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Exploring the response of the religious leaders towards child abuse in eThekwini Municipality, KwaZulu-Natal.

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Child abuse is considered as a societal problem. Globally, studies have shown a high rate of child abuse in communities. However, very little is known is social science research about the response of religious leaders towards child abuse. This study aimed to understand the response of religious leaders towards child abuse in eThekwini Municipality, KwaZulu-Natal. The study used the ecological systems theory as a theoretical framework to understand the extent of child abuse as a societal problem influenced by different environmental factors and church leaders’ experiences in managing and dealing with child abuse cases. This qualitative study included twelve church leaders from different denominations selected through a purposive sampling technique. Data were collected through semi-structured individual interviews, which were audio-recorded and later transcribed. The thematic analysis method was used to analyse the data. The study findings showed that child abuse is a pandemic in communities. The socio-economic circumstances such as substance abuse, parental/caregiver mental health, and cultural beliefs are key contributors to the abuse of children. The participants reported sexual and emotional abuse as the highest cases they deal with in communities. Despite South African legislation that protects and promotes children's rights, the participants reported that many child abuse cases are not reported to authorities. Lack of knowledge about the reporting procedures, the child's safety after reporting, and the safety of the church leaders were reported as major challenges in reporting child abuse cases. Findings revealed that church leaders play a critical role in managing child abuse cases. They offer social, spiritual, and child and family support. Some of the churches’ leaders provide ongoing life skills programs for youth to help them cope with everyday challenges. The findings highlight the religious community's critical challenges in fulfilling the mandate of the Children’s Act of mandatory reporting of child abuse cases in communities. These challenges impact child protection responses. Despite these challenges, the religious sector offers a wide range of preventive and family interventions in communities that strengthen children's support.


Masters Degree. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban.