Seeking justice for all children

A heart for building a more effective child protection system in Paraguay


At the start of last year, Ruth Sharon came to us at Viva with a strong legal career specialising in child abuse cases and a heart to make a difference.

She wanted to help governments and judiciaries ensure their child protection systems are designed to help place children at the centre of their decision-making processes and that laws are properly and consistently implemented.

Ruth travelled to Paraguay in 2019 and, whilst there, learnt a lot about the child protection system, within the government and judiciary and the support that grassroots churches and organisations are offering to children.

This sparked a desire in her to ensure there is meaningful connection between these groups so that children get the protection they need.

The unfortunate reality

Currently, in many countries, cases of child abuse are determined with no assessment, accountability or legal oversight, with children potentially placed in dangerous or harmful situations.

If a child abuse case makes it to court, the case often takes years to conclude with children having to share their story many times, making them re-live their traumatic experiences.

Many are housed in institutions, which we now understand cannot replicate a family which is God’s design as a place for children to thrive.

When cases are long, children can often be at an age where adoption becomes increasingly unlikely, meaning that they are missing out on opportunities to join a new family.

Blossoming relationships

Over lockdown, Ruth has continued to build on her relationships in Paraguay from the UK online. She has become increasingly aware of the need for government and judiciary to work together in a co-ordinated way, and to increase respect between the departments and prevent blame culture.

Relationships we would not have thought possible to cultivate without being physically present have blossomed. Ruth has begun to have regular meetings with the government Minister for Children, who has given the government child protection department a mandate to work with Ruth so that she can help them improve processes.

Ruth has arranged expert trainers in key areas and is helping build the capacity of the department. At the same time, she has found that the department is often looked down upon, without enough resources and people not properly trained.

A new law on child protection was passed last year. Ruth knew that the department would not be able to achieve all the designated actions thoroughly straightaway, given the funding and capacity challenges.

Therefore, she offered to the Government Minister for Children to look through the law, pick out the assignments the department has been asked to do and make a plan for where to start. This means that the department can clearly document steps that are feasible, and ensure they get the resources and training they need.

Together for children

On her travels in 2019, Ruth had also got to know a Supreme Court Judge, and, with a desire to increase communication between departments, suggested to the Minister for children that they meet together.

As a result they have put the law into a flow chart to clearly detail which department is responsible for what, make a plan for where to start and set out next steps.

Ruth is now having weekly meetings with the government minister and Supreme Court as well as working with the child protection department in order to support the improvements in the system. This will make a huge difference to the efficiency of the departments as well as the care they offer to children.

Ultimately, through this work, Ruth is hoping that better and quicker decisions will be made for children during the court process, thereby reducing the harm to them.

A God of Justice

Ruth is helping Paraguay transition from institutions to alternative family care so that every child can be brought up in a safe permanent family.

This is God’s plan for children. Psalm 68: 5-6 says
A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows,
is God in his holy dwelling.

God sets the lonely in families,
he leads out the prisoners with singing;…

God is a God of justice. The law. if implemented properly, is designed to protect children. Ruth believes that God is opening doors at the highest levels to ensure that justice is done for children.

We are delighted to be journeying with Ruth as she develops this important work, and look forward to using her expertise to support the work of our partner networks in different ways as they work with government departments to improve child protection.

Anna Barker is Viva’s International Director