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By Nadine Wilson, Jamaica Observer Writer

THE wave of reports of childhood sexual abuse by persons entrusted with their care has prompted church leaders to implement a screening policy for Sunday school teachers and others employed to supervise children.

Two weeks ago, over 30 pastors representing a cross-section of churches across the country, held an emergency summit at the Caribbean Graduate School of Theology (CGST) in Kingston to review policies and implement measures to protect children in the care of church employees.

College president Dr Las Newman said the churches were very troubled by the increasing reports of sexual abuse of children and felt they should play their part in ensuring that children entrusted to their care are protected from sexual predators.

The introduction of the screening policy was accepted as one of the ways to address what many church leaders termed, “the crisis facing the nation.”

The policy, Dr Newman said, will apply to pastors, church elders, deacons, Sunday school teachers and youth workers, and will “look at the matter of recruitment and admission, background checks of people, police records and evaluation of people’s mental health, and people’s emotional health, and people’s past relationships with children.”

“The church wants to ensure that those who have to work with children — such as those in the Sunday schools, in the youth programmes, and in the summer camps — that they will have responsible people with proper accountable structures and people that are well able,” he said.

The gruesome and perverse acts of violence being meted out to children by adults they trusted, has been the subject of multiple media reports over the past month.

Child advocate, Betty-Ann Blaine, who is also the founder of lobby group Hear the Children’s Cry, said there are no official statistics to indicate how many children have been abused by their spiritual supervisors, although there have been media reports from time to time.

However, despite the lack of statistics, she noted that sexual abuse by members of the clergy is far from unheard of.

“We are aware that these kind of things have happened and can happen,” said Blaine.

“Remember that the people who are outside in the world, are the same people who are inside the churches. It’s not as if these are different human beings, and so you’d expect that some of these problems that you see outside in the world will also exist in the church,” she said.

A case in point, earlier this month a Clarendon pastor was charged with rape and grievous sexual assault of a 14-year-old-girl following investigations by the Centre for Investigation of Sexual Offences and Child Abuse (CISOCA).

Also before the local court is the case involving ordained minister and televangelist Paul Lewis, who has been charged with perverting the course of justice. This charge stems from carnal abuse case against two female minors in 2009 during a church convention in Westmoreland. His acquittal of this charge, notwithstanding, the pastor was subsequently alleged to have paid a witness to coerce the girls into changing their stories.

Convenor of the Jamaica Umbrella Group of Churches, Reverend Lenworth Anglin, believes the summit was a timely one given the fact that the churches also operate educational institutions.

“Any violation perpetuated by pastors will be of concern to the church; we are not claiming to be perfect. What we do know is that we don’t want to cover up anything, but we want to admit that we are making steps,” he said.

Dr Newman said it was important that churches understand the criminal nature of sexual abuse of children and the profile of abusers. He said they need to be as proactive as possible in the fight against these forms of abuse.

“Not anybody or everybody can say, ‘well, I want to teach Sunday school’. Anybody who is working with children should now be screened and certified, in terms of having the requisite training and knowing what is appropriate to a child’s age and therefore know how to deal with them,” he said.

Among the recommendations to come out of the emergency summit was that copies of the Child Care and Protection Act be distributed to churches across the island in a bid to ensure that those working with children are properly informed of the legal definitions and ramifications of abuse.

“The leaders in the church should be acquainted with it, because they have a responsibility under the law in ensuring that children are protected and they are safe and they are not exposed to abuse of any kind,” said Dr Newman.

Also of concern to the church group, he said, is that prevailing cultural beliefs and attitudes were preventing children from getting the help they need.

“In some circles, Christians believe that Christians should not go to court or be involved in the court. So if you know that within the family, within the household, within church there are issues of sexual abuse of children, that is a criminal offence and it must be reported to the law, you can’t exclude the police out of this and keep them at bay,” he said.

Blaine said there are several training opportunities for those working with children to ensure they are properly qualified to deal with minors. One is a post-graduate diploma in Holistic Child Development, that looks at prevention of abuse, and the other is a post-graduate diploma in Psychometric Testing for children with special needs. Both of these are offered by the CGST.

Reverend Anglin offered the assurance that the recommendations made during the summit were not made in vain and, in fact the church leadership has already started to act on them.

“It was not meant to be a talk shop and we came up with some positive solutions as we continue to make a contribution to dealing with the situation on hand,” he said.

SOURCE: http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Church-screens-Sunday-school-teachers_11507403

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