, 05 March, 2020 / 11:36 PM
A year after the inaugural global summit on the Protection of Minors in the Church that saw the Holy Father instruct Bishops’ conferences across the globe to review and strengthen child protection guidelines, the Association of Member Episcopal Conferences in Eastern Africa (AMECEA) has been having a three-day meeting aimed at assessing the progress and impact of the policies in the various member countries.
At the meeting, child protection officers drawn from various member conferences of Bishops within AMECEA region have, reporting on the progress of implementing child safeguarding policies, expressed their respective commitments to safeguarding children and vulnerable adults to put an end to “shedding tears.”
“After a year (since Rome Summit), we have taken some time to do a bit of self-monitoring, a self-evaluation as a region to see to ourselves how far we have managed to journey this road, which the mother Church has called us to journey with,” the Secretary General of AMECEA, Fr. Anthony Makunde said Tuesday, March 3 at the start of the meeting in Kenya’s Nakuru diocese.
Fr. Makunde said the meeting was convened as an opportunity for the Church within the AMECEA region to examine the extent to which “the process of safeguarding children and vulnerable adults” has been owned and highlighted the commitments on the part of the child protection officers deployed by various conferences.
“We are here to reaffirm our commitment to wipe up tears from the many faces of children within our commitments. We are here to stop more children from shedding tears; indeed, they have been shedding tears for too long a time,” Tanzanian-born Fr. Makunde told the ten Child Protection Officers drawn from seven of the eight Bishops’ conferences that constitute AMECEA.
He added, “We are here to reaffirm our commitment to see that those in our communities regardless of the positions and the status of their life, who do not fulfill their responsibility of safeguarding children and vulnerable adults are put to task. Yes, it's time for our region to do things differently. And that has been our responsibility.”
Fr. Makunde encouraged the participants to share the progress of child safeguarding efforts in their respective conferences saying, “Let us share stories of both sides. If they are stories of our failure, yes let’s share them so that from the mistakes we will now plan how we can address (them).”
In Zambia, besides helping the 11 dioceses in the Southern Africa nation establish diocesan child protection offices, the National Child Protection Officer, Fidelis Hamweemba, is mobilizing resources and establishing focal point persons in the various Church institutions to spearhead the safeguarding efforts.
Operating under the Zambia Conference of Catholic Bishops (ZCCB), Mr. Hamweemba has been able to establish focal point persons in Mongu, Kabwe and Livingstone dioceses, he told his counterparts from other Bishops’ conferences who gathered at St. Mary’s Pastoral Centre of Kenya’s Nakuru diocese.
Plans are underway to identify and have a contact person for Mansa diocese, the Zambian national added in his report to colleagues from Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, South Sudan, Tanzania, and Uganda.
Moving forward, Mr. Hamweemba intends to focus on training the contact persons in the first five dioceses, which his office has selected.
“The (criterion) of selection was considering the major child protection issues that the dioceses are going through and we decided we will start working with Mongu as the first one, then Chipata diocese, Livingstone and Lusaka. If time allows, we will include Kabwe because it is quite small and not far from Lusaka,” Mr. Hamweemba who is based in Zambia’s capital said.
He went on to highlight the nature of the training saying, “When we reach out for training we cover quite a number of topics among them types of abuses that exist, key indicators to look for in order to identify abuse, social teachings of the Church, case management, (and) child trauma which is a topic I recently added to what I normally teach the people.”
Besides training diocesan contact persons, Mr. Hamweemba reported that his office has successfully reached out to “about 200 diocesan priests” and that he wishes to extend the program to members of religious orders in the country.
In addition, the National Child Protection Officer in Zambia considers the training of those in formation including seminarians “a priority” so that “they can inculcate a culture if safeguarding from the onset of their vocation.” Depending on the availability of funds, Mr. Hamweemba said, those in various houses of formation are expected to be among the beneficiaries of the training.
In Ethiopia, the Child Protection Office at the Ethiopian Catholic Secretariat (ECS) is establishing and strengthening child protection offices in the 13 dioceses and creating awareness on how to implement the Child Protection Policy as well as manage reporting of abuse cases, the officer at the Addis Ababa-based Secretariat, Merhawit Chala reported.
“So far we have conducted ten workshops in ten dioceses; so we are working to continue awareness raising and capacity building of national and diocesan officers,” ECS National Child Protection Officer, Ms. Chala told his counterparts during the three-day meeting that concluded Thursday, March 5.
“We also have a code of conduct signed by everybody who is in contact with a child and works in a Catholic institution,” she added.
In Malawi, one diocese and the Association of Women Religious have developed their own child safeguarding policy, while two dioceses have committed themselves to safeguarding children by signing a code of conduct, the Lilongwe-based officer reported.
“In one Diocese, the Bishop has even succeeded in urging all his priests to sign the code of conduct,” the National Child Safeguarding Officer, Br. Pascal Mtuwana who serves under the Episcopal Conference of Malawi (ECM) reported.
“We selected key issues in abuse and formed the code of conduct, which by signing, it means I have read and understood the guidelines,” the member of the congregation of Brothers of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary (FIC) added.
In Uganda, the Child Safeguarding Office under the Uganda Episcopal Conference (UEC) has recorded several achievements including the drafting and forwarding of the Child Protection Policy to the Holy See for approval, developing of the training manual for trainers of trainers and the sensitization of authorities in 18 dioceses on the policy and its implications, the officer, Fr. Frederick Tusingire reported.
The March 3-5 meeting is the second one of its kind, after a similar one held in Ethiopia last year.
In May 2019, AMECEA launched two documents: AMECEA Child Safeguarding Standards and Guidelines to help member Conferences develop their own policies based on local contexts, and AMECEA Child Safeguarding Standards: A facilitators’ Manual to train child protection staff as well as policy makers from member Conferences who will be developing the Child Protection policies for their respective conferences.
According to AMECEA Child Safeguarding Officer, George Thuku, the two documents “set minimum standards for protection of children, guided by the Code of Canon Law, Catholic Social Teachings, and the Universal Church policy directions in relation to safeguarding of minors and vulnerable adults.”
ACI Africa was officially inaugurated on August 17, 2019 as a continental Catholic news agency at the service of the Church in Africa. Headquartered in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, this media apostolate will strive to facilitate the telling of Africa’s story by providing media coverage of Catholic events on the African continent, giving visibility to the activities of the Church across Africa where statistics show significant growth in numbers and the continent gradually becoming the axis of Catholicism. This is expected to contribute to an awareness of and appreciation for the significant role of the Church in Africa and over time, the realization of a realistic image of Africa that often receives negative media framing.
Father Don Bosco Onyalla
Editor-in-Chief, ACI Africa