The extent of child abuse in African church is yet to be known although the revelations of child abuse in the Global North have caused jitters. However, the Church in Africa is still not ready to deal with this situation and there is remarkable fear expressed by many people including faith leaders to sensitize people about abuse so as not to lead to an explosion of reports.
Granted, there is evidence that the top structures of the universal Church have taken full responsibility for safeguarding. A lot needs to be done at the local level in Africa, to reduce and possibly eliminate the apparent resistance and struggle by leadership to accept, assume, and enforce guidelines that create a culture of safeguarding.
In addition, there is an urgent need for dialog between the Church, modern and traditional values about minors to promote societal structures that ensure child safety. There is also a need to overcome the silence embedded in the society at different levels that include the institutional, traditional, and cultural.
What are the factors creating this problem?
While the church in Europe, Australia and America has had its fair share of challenges and have managed to effectively reduce occurrence of new cases, the church in Africa is at a different level and is just starting to learn and develop around safeguarding. A lot of the work being done is scattered without much collaboration thereby reinventing the wheel. Further, trained workforce in safeguarding is limited and there is therefore a training gap which the Community of Practice will fill through the sharing of skills and knowledge by the practitioners within the church.
Another factor is fear of scandal of abuse and the need to protect the church. Similarly, shame prevents victims from denouncing cases of abuse in personal, family, church, or community contexts.
What is the opportunity for change?
There is increased awareness of the problem of child abuse on the continent. Further, the 2019 Papal decree Vos Estis Lux Mundi has made it mandatory for episcopal conferences and religious congregations to put in place measurers for dealing with child abuse cases. Consequently, there has been appointment of persons to lead safeguarding work at various levels in the church. These people present an opportunity to enhance child protection and safeguarding in the church. Thus, the Community of Practice (CoP) aims to reach the safeguarding personnel, practitioners religious and lay scholars to share knowledge, promote best practices, generate newer and deeper level knowledge, and develop resources for the church. It is also expected that the platform will offer thought leadership for the Church in Africa around safeguarding.
The CoP members will interact, learn, and develop common practices and standards that are locally and contextually acceptable, contributing to the creation of a safer church in Africa.