“It is time to actively work to prevent child abuse in our churches”
The Infancy Working Group of the Spanish Evangelical Alliance launches a Protocol for Child Protection. “We still have a long way to go”, says Javier Martín.
Protestante Digital · BARCELONA · 11 JUNE 2021 · 16:10 CET
The Infancy Working Group (GTI) of the Spanish Evangelical Alliance has presented a Protocol for Child Protection.
The document aims to raise awareness of the need to protect and care for minors in the ministerial and ecclesial environment, giving evangelical churches and entities the tools to act in this sensitive area.
It has been drawn up by the GTI team in response to concerns that have been raised in recent years in forums, workshops and other training and consultation spaces in the evangelical environment.
Javier Martín, president of the group, told Spanish news website Protestante Digital that they have made this document with the aim of “getting as close as possible to the reality of children, their needs, and the way in which evangelical churches and entities can respond”.
“We still have a long way to go”
Martín acknowledges that, while society is becoming increasingly aware of child protection, in the Christian sphere “we still have a long way to go”.
One of the challenges is to present useful and practical resources that, in addition to develop a theoretical framework, give solutions and explain how to implement them in this context. That is why it provides basic definitions and strategies that are mainly focused on prevention. “There are simple ways to prevent a good proportion of this abuse, which unfortunately can occur in any environment”.
“Sometimes it is difficult to take this problem seriously, because there is an attitude of false security”, warns Martín. “We think that there won't be abuse in churches, but unfortunately it does happen. Thousands of cases are being recognised in religious settings, so that it's important to tackle it, preventing it from continuing”.
“Abuse needs to be confronted”
The abuse is not something “to be acknowledged, but to be confronted. We have to be in the fight”, he adds.
The protocol is structured around six sections: in the first, the concept of child abuse and the definition of each type of abuse are outlined, followed by strategies for child protection.
More specifically, it addresses issues such as data protection and the image of minors and bullying and cyberbullying. It finally adds a guide for children's ministries in times of crisis, with a special mention of the circumstances arising from the coronavirus pandemic.
“Prevention requires a change of mentality”
Martín has spent more than fifteen years providing training to entities and churches on this problem in very diverse contexts. Based on this experience, he points out that although preventive work “has its complexity, it is not difficult or costly”.
“It requires a change of mentality”, knowing that “the difficulty lies in taking the step of understanding the responsibility we have to protect and guide, ensuring that in the ecclesial and extra ecclesial sphere, we are responsible for the healthy development of children”, says Martin.
According to the president of the GTI, “turning a deaf ear or denying child abuse perpetuates children growing up in an unsafe and unhealthy environment”.
Covid, bullying and cyberbullying
The document also shows the impact of coronavirus on minors. Martín explains that adolescents are one of the sectors of the population that is suffering the most, especially emotionally.
“We are seeing more anxiety, depression and aggressiveness in them, as a result of the pandemic”, says Martín. For that reason, the protocol proposes care and accompaniment strategies to prevent these situations from becoming more serious.
The risks of bullying and cyberbullying are also highlighted. The latter, Martín explains, has increased with the lockdown because “the number of hours spent in front of screens and on the Internet has multiplied. The possibilities of abuse multiply in this context”.
According to Martín, it is important for churches and evangelical entities to establish strategies that minimise the risk of harassment or abuse, and at the same time, to be alert and trained to detect if a minor is suffering it in another environment, such as the family or school.
“We must have discernment to guide and, above all, preserve the safety and protection of the children, that is the priority”, he concludes.
The Child Protection Protocol can be downloaded free of charge here (in Spanish).
Infancy Working Group (GTI) of the Spanish Evangelical Alliance
In 2019, the GTI organised the Min19 Congress, the first national congress on childhood in Spain, in which more than 600 people from all over the country participated.
A national online conference is being prepared for 2021. The group continues to work with conferences and training, such as the Children's Ministry Conference of the Min Movement in Andalusia, which will be held on 26 June in Antequera (Málaga).