Abuse - Child Abuse and Neglect

There are many things which will, if neglected, be wasted, and come to nothing. How often in this world do we see a child who has lost his parents and who, unless attention be devoted to his education and training, can produce no fruit. And better off dead than alive is he who produceth no fruit.

Bahá’u’lláh, The Compilation of Compilations vol. I, p. 247

We prescribe unto all men that which will lead to the exaltation of the Word of God amongst His servants, and likewise, to the advancement of the world of being and the uplift of souls. To this end, the greatest means is education of the child. To this must each and all hold fast. We have verily laid this charge upon you in manifold Tablets as well as in My Most Holy Book. Well is it with him who defereth thereto.

Bahá’u’lláh, Bahá’í Education, p. 2

. . . to train the character of humankind is one of the weightiest commandments of God . . . Children must be most carefully watched over, protected and trained; in such consisteth true parenthood and parental mercy.

‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Bahá’í Education, pp. 22-23

Were there no educator, all souls would remain savage, and were it not for the teacher, the children would be ignorant creatures. It is for this reason that, in this new cycle, education and training are recorded in the Book of God as obligatory and not voluntary. That is, it is enjoined upon the father and mother, as a duty, to strive with all effort to train the daughter and the son, to nurse them from the breast of knowledge and to rear them in the bosom of sciences and arts. Should they neglect this matter, they shall be held responsible and worthy of reproach in the presence of the stern Lord.

‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 126-127

Whensoever a mother seeth that her child hath done well, let her praise and applaud him and cheer his heart; and if the slightest undesirable trait should manifest itself, let her counsel the child and punish him, and use means based on reason, even a slight verbal chastisement should this be necessary. It is not, however, permissible to strike a child, or vilify him, for the child's character will be totally perverted if he be subjected to blows or verbal abuse.

‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 125

Child abuse is a very sensitive issue, and one that raises strong emotions and understandable concern. When suspicions of child abuse are reported, however, some . . . will prove to be groundless.

From a letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an individual believer, 4 August, 1996

Finally in considering this matter it is important to remember that not only are there different forms of discipline – “physical, moral, or intellectual”, as described above by Shoghi Effendi - but that in order to be truly effective, parental discipline needs to be practiced together with other valuable approaches to the training of children that are mentioned in our Writings. A perusal of the compilation on “Bahá’í Education”, for example, will reveal many relevant guidelines, several of which are listed below:

* Exercise gentleness and tenderness towards the child.

* Offer encouragement and support. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá refers to “heartening and encouraging the child” as one of the “basic principles of God”.

* Teach the children about God and His Laws since this engenders faith and the desire to follow the Teachings.

* Read prayers to the child so that he or she “will be educated by these verses of guidance” and so that the child will also learn to recite them.

* Avoid physical and verbal “abuse”.

* Encourage children to learn. “Give them the advantage of every useful kind of knowledge”.

From a letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an individual, 17 January, 1994

If the broad structure of society is to remain intact, resolute efforts, including medical ones, as necessary, should be made to curb acts of aggression within families, particularly their extreme forms of wife beating and child abuse by parents. This is a matter of fundamental importance, for if the friends are not able to maintain harmony within their families, on what other basis do they hope to demonstrate to a skeptical world the efficacy of the preeminent character of the Revelation of Bahá’u’lláh?

From a letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to a National Spiritual Assembly, September 22, 1983

It grieves our hearts to realize that in so many parts of the world children are employed as soldiers, exploited as laborers, sold into virtual slavery, forced into prostitution, made the objects of pornography, abandoned by parents centered on their own desires, and subjected to other forms of victimization too numerous to mention. Many such horrors are inflicted by the parents themselves upon their own children . . . .

Letter from the Universal House of Justice to the Bahá’ís of the World, Ridván 2000

It must be borne in mind, too, that children live in a world that informs them of harsh realities through direct experience with the horrors already described or through the unavoidable outpourings of the mass media. Many of them are thereby forced to mature prematurely . . .

