Garth George: Combating child abuse

By Garth George

Religion in New Zealand made history this week. For the first time in this country - and probably in the world - the leaders of nearly every religion practised in our increasingly multicultural and homogeneous land agreed together to make a joint statement on a matter of grave national concern.

They have taken a powerful stand against family violence after working together on a declaration that recognises the challenge of family violence and commits them to taking action against it.

I find this astonishing and I praise God, as I understand Him, for it.

For there is no question that violence against women and the abuse of children is the vilest curse with which we are almost daily confronted.

That this is universally recognised in the leadership of our now-numerous religions must be seen as a critical step in delivering our nation from this seemingly intractable evil.

The declaration is signed by 41 leaders on behalf of Catholic, nearly all Protestant, Jewish, Quaker, Baha'i, Islamic, Hindu, Sikh and Buddhist congregations. In their Faith Communities Against Family Violence National Statement they each avow that they will:

• Stand up for our children, women and families.

• Refuse to tolerate violence or turn a blind eye to it.

• Provide places of safety and nurture for children and families.

• Encourage people to report family violence and hold perpetrators accountable.

• Train staff to respond safely to family violence.

• Partner with community organisations to combat domestic violence and provide support to victims.

It is comforting to note that this statement is separately signed by the leaders of Te Runanga o te Hahi Katorika ki Aotearoa (the National Catholic Maori Council) and the Maori Anglican Church, for it is unfortunately true that the highest percentage of abuse against women and children occurs among Maori.

The Commissioner for Children, Dr Russell Wills, under whose auspices the statement was released, said the move started earlier this year when he was approached by three religious leaders.

Dr Zain Ali, Fiji-born head of Auckland University's Islamic Studies Research Unit; Auckland University chaplain Uesifili UNasa, a Tongan Methodist; and Maori Anglican minister Robert McKay, wanted to discuss how faith communities could address the problem of family violence.

This statement, while significant to all of New Zealand, is of particular relevance to the Bay of Plenty.

In the Rotorua district more than 2300 incidents of domestic violence were reported in the past financial year - more than 40 each week - and in the Tauranga district some 3400 incidents were reported - more than 60 each week.

Whether the uniting of almost all religions to address the issue of family violence will have any effect remains to be seen.

But the mere fact that they are all of one mind - an almost unheard-of situation - should produce some results.

I cannot speak for others, but as a Christian I have to admit that for centuries some Christians have selectively used the Bible to justify the domination of women and the physical punishment of children.

How they could ignore the fact that Jesus himself loved, protected and defended women and children is quite beyond me.

But now that all faiths have made it known that they "recognise that children are our future and as such are a significant and precious gift to society today".

That they "understand that their beliefs, values and traditions will live on through our children". That they "accept that the wellbeing of children is our responsibility".

That they "acknowledge that children deserve our compassion, kindness, love and care"; and that they "believe we can make a difference in the lives of children and families" there will be no excuses if any child of any faith is abused. And that, surely, must give us all hope.

- Rotorua Daily Post

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