Bi-lateral Panel Discussion on Actions Governments Can Take to Prevent Child Sexual Abuse, 18 November 2022 Bi-lateral Panel Discussion on Actions Governments Can Take to Prevent Child Sexual Abuse, 18 November 2022 

World Day that gives hope to children victims and survivors

Friday, November 18, 2022 is the first ever World Day for the Prevention of, and Healing from Child Sexual Exploitation, Abuse and Violence. “It’s a day to commemorate rather than celebrate”, says the First Lady of Sierra Leone.

By Sr Bernadette Mary Reis, fsp

The world commemorated the first World Day for the Prevention of, and Healing from Child Sexual Exploitation, Abuse and Violence on Friday. On November 7, the United Nations passed the resolution, sponsored by Sierra Leone and Nigeria, and co-sponsored by more than 120 other countries. On that day, Holy See Permanent Observer to the UN, Archbishop Gabriele Giordano Caccia, addressed the Assembly, expressing the appreciation and the full support of the Vatican for the newly declared World Day.

In Rome, a two-day World Day of Prayer and Action for Children 2022 took place in Rome on Thursday and Friday, commemorating the first World Day.  a panel discussion to place, bringing various leaders in the fight against the abuse of children together. One aspect of the larger event was a Bi-lateral Panel Discussion on Actions Governments Can Take to Prevent Child Sexual Abuse.

Making a future without rape

Fatima Maada Bio, First Lady of the Republic of Sierra Leone which spearheaded the adoption of the World Day provided the keynote speech for the panel. The first lady said that Sierra Leone’s president, a “fervent Catholic”, believes the world needs to recognize the extent of rape and acknowledged how few people are willing to speak about it. President Bio has given victims the go ahead to speak. Listening to survivors, the First Lady said, will allow leaders to know what needs to be done. “Rape is a problem in Africa, but it is also a global problem. But we want to start where we are”, the First Lady said. By networking with other nations who also make it a priority, rape might become a history.

A lot of people care

“Today is a special day”, First Lady Fatima Maada Bio said in an exclusive interview with Vatican News. “It is a day that gives hope to millions of people who are now referred to as victims and survivors. And I believe that it's really not a day you want to celebrate, you, commemorate and allow those people to be able to come together and know that they're not in this on their own. There's a lot of people supporting them and a lot of people who do care for what has happened to them. But the important thing really is about the healing process, giving them the opportunity to heal. Because when you become a victim, you need a process to heal. You don't forget, but you can heal, move yourself from being a victim to being a survivor and from a survivor to grow beyond that and be somebody who could also help other people understand that sometimes bad things happen to you, but you can also make bad things become good things in your life.”

Listen to the words of Fatima Maada Bio, First Lady of the Republic of Sierra Leone

Enforcing children’s rights

Also joining the panel was Professor Marci Hamilton, JD, Founder and CEO Child Global, and Professor of Practice in Political Science, University of Pennsylvania. She Affirmed the First Lady’s leadership in promoting the declaration of the World Day. Marci explained that the necessary step Child Global sees to end child sexual abuse is enforcing the rights that have been granted to children. Broadening or eliminating statutes of limitation for child sexual abuse is one strategy, she said. Children face many factors that delay reporting, including brain development, she continued. The type of brain development needed to process such memories is generally twenty-five, she explained. In conclusion, she acknowledged that the key barrier to reform is the resistance on the part of institutions who wish to keep the public from knowing the truth.

Major shift required

Cornelius Williams, Director of Child Protection Unit, UNICEF, also joined the panel. Mr Williams began thanking Sierra Leone for sponsoring the new World Day. The consensus of over 110 member states in approving it means that there is recognition of the problem. He also acknowledged the effort and leadership of Dr. Jennifer Wortham, a researcher at Harvard who founded the Global Collaborative, a survivor led network that led the campaign to adopt the World Day on an international level. “Children in every corner of the globe continue to be harmed…in all settings…including where children are supposed to be protected”, he affirmed. Many times, secondary victimization occurs when children face the justice system. In addition to legislation, other structures need to be created or reinforced. Ending sexual abuse and exploitation requires a major shift, which is where faith-based communities come in, Mr Williams stated. In conclusion, he expressed the hope that tangible results can be reported soon.

World Day is signal achievement

David Hollands, a professor of American Religious History at Harvard Divinity School has been participating in the two-day event. He has been collaborating the recognition of the new World Day along with Dr Jennifer Wortham and the Harvard Human Flourishing program. He shared with Vatican News that the Harvard community is happy to support the effort. “I see the significance of these developments in pulling things that have been too frequently kept in the shadows of our culture and our conversation into the bright light of day where they can be addressed and identified and where we can take steps to prevent further harm to children. I think the declaration of the World Day is the brightest possible light that can be shown upon this and the accomplishment of that recognition is a signal achievement”.

Spirituality essential for healing

Suzanne Greco, also participating in the 2-day event, is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. “I am an incest survivor”, she told Vatican News, “so I've experienced a lot of sexual abuse. Our church is trying to create a space for sexual abuse survivors to tell their stories to share, to come to faith leaders and ecclesiastical leaders for spiritual healing. And also to be able to inform and educate the ecclesiastical ministers so that they can minister to these individuals in a very meaningful and healing way that therapy and other methods can't. We know that spirituality is centre to an individual's ability to heal and there's great scientific work being done on this…. It creates a space of healing that other medical institutions and ways can't do. Churches play a really pivotal role for children sexual abuse victims to heal”.

Audio Embed Listen to the words of David Hollands, Suzanne Greco, and May Hassoon

Working in solidarity

Representing the Muslim community, May Hassoon, Advisor to the President of Islamic Relief, USA also spoke with Vatican News. “Exploitation of a human life is a serious, reprehensible scourge in our society”, May said. “Islamic Relief, USA believes every human being is precious. Today's children will be tomorrow's leaders and it's our moral obligation to instil in them the trust and confidence that they can live a life of promise and opportunity, one in which they can reach their highest potential. We must continue to raise awareness to the threats posed by human exploitation and find practical solutions. We look forward to working in solidarity with other entities, to ensure our children are able to make key life decisions that will empower them and inspire positive change and not to be subject to negative influences”.

The two-day event concluded after the Bi-lateral Panel Discussion with a candlelight service and vigil in St Stephen's Church in Rome.

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18 November 2022, 18:25