India: Changing safeguarding culture, through schools

In India “we need to change the culture of silence in relation to sexual abuse of the minors and vulnerable adults”. According to Commission Member Sister Arina Gonsalves rjm a “step forward would be asking for a radical change of culture where the safety of the children will be top priority.”

An educator, civil lawyer and counsellor with decades of experience in school management, Sr. Arina Gonsalves, believes this change can only come about by breaking down the silence that surrounds this particular form of abuse and teaching children and their parents the language they need to open up the conversation, it is a first step to identifying how they can keep themselves safe.

This she says is part of the mission of Catholic schools, given that children spend more time in homes and schools than they do anywhere else. Educating children, parents, families and school staff about past abuse and current protection measures is key to minimizing the risk to them of future abuse.

Sr Arina, also serves on the Mumbai Archdiocese Committee for the Protection of Minors, has held a series of talks for young parents and students of schools on protecting children and vulnerable people from sexual abuse, especially girls.

The Mumbai Commission was set up by Cardinal Oswald Gracias in 2016 with the aim of raising awareness about the “Protection of Children from the Sexual Offenses Act” of 2012, and the “Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act” of 2013.

For Sr Arina, her mission “is to prevent [violence] and protect vulnerable children and adults by raising their awareness. The Catholic Church really wants to help children and we must do everything possible to protect minors.”

But this takes a cross community effort. “The clergy alone will not be able to bring about such radical change. But we have to ask for and receive help from the whole community. We need to create a culture of accountability so that justice will be administered.”

Sr Arina recommends three steps to accomplish this: “Encourage a culture that prevents sexual abuse as well as the abuse of power that allows to cover up; provide fitting institutions that allow the victims of sexual abuse and those who cover up to report, to be heard and for justice to be administered; see to it that the accused get just and transparent trial.”