[Anglican Communion News Service] Anglicans from across Africa this week joined governments, civil society and other Christians on the continent to commemorate Child Protection Week.
Child Protection Week, May 27 to June 2, is an annual event when many countries raise awareness of children’s rights, and to mobilize all sectors of society to ensure the care and protection of all children.
Children worldwide face many forms of abuse and are often denied basic rights including an education, protection from harm, and access to basic healthcare.
In parts of Africa, for example, children can miss out on schooling when they are forced instead to work during the farming season.
Mrs Jellow Tembo, early childhood project manager for the Diocese of Northern Zambia, said: “The farming season is the time when child labor is most rampant. Parents prefer to use their children as a source of cheap and readily available labour. Instead of going to school, children are used on farms to cultivate or even sent on the streets to sell merchandise.”
The problem of child labor is severe in sub-Saharan Africa, where it is estimated that more than 40 percent of all children aged 5 to 14 — approximately 48 million children — labor for survival.
The International Labour Organisation (ILO) estimates that agriculture is the largest employer of child labor in Africa. In a recent report, ILO cites “denying children education” as being one of the major negative impacts of child labor in Zambia, especially among children in rural areas.
However, it also shows how employers, especially in the tobacco sector in Zambia, have collaborated with government and other stakeholders in a project trying to eliminate child labor. The project’s achievements includes the prevention and withdrawal of about 3,700 children from child labor against a target of 2,760 children.
Other countries on the continent are also putting in place measures to try and curb child abuse. In Nigeria, to ensure child protection the Federal Government is establishing a child helpline to protect the rights of children. The project is meant to enable children in any kind of crisis to call a toll-free number to find help.
Anglican Communion member churches across Africa also make children, their welfare and involvement in church life, a priority. One example is the Anglican Church of Southern Africa that has included the “nurturing and protection of children and young people” among eight other strategic priority areas including public advocacy, women and gender.
The Anglican Church of Kenya took center stage last year when it called for investigations into an allegation that 30 orphaned children were mistreated at the Child Welfare Society of Kenya in Isiolo County.
The various measures and efforts undertaken by Anglicans and indeed governments around Africa are a reflection of what Jesus teaches all Christians. The Indaba Reflections from the 2008 Lambeth Conference* capture this well: “Jesus called the children to himself, and in our time we must extend our charity to the children of the world. Sexual exploitation in its varied expressions must not be tolerated.
“We wait for the day when child pornography and the commercial sexualization of children come to an end. In God’s kingdom no child will serve as a soldier, or slave, or laborer, but be set free from poverty, violence and their many manifestations.”
While the Church has been doing the best it can to ensure that children are safe, the role that parents themselves play in this regard is crucial. Tony Lawrence, the provincial youth coordinator for the Anglican Youth of Southern Africa emphasized: “It is essential for parents to provide the first line of protection.”
He added, “[However], our clergy should be teaching Biblical Parenting and this is one of the areas greatly neglected in the church. A few sessions of preparing for baptism is not enough and parents need regular teaching and encouragement if they are going to be able to train the child in the way he must go.”
Mr Lawrence also outlined some of the initiatives that they are taking at provincial level to address issues of youths and children. He said, “We have recently launched a project called Project2013 which will develop an outcomes-based framework and curriculum for the spiritual development of all children and young people, and will include not only the theology of our faith but also how children need to relate to the environment around them, including what they can do as personal protection.”
Tony added, “It is the first steps to a broader ministry delivery, but we thought by dealing with the “heart” issues first and defining the minimum spiritual foundation intervention, we would have the platform on which to build into the future.”
A children coordinator from Kenya, Joshua Ongule thinks that parents should “understand the exodus of faith and nurture its journey to the end.” He said, “The first step is to fill the child’s mind with God’s love at the first stage of faith by realizing that younger children need to learn love, trust and forgiveness from their homes, churches, schools and the people around them.
“Therefore parents have a massive duty to ensure that the institutional influencers are positive for things to work for God’s glory. How can a child trust that the love talked about in John 3:16 exists if they don’t experience that love at home, in Sunday school or anywhere?”
Mrs Mary Malivas is the provincial Sunday school coordinator for the Church of the Province of Central Africa as well as the diocesan Sunday school adviser for the Diocese of Northern Malawi.
She challenged all parents on the continent to “lead by example” if they want their children to grow in Christ and become responsible members of the Church.
“Parents should never fight or smoke while their kids are watching,” she said. “You do this kind of stuff and expect children not to imitate? Children should be well taught and it does not matter how old they are. They should be brought up to know and love God.”
She explained that, at a minimum, the Church in Malawi encourages children to get involved with the life of the Church by singing in the choir. She added, “We also make sure that their teachers are sensitized on how to protect children against child abuse.”
Indeed, as Ongule explains, it is vital for the church to also tackle issues that exacerbate child abuse, neglect and exploitation in Africa, especially poverty.
“The church in Africa should research on child poverty, its symptoms and manifestation,” he said, “and then adopt ways in which the Church and the government can join hands to implement policies, program projects and activities aimed at making child protection effective.”