Faith leaders are well-positioned to address violence against children, but the extent to which they do so is unclear. This mixed-method study examined faith leaders’ child protection practices, attitudes towards child rights, and views around physical punishment in Senegal, Uganda, and Guatemala. Child protection practices—specifically listening to children and reporting abuse—were strongest among faith leaders in Uganda, although they also most favored use of physical punishment. Overall, findings documented how faith leaders play an important role in promoting the wellbeing of children in their communities. Building on this contribution, however, requires sensitivity to important contextual differences.

Tackling violence against children is the focus of sub-goal 16.2 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Relative to the previous Millennium Development Goals, the SDG agenda puts a stronger emphasis on child and youth development looking beyond children’s access to basic services to children attaining their human potential. Violence against children is increasingly recognized as one of the key barriers to this goal (Raikes et al. 2017). Globally, one billion children are subject to violence every year, 9 in 10 children reside in countries where corporal punishment is not fully prohibited, and 120 million girls have been victims of sexual violence (End Violence Against Children 2020).

The Global Partnership to End Violence against Children illustrates the coming together of diverse stakeholders on this agenda. It currently convenes over 360 organizations, including UN agencies, governments, multilateral agencies, civil society and faith organizations, the private sector, foundations, academics, and independent experts (End Violence Against Children 2020).

However, the development of national child protection systems has to date generally been premised on a top-down approach by government institutions, focused on the provision of child protection services through professionals (Wessells 2015). Such an approach may be suited to high-income settings, but low and middle-income countries risk poor community ownership of child protection, a low use of formal child protection services by community members, and misalignment of formal and non-formal elements of child protection (Wessells 2015). To mitigate these risks, there have been calls for a more bottom-up approach to child protection systems with greater involvement of community-based actors, including faith leaders and communities (Robinson and Hanmer 2014; Ager, Fiddian-Qasmiyeh, and Ager 2015; Wessells 2015).

This article examines faith leaders’ child protection practices, attitudes towards child rights, and views around physical punishment in three countries with different religious contexts: Senegal (predominantly Muslim), Uganda (a mix of Christian and Muslim), and Guatemala (predominantly Christian). The study used a newly developed and validated Faith Community Child Protection Scale (FCCPS) (Diaconu et al. under review) to consider how current child protection practices and attitudes of faith leaders showed commonality and variance across these settings. The article also draws on the qualitative data collected within the study.

The article starts by providing an overview of the faith leaders’ involvement in child protection in the first section. The second section provides background information on each of the country settings. The methodology of the study is described in the third section. The fourth section presents the findings of the study focusing on each dimension of FCCPS: faith community child protection practices, attitudes to child rights, and views around physical punishment. The implications of findings are discussed in the fifth section.

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