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Child Protection

Information and reflections on the Buddhist Monastic’s moral responsibility in prevention of child abuse by Chi Kwang Sunim

1. Ethical and Moral Principles
2. Mandatory Reporting
3. Child Abuse FAQ
4. Child Protection Services Throughout Australia

1. Ethical and Moral Principles

According to Buddhist teachings, the ethical and moral principles are governed by examining whether a certain action connected to body, speech or mind, is likely to be harmful to one’s self or to others. We are encouraged to avoid any such actions that are likely to disable, bring mental and physical suffering, or demoralize the human condition in any way. From a Buddhist perspective, a mind is wholesome when developed in wisdom and compassion, thus humbled by ways of skilful practices and avoids the causes that bring about afflictions or remorse. This places a great emphasis on the purification of ‘mind’ so as to avoid mental anguish. In cases of rape and child abuse, the abuser is not only stealing the dignity or self respect of the victim, but brings great suffering upon oneself and perpetrates cycles of mental and physical pain throughout families and communities. With greater awareness of the growing problems relating to child abuse, the social infill-structure has grown to promote safety and protection surrounding children. In recognition that this is a widespread problem in a world where the pressures of life and mental health are affected by modernization and globalization, the role for Monastics to bear greater moral responsibility regarding children is important.

Firstly it is important to look more carefully at what is a Buddhist stance on moral and ethical behavior. Dr.(Mrs) Bodhippriya Subhadra Siriwardena (M. A., PhD) clarifies well our obligation as Buddhists to understand further the various aspects of moral law:

‘A moral sense, is said to mean the power to understand the difference between right and wrong especially when viewed as an innate quality of the human mind, which is described as the moral faculty. Moral concepts are terms involving ethical praise or blame, concerned with virtue and vices or rules of right conduct. Here, moral virtue is distinct from intellectual virtue just as moral laws are different from legal and institutional laws. Other aspects of morality include moral rights, moral force, moral responsibility, moral courage, moral behavior and moral victory.’

To engage fully in these various aspects of morality we feel more responsible and dignified by our actions and this creates standards and principles of worthy behavior, respected by both Buddhist and non Buddhist. Then to live without fear of punishment or reprieve, where our verbal and physical actions are practiced in according with this moral path, will bring further respect to Buddhist communities and their supporters.

Children, who are vulnerable to abuse, not only suffer now, but are left to recall and reflect on those painful experiences throughout life. Reoccurrence of mental illness such as depression, strong emotions, physical pain and intense feelings of self-loathing and hate can colour the future actions of a victim. Often those who suffered such abusive afflictions will become perpetrators in offending others, and so the cycle of abuse continues. To read, write, or just talk about this subject brings further awareness of the vulnerability of children and youth, not only those close to us, but children and youth throughout the world. In Buddhist communities, for Monastic to gain further trust of followers it is useful to share openly and frankly in matters of abuse. Perhaps a forum is necessary to educate and bring to light the severity of this problem within our societies. The Child and Health Laws state clearly what is not acceptable regarding the mal-treatment of children, be it neglect, sexual, physical or emotional abuse.

Physical – when parents or other adults deliberately injure a child or do nothing to prevent it. This includes hitting, shaking, biting and kicking, and it includes giving children alcohol or drugs. Using excessive force when feeding or changing a baby, shaking or attempts to drown or suffocate a child, also come into this category. Injuries caused in physical abuse include bruises, burns and broken bones. The most serious cases can result in brain damage and even death.

Emotional – when parents continuously fail to show love and affection to a child. This might also be when parents or other adults constantly use sarcasm, threaten language, criticism, yelling at or taunting a child. Emotional abuse can destroy a child’s self-esteem, making them fearful and withdrawn. All children need love and praise to feel confident and loveable. The effects of emotional abuse are serious and long-lasting, causing difficulties in relationships, mental health and confidence in adult life.

Neglect – when parents fail to meet a child’s basic needs for food, warmth, clothing or medical attention. This can also mean leaving children to fend for themselves when they’re too young and immature to manage this – leaving them home alone without adult supervision, for example. Expecting a child to be the parent in caring for siblings or even the parents themselves, as in parents with addictions. Neglected children may be very withdrawn or very aggressive, and can develop health problems or have difficulty coping in school.

