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Protecting the innocence of children

A Christian Science perspective: How a schoolteacher helped prevent child abuse.

“Beloved children, the world has need of you, – and more as children than as men and women: it needs your innocence, unselfishness, faithful affection, uncontaminated lives.” This lovely tribute to the virtues of childhood was written by the founder of the Monitor, Mary Baker Eddy (“Miscellaneous Writings 1883-1896, p. 110).

These qualities are worth defending as faithfully today as they were at their writing over a century ago – not only for the protection of children, but for the betterment of all humanity.

In his recent report on the actions of Penn State regarding the child abuse committed by assistant coach Jerry Sandusky, former FBI Director Louis Freeh summarized that it was the total disregard by senior leaders at the university for the innocence of children that was the most “saddening and sobering” finding.

As educators, as parents, as adults, we have a responsibility to value the virtues of childhood, protecting minors from harm, including in complicated circumstances.

What can be done when cultural differences try to blur the boundaries of acceptability? Certainly society must spell out the rules clearly and concisely to avoid personal interpretation or ignorant behavior, particularly for the protection of our youngest citizens.

Many schools in North America are educating students who are arriving from every corner and country of the globe. Sometimes teachers must tread carefully a thin line of compassion and understanding in helping these arrivals assimilate into their new culture. When the answers don’t come easily, I have found prayer to be an effective guide. It is the moral right of each one of us to think and act rightly, to wisely discern appropriate action, and to rely on God to provide answers to tough questions.

One year the teachers in my Canadian school were told that many of our youngest girls were arriving from a country where infibulation (a type of female circumcision) was “standard procedure,” and its practice was continuing among some new residents of Canada. But by Canadian law this was classified as child abuse and harmful to young children. There was no cloaking under the veil of cultural disparity.

As the English language teacher, I worked closely with these children, so I contacted community liaisons, social workers, and other educators for a course of action to provide protection for these girls. I quickly learned that the challenge was that this practice – so ingrained and widespread – was so secretly guarded that we had no actual proof of its local presence. As a result, it seemed that no action could be taken.

My morning prayer began with affirming God’s infinite love for each one of us. My students were of many faiths and cultures, but I knew that each one was equally loved by God. This was an omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent God, cherishing each of His children, every moment. I remembered the Bible account of Ishmael (father of the Arab peoples), protected as a young boy in the wilderness; Moses, the great Hebrew Lawgiver, floating as a baby to safety in a basket of bulrushes; and Jesus the Way-shower of Christianity, sheltered in Egypt as a young child while King Herod was seeking to destroy him. Each one was equally loved by God, and His law of goodness was in operation, providing and protecting. This same law of God’s ever-present love was available for these innocent children in our school.

Over the weeks, we’d get discouraged whenever a young girl from that particular country was absent for a period of time. I made sure that the school stayed in touch with the parents, letting them know we were monitoring any absences. And I prayed daily for alertness and direction, trusting that any necessary action would become obvious.

An answer came during the last week of school. The children were helping to box the books, pack the science kits, and clear the tables for the summer cleaning staff. And most of the classroom conversation drew on vacation plans. A first-grade teacher asked her students: “And what will you do this summer?”

This was an inner-city school, so the children talked of soccer on the back field, the community pool, visits from relatives, or perhaps an airplane trip to spend the summer months with relatives in their native country. One little girl timidly put up her hand and whispered, “I’m frightened because this summer I’m going away to be cut like my older sisters.”

This little girl’s revealing of her fear of these summer plans was the needed avenue. Here was the proof that the suspected practice was going on, and it provided the opportunity for the authorities to take legal action, not only for the protection of this child, but for everyone in our community. There was a general awakening for parents and educators, and forward steps were taken to protect the innocence of children.

Yes, the world needs the innocence so clearly visible in the radiant face of a young child. It needs our prayers of affirmation to claim this purity and goodness for each child, loved, guarded, and guided, safe in God’s embrace.

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