As one straightforward workshop participant put it: “It’s our responsibility to protect the rights and dignity of our children.”
Out of the Shadows workshops were held in parts of Asia, the Caribbean, and Africa, with the goal of training church leaders so they can train others. The “ripple effect” is already in evidence. For example, in Nigeria alone, almost 200 leaders from church-run schools participated in the most recent workshop led by the Christian Council of Nigeria.
The Christian Council of Nigeria, in an online meeting of its synod, officially adopted the Out of the Shadows toolkit as an official document in all Nigerian official languages.
In Asia, 38 people from 13 different countries attended a regional consultation, bringing their insights back to their home contexts.
Across the board, the first step in all the workshops, as another participant said, was: “learning about the various definitions of child abuse and how to identify abuse.”
One workshop participant, when reflecting on what she learned, wrote: “It is important never to ignore children; they may have different ways of communication. If sensitive, you will be able to tell when something goes wrong with the child.”
The work ahead
The campaign’s name is based off a phrase coined by the Economist Intelligence Unit of the Economist Group on global business intelligence, which developed an Out of the Shadows Index that measures how national actors in 60 countries address child sexual abuse and exploitation. The index, which focuses on policies, practices and standards, reveals that much more needs to be done to achieve the United Nations’ goal of ending all forms of violence against children by 2030.
In a post-workshop report by the United Theological College of the West Indies, the authors underscored how important it is to involve churches in preventing child abuse. “Most of the reports from the Caribbean mention that although new laws and regulations are being instituted, it is very difficult to enforce them, largely due to inadequate funds and personnel,” the report reads. “Many churches are involved in work related to child care and protection, and in providing care and support for children who are victims of abuse.”
WCC a ‘shining light’
The Out of the Shadows project ties into Churches’ Commitments to Children, a programme launched in 2017 through WCC’s partnership with UNICEF, resulting in a comprehensive and impactful action plan developed with churches, child rights experts and children themselves.
In a report about the impact of the Out of the Shadows initiative, Frederique Seidel, programme executive for Child Rights, detailed the impact of the Out of the Shadows campaign, expressing appreciation for a grant from Ignite Philanthropy. “Through the materials adapted to churches, the WCC provided guidance on how to integrate Out of the Shadows actions into all relevant activities of the Churches’ Commitments to Children initiative,” explained Seidel.
An Out of the Shadows toolkit includes leaflets summarising key messages of the Out of the Shadows Index and linking these to existing resources to implement Churches' Commitments to Children.
The toolkit also includes posters with toll-free numbers of national helplines, as well as a Spiritual Life booklet with a selection of Bible studies, songs and prayers supporting church engagement on ending sexual violence against children. This booklet includes a hymn which was composed for the “Out of the Shadows” campaign by one of WCC’s member churches in Argentina.
Spreading the word
Through workshops and distribution of materials, the objective is to keep building momentum for worldwide advocacy. “It is an ambitious project that builds on a number of fruitful partnerships, and develops and disseminates materials with a large number of key counterparts in now 10 pilot countries, at regional and global levels,” said Seidel.
Out of the Shadows will also be linked further with the Thursdays in Black global campaign for a world free from rape and violence. The toolkit contains a one-page document with suggestions on how to forge and strengthen this link. “These suggestions were developed because the Thursdays in Black campaign is very familiar to many of our churches, and a very popular initiative,” said Seidel. “Connecting the two is conducive to sensitizing to the specific risks of child abuse, through Out of the Shadows materials, across church communities.”