Sexual – when an adult, or sometimes an older child, uses a child for sexual gratification. This might mean forcing a child to carry out sexual acts, including sexual touching, oral sex and intercourse. It can include ‘flashing’ and indecent exposure, deliberately showing a child adult pornographic videos or magazines, and filming or photographing children

Now as a society we can now talk more openly about these maltreatments and identify more clearly the relationship between Child abuse and the later causes of addictions and mental illnesses.

Some families – even those highly respected in communities – have been known to be very cruel, not only to their own but others’ children; and it is proven many children are abused without anyone stepping in to stop it. A most painful truth is nearly 80 percent of all child abuse is not committed by strangers, but by actual birth parents. Sexual abuse is the exception, where the majority of abusers are adult males, not parents. Statistics show many incidents of abuse happen by those in caring roles who engaged in an ongoing relationship with the children, relatives, a step parent or neighbours, who live near by are often the offenders. The perpetrator may even be a minister or Monastic or a well known and respected friend to the family.

Are we as Monastics aware of all matters concerning harmful and immoral actions towards children?

  • Are we aware of the complex problems surrounding the illegal, immoral and harmful acts perpetrated upon children?
  • Do we have knowledge of any Monastic or lay supporters performing immoral or harmful actions toward any child?
  • Are we aware of, yet choose to ignore warnings and signs of harmful actions towards children?
  • Do we daily put into practice the Buddha teaching of mindfulness and compassion to protect children?
  • Are we aware of child health services and their guidelines that can educate both Monastic and Lay Buddhist to provide a healthy and protective environment for children, and bring appropriate aid to both children and their families who suffer?
  • Do we agree as Monks, Nuns and Lay devotees, that we are obligated to protect children against all acts of abuse? Whether or not the laws regarding Mandatory Reporting apply in our case, is it not our moral responsibility to guide, support, teach and protect all beings, let alone a defenseless child?
  • Are we educated in how to empower children to protect themselves and other children?

It demands our moral courage to stand up and speak out against crime to children!

Progressive education and awareness in Monasteries or Buddhist Centers could include the following:

  • Ongoing study and development of our monastic responsibilities by keeping pure Vinaya and acquiring skillfulness in practices of meditation such as loving kindness, to remove lust, bring about clarity and insight with greater respect for all beings especially human. It is necessary to create a gentle, loving behavior, especially towards those who are more venerable than ourselves.
  • Identifying and recognizing the signs and symptoms of a child who is harmed or abused, by power and control, jealousy, fear and aversion or plain stupidity.
  • When suspicious or have knowledge of acts against children we must inform the appropriate authorities. The phone numbers for Police or Child Abuse authorities in each state are listed below and informing can be given anonymously or is secure in privacy laws.
  • Educating our Buddhist communities, by offering Buddhist courses in the wellbeing and care taking of children for their families.
  • Creating in larger Buddhist communities, a child support group to offer information and counseling, to those who request help and support regarding their children’s safety.
  • To counsel parents who are stressed, and act aggressively to or around their children.
  • To counsel and support parents and children who have suffered abused and adults who themselves were abused as children.

Children have few defenses, less strength and are venerable to seduction. We need to recall our own childhood difficulties and realize many modern-day influences and technology hold further unknown dangers. Although we as Monastics may not engage in these activities, it is important we are at least aware of the difficulties children, youth and their parents face.

Sadly some Buddhist news is not Buddhism, some wearing robes are not Monks

We are personally confronted when the Buddhist world is put in the public light, for the very non-Buddhist actions of some Monastics. There are often articles in the Buddhist News, in local papers, in books and magazines, speaking out about the downfalls of Monastic in all traditions. These not only bringing further disrepute to the faith or embarrassment to the orders, but remind us of human frailty as it was in the time of the Buddha, where all the precepts were put in place to avoid the immense suffering and consequence of such abhorred actions. Whole websites can be found solely concerned with immoral occurrences of Buddhist Monastic and Lay Leaders, but this article from the Buddhist Channel describes how one act abuses all Buddhist and human principles and the robe is used as some sort of protection against law

….. ‘ The monk’s behavior of committing child rape and then going on with his life as though nothing had happened clearly and outrageously violates the precepts to avoid harming other living beings, engaging in sexual misconduct, taking things not freely given, and false speech. He is no Buddhist and should not be respected as a Buddhist monk. Moreover, he is a pedophile and a criminal. This monk is sick and deserves to be defrocked and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law’

We must not lose sight however, of the fact that although on occasion a monastic offends, a far greater occurrence of inhumane acts towards children, are done by our lay brothers and sisters who carry out offences unnoticed, in their households.

