We decided recently that the society needed to update its child protection policy. A committee of four members from three villages was given this task. We met in Harare, Zimbabwe last month and using the Keeping Children Safe tool kits, we developed a new Child Protection Policy, which I think is a good one and will serve the children well.
The question is can a child protection policy keep children safe? Or as Heather MacLeod in “Celebrating Children” puts it, “How do we move from a written document to an environment which is safe and friendly, where children can develop and grow in a healthy way?” All too often organizations working with children develop child protection policies to protect themselves or to elevate the status of the organization. Many donors want to know if an organization has a child protection policy when the real question is are the children you care for safe?
Children at risk are subject to many types of abuse, often they are abused by the very people entrusted to care for them. So who is responsible to protect them? A recent document entitled “The Church and Child Protection” published by African Leadership and UNICEF states that there are four important actors in child protection: the child, the family, the church and the State. The UNCRC adds one more important player, which is any other person who has the care of the child. This is where VOH fits. It is our responsibility to not only have a child protection policy but to ensure that the children we care for are safe. We must also speak up and influence the four actors that The Church and Child Protection claim are responsible for child protection.
Now that we have a child protection policy, we must ensure that all those who come into contact with the children are well trained. Ideally people will begin to protect children not because of a policy but because they believe that the children should be protected. I believe that most of the VOH staff do the latter. We just need to ensure that all care givers go out of their way to protect the children.
I believe that child protection begins with how we view children. If people who work with children, especially those at risk, value the child and see them as God’s creation then there is a greater chance that the children will be protected.
Child abuse is not a thing of recent history; the Old Testament gives many examples of various forms of abuse children experienced. Children were used as chattel, sold as sex slaves, used as sacrifices and publicly humiliated for not being as important as adults. Matthew 19:13-14 is a familiar story where the children were blocked by Jesus’ disciples, preventing them access to Jesus. However Jesus rebuked the disciples and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”
If Jesus valued the children and blessed them should we not do the same?
I pray that our child protection policy will be more than a document, but that it will be central to what we do – which is provide a haven where children are safe from all harm and abuse.
Until next time,
Executive Director – Villages of Hope-Africa