Letter from the Universal House of Justice to the Bahá’ís of the World, Ridván 2000

Regarding the prohibition against striking another person, which appears in the Most Holy Book, paragraphs 56 and 148, it would appear from the context that what is primarily intended is the resorting to blows in a situation of conflict, not the limited and measured dispensing of discipline to a child. With regard to the statement attributed to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and which you have quoted in your letter regarding a “problem child”; these statements of the Master, however true in their substance, should never be given a literal interpretation. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá could have never meant that a child should be left to himself, entirely free. In fact Bahá’í education, just like any other system of education, is based on the assumption that there are certain natural deficiencies in every child, no matter how gifted, which his educators, whether his parents, schoolmasters, or his spiritual guides and preceptors, should endeavour to remedy. Discipline of some sort, whether physical, moral or intellectual is indeed indispensable, and no training can be said to be complete and fruitful if it disregards this element. The child when born is far from being perfect. It is not only helpless, but actually is imperfect, and even is naturally inclined towards evil. He should be trained, his natural inclinations harmonized, adjusted and controlled, and if necessary suppressed or regulated, so as to ensure his healthy physical and moral development. Bahá’í parents cannot simply adopt an attitude of non-resistance towards their children, particularly those who are unruly and violent by nature. It is not even sufficient that they should pray on their behalf. Rather they should endeavour to inculcate, gently and patiently, into their youthful minds such principles of moral conduct and initiate them into the principles and teachings of the Cause with such tactful and loving care as would enable them to become “true sons of God” and develop into loyal and intelligent citizens of His Kingdom . . .

From a letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an individual believer, 17 January, 1994

The House of Justice is aware that, in some civic jurisdictions in other countries, reporting requirements do not apply to religious institutions. This is a derivation on what is commonly called the “priest-penitent privilege”. In light of the relatively strong position of the Christian churches in some provinces in . . ., you may want to further research this point, if you have not already done so. Should religious institutions be exempt from reporting in any or all provinces, this would not, of course, mean that an Assembly should not, or may not, report an instance of child abuse to authorities. Rather, it raises the question of whether it should presume, based on the National Assembly's disseminated policy, that it is legally required to report the issue to the authorities.

From a letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to a National Spiritual Assembly, 4 August, 1996

The statement in the letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice referred to by . . . is embedded in the context of the passage cited immediately above. In fact, in addressing the subject of the “exercise of discipline”, one aspect of which is physical discipline, as “a vital component of the education of children”, the House of Justice quotes the major part of this passage, and then distinguishes between such an approach as the abuse to which children are subjected in certain parts of the world. The letter states: “While the physical discipline of children is an acceptable part of their education and training, such actions are to be carried out “gently and patiently” and with “loving care”, far removed from the anger and violence with which children are beaten and abused in some parts of the world. To treat children in such an abhorrent manner is a denial of their human rights, and a betrayal of the trust which the weak should have in the strong in a Bahá’í community.”

From a letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an individual, 17 January, 1994

While an Assembly should not, and is not competent to determine whether a child is truly at risk, it is competent, and may have an obligation, to determine whether the allegation has some reasonable basis and the manner in which to proceed with reporting requirements.

From a letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an individual, 4 August, 1996

The protection of young children from sexual assault or other forms of abuse by a member of the community must, of course, be given paramount importance.  In carrying out this obligation, every reasonable step must be taken to protect the children of the community …. 

On behalf of the House of Justice to a National Spiritual Assembly, 20 January 2014

An Assembly must report to the authorities any alleged or suspected instances of child abuse, whether this information comes to its attention as the result of a formal report to the Assembly, or through other means. This is both a moral and a legal responsibility . . . Regardless of the letter of the law, an Assembly's overriding responsibility is to ensure that any such case of suspected or reported child abuse is immediately communicated to the authorities, so that those agencies charged by society with the protection of those who are at risk, are able to act swiftly and bring all of their skill and training to bear upon the situation. The analysis of whether indeed the child is in any danger rests fully with the authorities and not with those [including the Assembly] who may receive such a report or have such a suspicion.

Canadian Bahá’í News, Kalimát, B.E. 150, p. 44

Society has learned that in these cases it is necessary to act without hesitation and without delay to protect the children, recognizing that in some few rare cases the allegations of abuse may not hold up, but nevertheless always putting the protection of any child who may be at risk ahead of that of an adult.

National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of Canada's “Policy on Reporting Suspected or Alleged Cases of Child Abuse”, 3 June, 1993

This motivation [to change] is often propelled by the courage of those who report the offence, even in the face of the possibility of temporarily increasing the danger to the victim. Allowing the situation to continue, by silence, may very well be the greater evil.

National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of Canada, Canadian Bahá’í News, Kalimát, B.E. 150, p. 44

While the foregoing refers specifically to abuse of children, Assemblies should be aware that in addition to children and women, the elderly, men and particularly young men, can also be victims of abuse. Any such case that comes to an Assembly's attention should be treated according to the principles in this policy.

Canadian Bahá’í News, Kalimát, B.E. 150, p. 44