Remember, most adults are trustworthy and kind to children. It’s difficult to understand why a small minority are abusive.

Abusers can be rich or poor, and from any race or religion. In some cases, parents may come under intolerable pressure and stress, which leads to them harm their own children. Babies and toddlers may be shaken or hit, or older children constantly put down and criticized so their emotional wellbeing is affected.

Some adults may have been treated badly by their own parents, and haven’t had the chance to develop new and better ways of raising children.

Whatever the reasons for stress – problems with adult relationships, lack of money or having been abused as a child – there’s no excuse for abusing children.

It’s an adult’s responsibility to take steps to get help and support, or improve matters in their own lives so their children are safe.

It’s very difficult to be certain if child abuse is on the increase, as there are no reliable figures from a generation ago to compare with today’s numbers.

Ongoing education is a necessary on this issue, to deepen our understanding to all relevant material published on child abuse and protection, their causes and effects. How to educate children, who are abused or threatened, not to keep it a secret? How to educate parents, of the necessary precautions to be taken to protect theirs and others children? Identify victims of child abuse – recognizing the signs and symptoms that children are suffering. Bringing tools and knowledge to teachers, social workers and Monastic to deal with the ongoing issues of these inhumane actions? The learned behaviors of abuse, abused becoming abuse unable to heal their own inner traumas. Then there are adult survivors of child abuse – many who do survive have told their stories of the painful path to recovery.

Monks, Nuns and Religious leaders and lay devotees: if you suspect a child has suffered from abuse, is being stalked, sexually assaulted, bullied or neglected we should not hesitate to contact local law enforcement or child protection services.

2. Mandatory Reporting

What is Mandatory Reporting?

In recent years, the problem of child abuse has come under greater focus than ever before. This is largely due to well-publicized cases of child abuse by people in positions of religious authority. In such cases, there has been outrage at two levels.

The first problem is of course the fact that such crimes have been committeed by those in a unique position of trust in the community. But while this is appalling enough, people generally are able to accept that occasionally there are badly behaved individuals.

Thus the second problem is perhaps even worse: there has been a concerted effort by some in religious institutions to cover up reports and allegations of child abuse. This has been motivated by the fear of public backlash if word of the occurence of such crimes in the religious institution were to get out.

To address this the concept of Mandatory Reporting has been made law in most States in Australia. This means that for people in certain positions of authority and trust, they are required by law to report incidents, or suspected incidents, of child abuse to the authorities. If someone who qualifies as a Mandatory Reporter fails to report child abuse, they may be liable for very heavy fines or a jail sentence.

What are the benefits of mandatory reporting requirements?

Mandatory reporting is considered to be a symbolic acknowledgement of the seriousness of child abuse in a community.

Mandatory reporting requirements reinforce the moral responsibility for members of the community to report suspected cases of child abuse and neglect.

The introduction of mandatory reporting aims to overcome the reluctance of some professionals to become involved in suspected cases of child abuse by imposing a public duty to do so.

It has been found that the awareness of child abuse both within the mandated professional groups, as well as in the community at large, increases with the publicity that surrounds the introduction of mandatory reporting.

Mandatory reporting requirements throughout Australia

Under differing legislation it may or may not be mandatory for Monastics to notify authorities. We cannot advise you whether in your situation in your State you are a mandatory reporter or not. However, as with teachers, leaders and carers in our communities we are obligated by Moral responsibility to do our utmost to do no harm and to protect children.

Here is a table of mandatory reporting requirements in the States and territories of Australia. This information is accurate to the best of our knowledge, but should be treated as a guide only and not legal advice.

3. Child Abuse FAQ

Who are the victims of Child Sexual Abuse?

