Uruguay Addresses Need for Healthy Sexual-Emotional Education

"We need to support families in raising their children, being good role models of how to treat children appropriately. We also need to identify and walk closely with families that do not have all the parenting skills and resources they need to raise their children. In this same context, we need to also find other adults, extended family members, friends, or neighbors, who can engage with these families and help protect and care for their children."

MAN 1: 25 years ago, a teenager who came to the Youth for Christ Youth Center told us about a terrible sexual exploitation situation he was going through with his family. 

WOMAN 1: This harsh experience prompted a small team to start researching this issue in depth to try to find a way to intervene early in a preventative way before domestic violence could cause so much damage. Over the years, “Claves”, a program run by Youth for Christ Uruguay, has been offering educational programs and materials to help children, teenagers, families, and communities develop skills and build strength to prepare them to face situations in which their rights are violated, particularly in situations of domestic abuse. 

MAN 1: God has planned in his wonderful designs that every creature be born into a nest, a home where they can grow in an environment full of love, safety, protection, and trust. To grow as God desires it, children need people who will look after them, love them and meet their needs, people who will discipline them without violence and who will care for them, who will teach them with love and hope and who will be a practical expression of God’s love. 

WOMAN 1: Families, children’s homes, schools, and churches should be the safest places for children to grow up and mature in. Unfortunately, this is not always the case as these are the environments where children and teenagers are most mistreated. There is something seriously wrong with the world that we as adults are creating for our children and with what Christian churches are doing or neglecting to do. There are children and teenagers from all over Latin America and other areas saying things like “My mom burned my hand in the stove to teach me not to steal coins from her”.

MAN 1: “My teacher sat me on his lap behind the desk and touched me under my clothes”. 

WOMAN 1: “I met him on Facebook. He was older than me, he told me he was in love with me. When he asked me to do certain things with his friends, I didn’t dare to say no”.

MAN 1: “When my father raped me, he would make me put a hand on the bible to remind me that God commanded me to obey him in everything”. Nine years old. This is awful, very rough. 

WOMAN 1: These real-life accounts from real boys and girls tell the story of what millions of them suffer through daily. 

MAN 1: Half of all children and teenagers have suffered abuse at home.

Man 1: Seventeen to twenty two percent of them have been sexually abused in the context of family or other trust relationships. Child abuse greatly limits their potential for growth and development socially, emotionally, spiritually, and mentally. It also affects the chances of having a healthy relationship with God, especially when the abuse happens in the church context.

WOMAN 1: Abuse causes children to live in fear, pain, shame, and anger. These emotions hinder their growth, their learning, their compassion and generosity, their impulse control, their capacity to discern right from wrong, and their empathy. Child abuse is one of the cruelest manifestations of sin in this world.

WOMAN 1: Abuse breaks God’s design for what childhood and adolescence should be. It is an insult to the image of God in every child.

MAN 1: No one is born violent; it is a learned behavior. In this world full of sin, we have learned and believed quite a few lies, such as “Children and their bodies are the property of adults”. “It is normal to cause pain to those I love as pain is a good teacher”. “We have the right to satisfy all our desires”, “It is always someone else’s fault”. “The child’s behaviour is the cause of the abuse”. I spanked you because you disobeyed me. “No one is allowed to intrude in the privacy of the home”. “Abuse only happens in poor and uneducated families”. “Some people are worth more than others”.

WOMAN 1: However, the Bible teaches us something that we seem to have forgotten: “Children belong to God, who values them highly”. “Love does not hurt anyone. Pain does not teach, it causes harm. Causing pain intentionally is not fair nor useful”. “Self-control, especially in matters of the flesh, is a sign of maturity in Christians”. “Every one of our actions has consequences for us and for others. God calls us to be accountable for our actions, to repent and to change our attitudes”. “We as adults are the ones who do not have self-control and who chose to abuse others. Nothing justifies hurting a child or a teenager, nor anyone else”. “Privacy must be used only to protect, and never to cover up violence”.  “All human beings have a sinful nature regardless of our gender or our social, cultural, political, religious or ethnic status”. “All human beings, including children, were created in the image and likeness of God, which gives them value and dignity that do not depend on anything else”. What can we do as Christians, as members of the church and of Youth for Christ? First, we can learn as much as possible about the subject, gain awareness and do some training. Even if it is painful to consider it, we need to understand that abuse not only happens outside the church, but also within it. 

