A 13 year old told her teacher that her step father was sexually abusing her at home. The teacher told noone. The abuse continued.
A six year old told a care-giver in the community that she was raped by her biological father in an alley way behind her house. The case was not reported to the police. The girl was raped a second time.
This time her grandmother noticed she was in pain when walking and took her to the clinic. A medical examination revealed physical signs of abuse. She was given medication to prevent HIV transmission and to clear the infection. Her grandmother reported the abuse to the police but later withdrew her statement. No further action was taken.
Why? What is stopping adults reporting child abuse to the authorities? Why the silence? How come such a lack of apparent action?
Tehila has asked this question regularly over the four years in Zambia working with both adults and children. And the biggest barrier to action seems to be fear.
If I report then I will be blamed for bringing shame to the family or community. I will be scapegoated and at worse a curse may be put on me or my family for taking action.
Fear that the police will not deal with the case correctly. Fear that the situation will be worse for the child if I report. They will be victimised further for bringing shame on the family.
Perhaps the abuser is the breadwinner. How will I find the money to pay school fees, food and rent if he is arrested? Surely its better to forget it ever happened, for the good of the rest of the family? Maybe it is easier to just accept the money being offered by the abuser to settle the issue. At least this way I will have been financially compensated for the damage caused.
How will my girl ever marry if people find out what has happened to her? It is better for her if I stay silent.
Perhaps I dont know where to go, who to report to, what I should say? Maybe the abuser didnt realise he was abusing the child. He lives in the village and its normal there. Its ok to get married to a girl as long as she has reached puberty.
Or maybe I don’t fully realise that I am responsible for protecting children. After all that is not a child in my family so it is not my business. Its a family matter.
Perhaps I am not aware of my biblical and moral responsibility to protect all children. Am I even aware of the intrinsic value and worth of children and God’s heart for them?
So many reasons. So many factors that create a cycle of fear. So many obstacles. So many barriers that protect the silence.
Yet what about the child’s right to protection? What about the perpetrators need to experience guilt and consequences? What about justice? How can we balance the need to protect the reputation and honour of a family and community, with the needs of the individual child who has been abused.
Through our Safe Places training programme, Tehila works with churches and organisations to deal with some of these issues. To explore solutions from a locally sensitive perspective on how to break down some of these barriers.
Journeying together, churches and organisations begin to understand the importance of having a child protection policy, including a robust reporting procedure. This ensures all staff, volunteers and associates know what to do if they are concerned about the welfare of any child with whom they work or come into contact with.
Children must also know where to go for help if they are being abused or feel uncomfortable with something another child or adult has done to them.
If these polices and procedures are in place and implemented they will provide a framework for keeping children safe, will protect staff snd ministry leaders within an organisation or church from false allegations and protect the organisation as a whole, deterring abusers from joining them and maintaining a good reputation.
Ongoing abuse that these two girls experienced could have been avoided if adults around them had known what to do and taken action to keep them safe. This is why we do the work that we do. Tehila is now working alongside these churches and organisations to improve their safeguarding policies and procedures.
If you are keen to find out more about our work or would like to donate financially on a monthly basis please visit our website at www.tehila.org.
Thanks so much