Skip to main content

CHILD ABUSE — THE RESPONSIBILITY OF THE GOVERNING BODY

—REVIEW—

Child abuse is listed as a disfellowshipping offense in the Shepherd book. Of the different definitions of this abuse in the book, only porneia, which is a sexual relationship with the adult and a child, is listed as a disfellowshipping action in the Christian Greek Scriptures.

This study has two sections. The first section deals with the sexual side of child abuse. This section is short because most of the definitions in the Shepherd book are not disfellowshipping offenses. And I refer to the detailed study of sexual immorality (porneia) that will be posted on this website.

The other section deals with the extreme neglect of children. And because the members of the Governing Body are involved in this, the section is rather long.

Defining the expression “extreme neglect” is difficult because the expression is diffuse and ambiguous. But there is one area where the Governing Body is guilty of extreme neglect of a particular group of children on a grand scale and therefore are guilty of child abuse. The first step of this abuse is the campaign of baptisms of young children. The second step is the appointment of many of these young children as pioneers. The pioneer service requires so much of the young children that it can be classified as “child labor.” It deprives the children of their childhood, and it prevents the children from getting a good primary education.

The view expressed by the Scandinavian branch office is that only those who are mature enough to understand the responsibility of baptism should be baptized. This is a balanced view, and it was practiced in most of the 20th century. But in the last part of the 20th century and in the 21st century, baptism of very young children has been practiced. I give several examples of children between eight and twelve years old that have been baptized.

In order to enter into marriage, a person must be 18 years old. A child at the age of 12 and lower is not mature enough to marry. In the Bible, Jehovah often likens his relationship with his servants on earth to a marriage inasmuch as dedication and baptism represents a disowning of oneself and committing to enter into a permanent and binding relationship with God—which is even more serious and weightier than a marriage between a husband and wife. Most societies prohibit 12-year-old children, for example, from entering into wedlock because they are not mature enough. So, why should they be pushed into entering a more serious bond with the Almighty as mere children? Clearly, such young ones are not mature enough to take the responsibility of baptism. In my view, there will be a rare exception if a person is mature enough to be baptized before he is in his late teens.

The second step to child abuse is to appoint small children as pioneers. In the USA in 2012, there were 212 regular pioneers aged 12 and below, and two of these were seven years old. There were also 6,844 pioneers between 12 and 18 years old. This shows that children in the pioneer service are widespread.

I calculate that a child uses about 160 hours per month for his primary education—hours at school, preparation, and traveling between the school and home included. A regular pioneer uses about 150 hours for his service—hours used in the preaching, preparation and traveling included. This means that a child who is a pioneer uses about 10 hours every day for this service and schooling.

This shows that pioneer service for children is the same as child labor and is an abuse of children. The children are deprived of their childhood, and they do not have time to get a good primary education.

SEXUAL ABUSE OF CHILDREN

The sexual abuse of children is a grave sin and a perversion, as the Shepherd book shows. Jehovah’s Witnesses have been accused of the abuse of children on a grand scale and of covering up situations of child abuse.

Cooperating with the authorities in abuse cases in Norway

While sexual abuse of children has occurred, it seems clear that the enemies of JW and the press in a number of cases have tried to make a mountain out of a molehill. As far as Norway is concerned, I can speak from experience. But I have no knowledge of what has happened in other countries.

In the 1990s, the abuse of children was brought to the attention of the elders. The next twenty years plus, the elders received several letters discussing the issue. And they were admonished to cooperate with the authorities. If a brother was accused of child abuse, the elders could not take any judicial action against the brother if there were not two witnesses. But any such accusation should still be reported to the police. The elders had no right nor the competence to investigate such accusations, but the police could do that.

That a child is abused is a rare event among JW. But when it happened, the elders were told to fully cooperate with the authorities. I am only aware of one example of a cover-up. The district overseer was sent by the branch office to look into a case of child abuse. He promised the involved persons that transparency would occur and that the authorities would be informed. One of those who were involved and whose words I trust told me that the brothers who directed the district overseer were covering up the situation and the authorities were not informed.