By the age of 18, 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 9 boys will have experienced some formof sexual abuse. These children can be of any age – from babies to older teenagers. At the start of sexual abuse the average age of the victim is 7 or 8. Currently, more than half are under 10 at the time of reporting. There can be one child affected in a family, or more than one.

Who are the offenders?

Approximately 98% are male. Approximately 85% are known to the child. Only 15% are strangers. Most offenders are relatives or close friends of the child – someone whom the child trusts. The most usual relationship of the offender to the victim is the father (natural, step or defacto). Most offenders are “average” men, coming from the full range of socio-economic, racial, cultural and religious backgrounds and are most commonly heterosexual.

Where and when are children abused?

Usually, the assaults continue over a period of years. It can happen any time that the child is accessible to the offender. Usually, it happens in the child’s own home, or in a place familiar to the child.

Why do people sexually abuse children?

Generally people abuse children for a sense of power and a distorted sense of pleasure. Abuse is related to fear and control and often born out of states of aversion, anger or stupidity.

What can I do to help a child who has been abused or neglected?

It is important that you are able to believe and reassure children after the occurrence of abuse. Often this can be difficult for family and friends particularly when they are experiencing shock and grief, however there are lots of support services and information available to help at this time.

What can I do to protect my child from being abused?

Be aware of what your child is doing and notice changes in their behavior or emotional state. Make sure your children know that you are always ready to listen and support. Ask for help when you need assistance from family, friends or professionals can be an important support to help you in protecting your child and providing appropriate care and attention.

What do child protection services provide?

State Government organizations provide a range of child protection services to the community ranging from preventative services, to services for children and families at risk to services that offer support and assistance to families where abuse has occurred.

What is the role of the Child Protection Service?

  • Receives notifications from people who believe on reasonable grounds that a child is in need of protection.
  • Provides advice to people who report such concerns.
  • Investigates matters where it is believed that a child is at risk of significant harm.
  • Refers children and families to services, which help to provide for the ongoing safety and wellbeing of the children.
  • Takes matters before the Children’s Court if the child’s safety can’t be assured within the family.
  • Supervises children on legal orders granted by the Children’s Court.

How do I contact the Child Protection Service?

To make a notification of child abuse, contact your regional Child Protection office as soon as possible. For all other enquiries, please contact the appropriate regional office.

Child Protection Intake Workers are skilled in assessing the risks to children. When you phone,they will talk with you about your concerns and ask a series of questions, which assist them to gain a clear understanding of the situation and an assessment of what action may need to be taken.

How does the Child Protection Service respond to a notification?

After you have notified them, the Child Protection Service will decide whether the child or young person is in a situation who falls within the legal definition of ‘a child in need of protection’.

If the notification is not accepted, a child protection worker may speak with you about other options , including referrals to other organizations that might assist the family.

If the notification is accepted, a decision will be made regarding the urgency of the situation. Where a case is assessed as urgent, contact with the family will occur within 48 hours. If a case is considered non-urgent, the investigative process may take up to 14 days. In cases where physical or sexual abuse has been alleged, the police will need to be involved in the investigation, and this requires careful planning and timing.

When you call, you must give as much information as possible to help them make decisions about what intervention might be required. All information may be valuable and state services have an obligation to keep your identity confidential from the adult you are reporting, especially if you request. However if the case goes to court, you may be able to be identified at that time.

4. Child Protection Services Throughout Australia

*In all states you can call 000 to report an incident of child abuse or use these contacts below.

New South Wales

Department of Community Services (DoCS): Preventing Child Abuse and Neglect


Department of Human Services: Child Protection, Family and Early Parenting Services


Department of Communities: Child Safety

Western Australia

Department for Child Protection

South Australia

Department for Families and Communities: Reporting child abuse


Department of Health and Human Resources: Child protection services

Northern Territory

Department of Health and Families: Child protection


Department of Disability, Housing, and Community Services: Child care and protection services


Stop Child Abuse Now: National support directory

Adults Surviving Child Abuse

Child Abuse Prevention Service

Broken Rites Victim Support Group: A non-denominational support group for people who have been abused sexually, physically or emotionally in religious institutions.

Kids Help Line: 1800 55 1800

Australian Institute of Health and Welfare report on Child Protection in Australia, 2008/9.