The responsibility to care for and protect vulnerable children forms an explicit mandate in many faith traditions. Although violence against children is a global epidemic (every 7 minutes an adolescent is killed by an act of violence), evidence shows that such violence is preventable. In a world where over 80% of people identify as religious in some way faith communities have a unique, essential, and indispensable role to play in ending violence against children.
The roles of faith communities in ending violence against children
Faith communities are critical players in changing practices that hurt children. They can be first responders to recognise, refer, and report violence against children. They can also bridge gaps between families, communities, and authorities (formal and informal child protection systems), and serve as advocates for and with children. Faith communities also have a unique spiritual role to play. They nurture positive beliefs around the protection and care of children and challenge some of the harmful underlying beliefs, such as frequent corporal punishment, that still enable violence. This is already happening in many places.
However, faith communities can, at times, also play a role in perpetuating or condoning violence against children, and should be further equipped to end violence against children.
An evidence gap
The Joint Learning Initiative’s Ending Violence Against Children (EVAC) Learning Hub identified a lack of substantial evidence on the many roles that faith communities play – both in preventing and responding to violence against children, as well as in perpetuating or contributing towards violence. The Hub also identified a lack of evidence on the strengths and weaknesses of current support mechanisms, and how these are integrated into international child response systems, and how faith-based organizations could be better supported in their work.
Practical Examples of Child Participation to End Violence
To continue addressing evidence gaps in the scoping study, the JLI EVAC Hub is holding events to further discuss key themes in the scoping study. View EVAC Hub’s events ->
The Joint Learning Initiative’s scoping study on Faith & Ending Violence Against Children
In 2019, the EVAC Hub published a comprehensive scoping study on Faith & Ending Violence Against Children to address some of these evidence gaps. The study consists of three components: the Literature Review, Practitioner Case Studies and Consultation with Experts.
Author: Kathleen Rutledge & Carola Eyber
Author: Selina Palm & Francisco Colombo
Author: Selina Palm
This scoping study offers an initial contribution to exploring existing evidence in two specific areas:
- The unique contributions of faith communities both in relation to ending, as well as contributing to, violence against children, to understand their involvement in this sphere.
- The role of faith actors in influencing wider child protection systems to prevent and respond to EVAC to understand the potential for their engagement
The study was led by Dr Carole Eyber at Queen Margaret University and Dr Selina Palm at Stellenbosch University.
Ending Violence Against Children Scoping Study Briefs:
|1: A Mixed Blessing: Roles of Faith Communities in Ending Violence Against Children||2: Why Faith? Engaging Faith Mechanisms to End Violence Against Children|
What do we learn from the Scoping Study?
*Click on the bolded phrases to learn more about the individual key messages and view related resources and case studies.
- Faith actors have a unique faith-based mandate to care for and protect vulnerable children as created and loved by God. They can draw on specific faith resources and traditions, but also work collaboratively across faiths to develop shared values based on the dignity and worth of all children.
- Faith actors are often important and trusted first responders to violence against children. They need to be further equipped and trained at local levels to recognize, report, refer, and respond to child survivors’ needs appropriately.
- Faith communities can play key roles in preventing violence against children, by empowering children to understand their intrinsic value and know their rights, educating caregivers and communities on prevention and tackling specific harmful beliefs that can fuel this violence.
- Faith actors can use their trusted positions in their spiritual community to challenge, transform, and offer positive alternatives to harmful religious, cultural, societal and gendered beliefs and practices. These form an underlying driver of specific forms of violence against children in homes and communities.
- Faith communities can be complicit in and perpetrate forms of violence against children. They have a responsibility to “break the silence” and publicly acknowledge and challenge all its forms. Systems must ensure faith actors are held accountable for any attempts to cover up abuse.
- Faith communities can create spaces for meaningful child participation in all decisions that affect children’s lives, especially building skills to listen respectfully to children’s voices within families, communities, and faith spaces.
- People of faith can play an important role in the community’s formal and informal child protection systems by developing collaborative relationships with caregivers, educators,and local authorities to ensure a comprehensive, multisectoral response that is also responsive to new threats to children.
- Faith actors should help improve child safeguarding approaches within their religious institutions.
- Faith-based organizations and local faith communities can help to bridge gaps between global or national policies on children and the realities of their communities.
- Many promising faith-informed initiatives remain informal practices or are not documented. Intentional collaboration between researchers and practitioners is needed for more robust documentation on impact and causality. Further research gaps were identified in a range of areas.
EVAC Hub events
- February 26th, 2020: Spiritual Capital with Selina Palm
- June 1st, 2020: Faith Actors as First Responders to VAC
- September 30th, 2020: Multi-Religious Perspectives on Child Participation
- October 28th, 2020: Practical Examples of Child Participation
- November 17th, 2020: Intergenerational Dialogue at Arigatou International’s Children’s Summit
- Listen to children and find ways for them to participate. It is important to protect children, but it is also important to listen to them and respect their independence and rights. Children feel valued when adults involve them in religious life and help them participate in their religious community. It is equally necessary to make sure that all children and adolescents can help make decisions, even the ones who are often excluded.
- Support and link the community to resources. Religious leaders, including women and youth leaders, can link people to resources, including ensuring children can access education while schools are closed. They are around when others may have left and can encourage parents and those who care for others to take care of themselves and their children. They can help people understand how to confront violence in their homes and support communities through different stages of life.
- Enhance community capacity to effectively report and refer cases of child abuse. Interpret child protection principles in a way that is meaningful and appropriate to their communities in order to increase awareness. Faith communities and religious leaders offer unique value reporting and referring cases of child abuse and educating communities on how they can get help.
- Provide important psychosocial and spiritual support to strengthen a child’s resilience during the pandemic. Religious practices, networks and places can have an impact on the development of the individual and collective identity and spirituality of children. Faith and religion can help people to reframe negative life events in order to cope with them more effectively. For example, turning to prayer, religion, or spiritual feelings to cope with stress. Religious leaders and faith communities can help guide people to understand how to find peace and calm. They also provide mental health and psychosocial support often through counselling and psychological first aid. These actions can help stop violence against others.
- Bridge the gap between the wider community’s formal and informal child protection systems. Religious leaders and faith communities can help bridge the gap between national policies and grassroots practice. They can share accurate advice and validate information from public health officials. Advocate for national and local COVID-19 prevention and response plans that integrate age-appropriate and gender-sensitive measures. In particular, youth can play key roles in spreading important messages and mobilizing the community, e.g. through the use of technology. Secular and faith leaders need to collaborate to develop comprehensive, multisectoral responses that build trust and improve safeguarding approaches that act before harm occurs.