Beginning on 8 April—World Day for Child Sexual Abuse Prevention, Healing and Justice—the symposium, “Faith and Flourishing: Strategies for Preventing and Healing Child Sexual Abuse,” featured 73 speakers from 23 countries.
Keynote speaker Dr Denis Mukwege, 2018 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, reflected on his experience at the Panzi Hospital in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Mukwege, an obstetrician and gynecologist, as well as the son of a pastor, said that the religious community can and should play a role in ensuring that children are protected and that survivors have the resources they need to rebuild their lives with dignity.
“As the second Congo war dragged on and sexual violence became a common weapon of war, I became increasingly horrified by the brutality that our patients, young and old, were enduring,” he said. “Through our commitment and prayer, we have treated and supported the resilience of thousands of survivors of sexual violence over the past 20 years.”
Frederique Seidel, World Council of Churches (WCC) senior advisor on child rights, spoke about community and faith-based engagement for preventing child sexual abuse.
Seidel reflected that, across the world, churches represent a shelter and a safe haven for many children. “I’ve witnessed this myself on many occasions in many ways,” she said. It is vitally important that churches have a fully operational child safeguarding policy in place, but this is unfortunately not yet a reality everywhere. Child protection is one of the three pillars of Churches’ Commitments to Children, a WCC initiative in partnership with UNICEF promoting capacity building for churches’ support to children.
The child safeguarding policy, Seidel said, is “about securing confidential reporting about any suspicion of child abuse, and appropriate and confidential support for victims of child sexual abuse.” In the closing panel, she also underlined the importance of advocating for policies that allow victims to access counselling and therapy free of charge. Psychological support still remains a luxury reserved for wealthy people in many parts of the world.
The virtual event was hosted by the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, the Human Flourishing Program at Harvard University’s Institute for Quantitative Social Science, Harvard Divinity School, the Chan School of Public Health and the Catholic Project at the Catholic University of America.