes they will stay friends for life.
General Kayihura said he was “grateful to Australia for your compassion and generosity, for giving such critical support to this innocent child”.
“It will certainly give [George] a chance to live a normal life,” he said.
For more information, visit www.kyampisi.org