MAN 1: We need to reconsider how we read God’s word, change our own perspective, as we have used it to exercise violence on others many times.

WOMAN 1: And what can we do with children, teenagers, and families we are in contact with daily? By using the language of children, games, music, songs, we can help children and teens develop cognitive, relational, and emotional skills and strengths that will allow them to become stronger and better prepared to face potential situations where their rights are not respected. Children, teenagers, and, well, all of us, are stronger when we have at least one person who means a lot to us, someone with whom we share a bond of unconditional acceptance and deep affection, someone who helps us have a sense of belonging and value. This is the foundation that allows us to grow, to have the capacity to believe and to trust, to develop a healthy self-esteem, to feel loved and valued. This strength is at the core of other useful strengths we need in life.

MAN 1: Healthy sexual-emotional education should include the following:  recognize, name, value, care for, and protect all the different body parts; identify, in one’s own body and in others, the different intimate and private parts. Our whole body is good, but there are some parts that we take care of differently: we teach that “it is not okay for a grown person to play with or caress your intimate or private body parts. If this happens, you can tell him or her to stop and then tell someone you trust.”  It is very important for adults to respect and value the sense of modesty or shyness in children, when they don’t want to be seen naked or wearing only underwear. When someone does not respect that, they will notice it and their internal alarms will go off.

WOMAN 1: We can help children recognize and name the emotions they experience when they come across other people or different situations. Emotions are like an internal radar that we all have, children as well, which tells us something about the nature of a relationship, about what is going on in that relationship or in a specific encounter. When someone or something generates emotions like fear, shame, sadness, or confusion, it is important to recognize them as a warning of potential danger.

MAN 1: It is key to have constant, respectful and honest communication with children, especially if they share something related to abuse. We need to listen carefully, believe them, and protect them. We all need emotional support from others, which is why we recommend working in small teams to offer support and to coordinate all the different activities.        

WOMAN 1: We need to support families in raising their children, being good role models of how to treat children appropriately. We also need to identify and walk closely with families that do not have all the parenting skills and resources they need to raise their children. In this same context, we need to also find other adults, extended family members, friends, or neighbors, who can engage with these families and help protect and care for their children. 

MAN 1: What can we do in our churches and other Christian organizations such as Youth for Christ? We can learn to work within different social networks, Christian or secular; we can learn to walk in a pastoral role with all the individuals involved in the different aspects of the abusive situation, without neglecting the legal and technical consequences of the abuse; we can hold the aggressors accountable. We need to pay close attention to children and teens who themselves use violence and intervene.

WOMAN 1: If at any moment we need to choose someone to prioritize, I think we already know what Jesus would do. If someone must leave the community, it must be the adult and not the child, which happens frequently in our churches and communities. If someone sexually abused a child, they must never again be allowed to be in charge of children. The risk is too high. We need to make sure that the church and Youth for Christ are role models of what relationships should look like, based on the values of the kingdom of God and not in the abuse of power, and that we offer spaces that foster the full and holistic development of all those who participate in them.

MAN 1: We need to establish policies that will protect children in every ministry setting. We need to be known for protecting children and teenagers and for immediately rejecting and condemning any kind of abuse. We need to remain hopeful and committed despite our failures and limitations, trusting in everything that God will do to accomplish his mission.

WOMAN 1: And here is something very personal for you: it is possible that you were hurt by someone when you were a child; you did not choose the family you were born into or grew up with. But now you do have the power to choose what to do with yourself, with those who hurt you, with your present, with your future. Now you are in control, you are older, and they can’t hurt you anymore. And remember that there is nothing, absolutely nothing, that you did or could have done to justify being treated that way. These are such tough experiences, but many times God redeems them and uses them as powerful tools to help many others. But if those wounds are still bleeding and affect your daily life, please seek help.

MAN 1: It is also possible that you are in a different place, that you are aware that you have a problem with violence. Maybe you have hurt children or teenagers, or other people that you love, or you are afraid that you will. You are not alone in this. This is a good time to strengthen your conscience, stop yourself and seek help. God’s grace is always available to forgive and restore, but you must also make an effort, you must take responsibility for your actions. Others have managed it; it is worth it.       

OST: We do not yet know what the world would be like if a whole generation were raised without violence.