Child abuse: the church as a place of protection and healing

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Child abuse: the church as a place of protection and healing

Abuse of women and children is happening in different forms in households across South Africa. And members of those households are sitting alongside us in our church services – whether as survivor, witness or perpetrator. At Sikunye we believe that the church can be the place of protection of children and healing for those affected by it.

The term “child abuse” is one usually associated with violence against children – whether sexual or physical – but it actually is a lot broader, encompassing both emotional abuse and neglect. It can be any form of harm or ill-treatment deliberately inflicted on a child. When a child is regularly humiliated in the home, or does not receive the kind of care that they need, this is also abuse.

Abuse is widespread

In South Africa, violence against children remains a major challenge facing society, despite government and private sector efforts. The roots of this challenge are complex, interwoven through a history of violence and extreme inequality, and compounded in a present characterised by poverty and unemployment. Violence has in fact become normalised, seeing neglect and abuse as everyday features in our social structures. Survivors and witnesses often do not want to talk about it and children can remain in cycles of abuse.

Abuse harms us all

While the problem is significant and systemic, the abuse of children is a threat to healthy socioeconomic development in our country, and to a generation’s potential to thrive in line with their God-given potential. Research shows that parents are most likely to treat their children in line with the ways that they were raised themselves, which can often cause repetitive cycles of abuse and neglect, with an incredibly negative impact on society as a whole. Tackling violence in our homes, schools, churches and communities demands action from all of us, and together we can create a safe society for children to flourish.

There are many forms of abuse or violence that children of any age can experience, the effects of which are long lasting, and can be felt by an entire society. It is our responsibility to protect our children – for their benefit in growing up to thrive and reach their God-given potential, but also for the benefit of our communities, the economy, and for our country as a whole!

What can my church do?

Creating safe spaces for children is a necessity in our communities and country, and a collaborative effort between all sectors is vital to ensure a holistic approach that benefits all children. Swipe through to find out what your church can do to help create a society where child safety is actively promoted

A journey of healing

While working with a child who is a survivor of abuse should be a role played by a qualified and designated counsellor or psychologist, on an individual basis, there is still much that the church can do to facilitate the healing process. From supporting survivors of abuse through pastoral care and prayer, to facilitating discussion on tough subjects in an age-appropriate way, this is a space that the church can step into to bring comfort, acceptance and restoration to survivors.

What steps you can take next

Whilst this is a heavy topic and one that brings up many big emotions, it is worth exploring. To see our children thrive and flourish, we need to be putting things in place to protect them and report suspected abuse when we see it. To guide you and your church in this response, a Child Protection Policy is necessary. It is also a document that is also mandated by law (specifically the Children’s Act).

To get insights into the why and how of a Child Protection policy, you can watch a recording of our workshop on the topic:  recording and read a summary document on How to write a Child Protection Policy from this workshop.

Together we can protect our children and see them thrive.

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