High-profile cases include the murders of Kristy Bamu and Victoria Climbie but experts fear much more abuse is hidden.

The key aims are to raise awareness and set out "urgent practical steps to identify and protect children at risk".

Children's Minister Tim Loughton said: "Child abuse is appalling and unacceptable wherever it occurs and whatever form it takes.

"Abuse linked to faith or belief in spirits, witchcraft or possession is a horrific crime, condemned by people of all cultures, communities and faiths - but there has been a 'wall of silence' around its scale and extent.

"There can never be a blind eye turned to violence or emotional abuse or even the smallest risk that religious beliefs will lead to young people being harmed."

The government says that cases of adults inflicting physical violence or emotional harm on children they regard as witches or possessed by evil spirits occur across the world, often in sub-sects of major religions, such as Christianity.

The action plan follows the murder of 15-year-old Kristy Bamu in Newham in December 2010 for which his sister Magalie and her boyfriend Eric Bikubi were convicted.

Kristy, was accused by Bikubi of practising "kindoki" or witchcraft and casting spells, during a visit over Christmas. He suffered appalling abuse and torture for three days before drowning in a bath.