Abuse is a dirty word. None of us like to hear it, and many would like to pretend it doesn’t happen. But whether it’s physical or sexual, child neglect or child labour, abuse happens all too frequently. Every day, children are hurt, exploited, forced to work and forgotten. And it’s not limited to the developing world: cultural practices and poverty often lead to the exploitation of vulnerable people in the developed world, too.
Many children are left alone at home while their parents work, leaving them susceptible to sexual abuse. Other children experience physical abuse at the hands of their parents in cultures which accept harsh discipline. Economic circumstances force some children to work rather than stay in school. And in some very sad cases, children are sold or trafficked into prostitution.
In the midst of these overwhelming problems, Compassion’s church partners are advocating for the rights of children in their communities.
In areas where child abuse is common, these churches hold workshops on parenting skills—something many parents have not learned before. Caregivers learn about children’s rights and the effect of abuse on a child’s development. They learn how to resolve conflict and how to correct their children in age-appropriate ways. They learn the value of keeping children in school instead of sending them to work. And parents are taught that children are precious in God’s sight.
Sometimes children living in poverty believe they are voiceless and therefore helpless. But at their local Compassion centres, children hear about their rights. They learn to recognize abuse, ways to prevent it and how to respond if it happens.
Parents also find relief from financial stress when their child is sponsored, since they receive education, health care and nutrition support. Through Compassion’s Response programs, some parents receive skills training to start a small business and increase their income. Most importantly, they hear about God’s love for them and their children—the only thing strong enough to break through cultural barriers and generations of abuse.
Like ripples in a pond, a child development centre affects the greater community as well. Children are less likely to be trafficked, abused, or neglected when they visit a Compassion centre regularly because there are caring adults looking out for their welfare.
But that doesn’t mean abuse is eradicated. There is a deeper issue, one of sin and spiritual poverty. Until God transforms an abuser’s heart, hatred and violence remain possible. Compassion social workers are trained to identify and respond to abuse when it does occur. Through their interventions, many children have been removed from dangerous situations and given Christian counselling. And with the help of churches and local law enforcement, abusers have been brought to justice.
Abuse breaks God’s heart, and it breaks our hearts, too. Our church partners are not only teaching children and their parents how to prevent abuse, but they are also sharing the gospel of Christ to transform hearts and offer new hope to lives shattered by abuse.
He took a little child and had him stand among them. Taking him in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.” (Mark 9:36-37)