Malawi has a large proportion of vulnerable children and widespread child abuse, and yet child protection and safeguarding is not widely discussed. Most communities are oblivious to children’s rights, or the dangers children are exposed to when they are left to wander the streets or sleep in other people’s homes. Abuse is not taken seriously or acknowledged. A “culture of silence” has found its way into local churches and communities, and cases of abuse have been covered up. Even when reported, the cases have sometimes been neglected, gone undocumented or been handled in an unprofessional manner. Indeed the welfare services do not even have the resources in place to care for the victims, let alone protect those at risk of abuse, demonstrating the low priority given at national level.
It is very difficult to open up the conversation about why certain things (e.g. parenting) are done in a certain way, or how this state of affairs has arisen and become widely accepted. CFCM is one of the first organisations to start this conversation. CFCM has a Safeguarding Policy, a Child Protection Officer, and all paid staff have a Malawian Police Clearance Certificate. Since 2019, safeguarding has been included in the syllabus for all teachers who attend CFCM seminars, raising awareness of the issue, highlighting everyone’s legal and Christian responsibility to advocate for the rights of children. The testimony of some of those who have received this training shows how important it has been:
- “I have been a Sunday school teacher for many years, but I never had in mind the fact that we as church should stand to protect children. We have been aware of child abuse, but people in Malawi often say the problem is with the child. Now we have learned that kids have been abused but there is no one to stand for them. It is time to stand and take action against this madness.”
- “the Government of Malawi is now encouraging churches to teach their people about child protection, but the church always sees this as a secular issue. Now that CFCM is bringing this to our Sunday school teachers, we are very thankful because it has come at a time when the church is failing to respond to child abuse and exploitation.”
- “we have been experiencing some other strange behaviours from the children we teach, but we were failing to identify that those changes could be the outcome of the abuses that children are facing in their homes. Now we have been made aware, we will be able to take a step by helping the children in their situation.”
It has been great to see community Bible club leaders agree to take action against child abuse and exploitation happening in their area as a result of the training they have received from CFCM.