After graduating from the CCP’s Diploma in Safeguarding program, I returned to my home country of Zimbabwe and began working as a Child Safeguarding Coordinator at the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops’ Conference. In this role, I have the responsibility of reviewing existing safeguarding policies, organizing workshops and safeguarding programs in parishes, and developing new materials to use in a revamped safeguarding program in all the dioceses and parishes of Zimbabwe.
Recently, in spite of the Covid-19 restrictions, I have begun facilitating online safeguarding workshops that deal with the protection of minors and vulnerable people for religious congregations and formation houses, helping them to run safeguarding programs in parishes. The most recent workshop had 30 attendees from various congregations and houses. I organized with the administrators of one of the children’s homes run by religious sisters to review their child safeguarding policy. Children’s safety and rights in this time of lockdown are all the more important, as we have seen cases of abuse skyrocket since last March when measures were put in place to keep everyone in their homes as much as possible.
One specific case which I have personally dealt with was a child marriage case. Since the Covid-19 outbreak, there has been a spike in the number of child marriages taking place in Zimbabwe. Just last week, a whistle blower came to me with such a case. I collaborated with a group of local lawyers who offer free services to children. We were able to evacuate a girl of just 13 years from a 33 year old man who had been previously married. Her health was immediately cared for and they found she was neither pregnant, nor had contracted any sexually transmitted diseases. Working together with the lawyers, we organized for counselling sessions for the girl to accompany her in her recovery from this experience. Meanwhile, the police are working to put the perpetrator behind bars. Organizations are even airing safeguarding programs on T.V. and the Zimbabwe Broadcast Corporation, and we are in the process of collaborating with them in order to fight child abuse.
Further good news is that the ZCBC was granted funding to run safeguarding programs in the parishes, so I have begun preparing materials for this program. It reassures me that the Church in my country is seeing the need for a strengthening of the safeguarding policies and structures and the financial support is there to implement these new measures and programs. Not only that, but the ZCBC sees the need to search for any gaps in the current policies which safeguard minors, and has given me and my colleagues the task to be thorough in filling these possible gaps. I am happy to say that there I have already begun, so soon after my graduation from the Diploma course, to create new training materials which will be used when hosting safeguarding programs in the dioceses.
I am elated to have been able to, so soon after my departure from Rome, be able to be so involved in the developing of safeguarding policies, interventions, workshops, written materials, etc. There is no doubt that this journey ahead will be a long but rewarding one, and it gives me hope to see both the government and the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Zimbabwe doing so much to improve the protections of minors and vulnerable people.
Contribution made by Theresa P. Sanyatwe
Title Image from Flicker: “African Children” by l_lismore