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Bangladesh Church steps up protection of children

Cardinal D'Rozario says child rights program will focus on families, schools and the church

Bangladesh Church steps up protection of children

Cardinal Patrick D'Rozario of Dhaka speaks to participants during a pastoral gathering in Dhaka on Sept. 22. Catholic dioceses in Bangladesh including Dhaka have made child rights and protection a major pastoral priority. (Photo by Stephan Uttom/ucanews.com)

Protecting children from abuse is a major pastoral priority for the Catholic Church in Bangladesh, according to church leaders.

While the global church faces a massive crisis caused by clerical sexual abuse of children and cover-ups, Bangladesh has responded by ensuring the rights and protection of minors at various levels.

"Families and the church need to play a vital role in ensuring the rights of children, creating a child-friendly environment, moral and religious formation and a system for their protection from various forms of abuse," said Cardinal Patrick D'Rozario of Dhaka.

Bangladesh's first cardinal spoke to ucanews.com on Sept. 22 on the sidelines of a pastoral assembly at the Archbishop's House in Dhaka.

The gathering on Sept. 20-22, organized by Dhaka Archdiocesan Pastoral Coordination Committee, drew 270 representatives including clergy, religious and laypeople. It was a follow-up discussion and agenda-setting program following a recent national pastoral workshop.

In a mission statement, participants set out 12 pastoral priorities including protection and rights of children, the environment and pastoral care for migrant workers.

"Often we are more concerned about sexual abuse of children, but there are other aspects of the violation of children rights such as legalized abortion. Protection of children must start from their birth in the mother's womb and needs to include families, schools, the church and the environment where children grow up," Cardinal D'Rozario told ucanews.com.

The prelate said Dhaka Archdiocese would form a child protection committee in every parish to oversee rights and protect children.

Child rights and protection are a timely call for the church, said Benedict Alo D'Rozario, former executive director of Caritas Bangladesh and one of the trainers on the program.

"There is a lack of measures for protection of children in families, schools and the surrounding environment, and 'early child development' activities in the church have not been very strong so far. We must start now," Alo D'Rozario told ucanews.com.

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Citing various national surveys, D'Rozario said about 50 percent of children in Bangladesh face abuse and in most cases children are abused by their "near-and-dear ones."

"There was no survey in the church to find out the levels of abuse of children, so I have no idea about children being abused by relatives or clergy. If a survey is done and people are found guilty, they must face punishment as Pope Francis has called for," he added.

A Catholic mother of three, who attended the gathering, said she has great hope regarding the rights and protection of children.

"Abuses in families, schools and the church create a negative mindset among children against society, institutions and the church. We know the church in various countries in Europe and the Americas has been rocked and tainted by clerical child abuse scandals. I believe our church authority will take effective measures so that such bad things don't happen here," the 40-year-old mother told ucanews.com on condition of anonymity.

Father William Murmu, chancellor of Rajshahi Diocese in northern Bangladesh, said it has been addressing child rights and protection since last year.

"Our recent pastoral assembly was mostly focused on New Evangelization, but child protection is a major pastoral priority for us. Since last year, the church has been organizing seminars and training programs on child rights protection in parishes, schools and boarding hostels. This is a matter of high importance for us," Father Murmu told ucanews.com.

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