Coptic Orphans Statement Against Child Sexual Abuse
Sexual abuse of children can never be tolerated. For over a decade, Coptic Orphans has held trainings and enacted strict policies and procedures to stop this crime against children in Egypt.
Today, child sexual abuse is being urgently discussed in the Coptic community in both Egypt and the Diaspora.
Vulnerable children like those served by Coptic Orphans have the most at stake in these public and policy debates. Unless solutions emerge that lead to the elimination of sexual abuse, Egypt’s millennia of proud accomplishments will not guarantee a safe future for her children.
This is therefore a critical moment to underscore Coptic Orphans’ longstanding efforts to address the problem of child sexual abuse.
Coptic Orphans’ efforts take two primary forms: Strict policies and procedures that protect the children in Coptic Orphans programs, and trainings and other awareness-raising measures for program participants, their families, and the wider Coptic and Egyptian societies.
The cornerstone of Coptic Orphans’ commitment to tackling child sexual abuse is embodied in our Global Child Protection Policy, which was formally adopted in 2018.
The policy gives formal expression to Coptic Orphans’ fundamental belief that all children, regardless of their circumstances, have the right to be protected, to be nurtured, and to be free from all forms of violence, abuse, neglect, maltreatment, and exploitation.
The policy sets forth strict procedures to ensure that:
- All people associated with Coptic Orphans, including its directors, employees, program representatives, volunteers, partners, service providers, suppliers, and other representatives understand and share our commitment to this principle.
- Children who interact with Coptic Orphans representatives are protected from any adverse consequences of that contact and the representatives themselves from being placed in a vulnerable position as a consequence of that contact.
In addition, the policy clearly expresses the serious actions Coptic Orphans will take in case of any breach of this policy and the consequences of such a breach.
Beyond establishing comprehensive policies and procedures, Coptic Orphans has for years proactively developed trainings to equip staff and volunteers at all levels with knowledge of how to prevent, identify, and heal the trauma caused by child sexual abuse.
Beginning in 2009, Coptic Orphans staff and Church-based volunteer Reps held workshops in Cairo to teach children how to keep safe from sexual abuse and harassment. This commitment has also been manifested in participation in protests against female genital mutilation (FGM) in 2007, and in 2010, Coptic Orphans involved over 1,500 mothers and daughters in workshops to counter this widespread practice.
Coptic Orphans has also worked tirelessly to prevent children from being sent to orphanages where child abuse can flourish. As an alternative to institutionalization, Coptic Orphans’ promotes healthier family-based care solutions to the challenges facing fatherless children.
In 2018, in communities across Egypt, Coptic Orphans’ flagship Not Alone program for fatherless children held 10 trainings on protection from sexual abuse. The trainings involved 21 staff members and 480 of Coptic Orphans’ Church-based volunteer Reps, to support 12,000 children.
In the trainings, the Reps learned about sexual abuse and its physical and psychological consequences for children. They were equipped with skills to support abused children. The knowledge passed on to the children included five critically important steps they could take for their own protection: risk realization/identification, ways of resisting/confronting the abuser, escaping from places that empower the abuser, sharing what happened with a trustworthy person, and consulting people with specialized knowledge of the issue to get help.
An immediate result of the trainings was that several children were able to confidentially express that they had been sexually abused, and they were both emotionally supported and connected with professional help. Furthermore, the adults who were trained took what they learned and used it to expose more incidents of sexual abuse among the children they served.
Coptic Orphans’ approaches to eliminating child sexual abuse have evolved to center on mothers, who are their children’s main source of education, empowerment, and emotional security. If a child has been abused in any way, especially sexually, and they trust an adult enough to share the incident with them, the reaction of that adult – who is usually the mother – will determine the course of action afterwards. Therefore, when mothers have the proper knowledge and awareness, they can educate their children and rectify any misconceptions they may have.
In 2019, Coptic Orphans held workshops on child sexual abuse that reflected this commitment to work with the unique abilities and influence of mothers. A total of 3,597 mothers took part in the workshops.
Of the mothers who participated, 1,823 (43%) reported abandoning harmful habits they previously had thought were normal, such as: FGM; leaving children alone with neighbors for long periods of time; and allowing male and female children to share the same room or shower.
The field staff who took part in the workshops reported that it became easier for them to detect unhealthy practices among families, such as letting children shower or sleep together with no boundaries or privacy. They also reported that the workshops equipped them with appropriate language to raise the families’ awareness and to help them live in a safer environment.
With over a decade’s worth of experience in countering child sexual abuse through specific policies, procedures, and trainings, Coptic Orphans plans to deepen its commitment to preventing this intolerable crime against society’s most vulnerable members.
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