Representational photo. Many children in Bangladesh face various forms of abuse. (Photo by Stephan Uttom)
The Catholic Church in Bangladesh has launched a campaign to educate clergy, religious and laypeople into making its institutions safe and secure for children.
The campaign by the Catholic Bishops’ Episcopal Commission for Justice and Peace and Marist Brothers Bangladesh was launched at a national workshop titled "The Church is a safe and secure home" held in Dhaka July 7-11.
Participants came from seven Catholic dioceses across the country and included priests, nuns, brothers, schoolteachers, hostel directors and Holy Childhood Association animators.
“Protection of children is a top priority and this campaign will continue indefinitely,” said Father Albert Rozario, the commission secretary.
“We would like to ensure all Catholic institutions and people work more sincerely to protect children,” he said adding, “This campaign is the first of its kind in Bangladesh.”
Child abuse scandals have rocked the Catholic Church worldwide in recent times. In order to deal with the issue, Pope Francis in June created a special tribunal inside the Vatican to hear cases of bishops who fail in their duty to protect children.
“There have been allegations of child abuse by priests in Bangladesh as well but they were often covered up. Now, we have a clear direction from the Vatican to prosecute anyone who abuses children,” Fr Rozario said.
Brother Cesar Henriquesz Levia, from the Mariast Child Protection Desk, pointed out that the Bangladesh Church does not have any clear-cut study about the situation of children and child sexual abuse in the country. “But there is no doubt many children are at risk of being abused at home, in schools, in workplaces and on the streets,” he said.
Church people are now looking to ensure that children in their care are protected well. “Knowingly or unknowingly, we often behave inappropriately with children. This is a serious barrier to their growth,” said Prodip Gomes, a Church-run hostel superintendent in northern Bangladesh.
Gomes admitted he used to beat children in the hostel to discipline them. “I will not do it anymore. Instead I will offer them counseling to change their attitude,” he said.
Bangladesh Legal Aid Services Trust has pointed out that as many as 59 percent of children in the country face various forms of abuse.
“Most people in our country including parents, relatives and schoolteachers don’t know what child abuse and torture are. As a result, many children face physical and psychological abuses,” said Nawmi Naz Chowdhury, a senior official at the legal aid trust.