Abuse of children and disfellowshipping

All the actions mentioned in the Shepherd book as child abuse are abominable actions, and I believe that a person who is guilty of one of these actions can be indicted in a Norwegian court and be punished.

However, if we accept the Bible as our sole authority, only the action that is described by the Greek word porneia is an action that the elders can act upon and can lead to disfellowshipping from the Christian congregation. The word porneia is defined as “sexual immorality,” and it includes a sexual relationship between two persons who are not married to each other.

The definition “extreme neglect of a minor by her parents” is also an abominable action. But it is not listed in the Christian Greek Scriptures as a disfellowshipping offense.[1] Moreover, as with so many definitions of disfellowshipping offenses given by the GB, this definition is unclear and ambiguous. This means that hard-line elders may view different actions by a parent as “extreme neglect,” while other elders would have a different opinion. So, some Witnesses would be disfellowshipped because of the gut feeling of the particular elders who happen to be on the committee.

[1]. A detailed discussion of 1 Timothy 5:8 is found in the article “Refusal to provide for family” in the Category “Independent actions.”

Some actions, though, are so bad that they clearly represent “extreme neglect.” For example, if a parent gives a small child less food and clothes than he or she needs and regularly kicks the child to the point where the child is bleeding, this is “extreme neglect.”

And further, if the boy or girl is doing child labor to the point where the child is deprived of recreation and rest, and primary education, this is also universally considered extreme neglect. In what follows, I will show how the Governing Body is guilty of child abuse by letting small children engage in sanctioned “child labor.”

THE EXTREME NEGLECT OF CHILDREN

Two of the definitions of “child abuse” in the Shepherd  book are “physical abuse of a minor” and “extreme neglect of a minor by her parent.” Neither of these calls for disfellowshipping actions according to the Christian Greek Scriptures. Moreover, as many of the disfellowshipping offenses that the GB have made up and invented, these definitions are diffuse and ambiguous. This means that the personal viewpoints of elders in a congregation, who for the most part are not trained to competently handle judicial cases, will be the deciding factor in whether a Witness will be disfellowshipped or not.

While the mentioned definitions are not disfellowshipping offenses, they do  represent child abuse. And it is both ironic and sad to say, that the members of the GB, themselves, are guilty of child abuse, in the name of Jehovah, on a grand scale because of their “extreme neglect” of a particular group of children. The actions of the GB can be compared to the encouraging and facilitating of “child labor,” and the side effects are the same as secular child labor.

Wikipedia gives the following definition of child labor:

Child labour (British English) or child labor (American English; see spelling differences) refers to the exploitation of children through any form of work that deprives children of their childhood, interferes with their ability to attend regular school, and is mentally, physically, socially and morally harmful.[1]

The first step on the way to child abuse is the campaign of GB to baptize children at an early age. The second step is that children of practically any age, some as young as seven years old, are being appointed as pioneers. This is, in reality, child labor. And the consequence of this is that these children are deprived of their childhood, and while they attend school, the quality of their learning is hampered because of all the time they must use in their pioneer service. This represents extreme neglect of these minors.

Many Witnesses would react to what I have written by pointing out that spiritual things are more important than secular matters like attending school. To some, my words will appear to be a case of spiritual vs materialistic concerns, with me siding in the cause of the latter. However, here is what the brochure Jehovah’s Witnesses and Education p. 4-5, published by the GB had to say regarding education:

Like all parents, Jehovah’s Witnesses are concerned about their children’s future. They therefore attach great importance to education. “Education should help people become useful members of society. It should also help them develop an appreciation of their cultural heritage and live more satisfying lives.”

The years spent at school prepare children for the responsibilities they will take on in life. Accordingly, Witnesses feel that education should be taken very seriously.”

So, it is not a matter of secular vs spiritual priorities when it comes to a child’s education and the leisurely playtime of childhood. These things are crucial to the mental, emotional, and psychological well-being of the child. When a child is also taught to love Jehovah while patiently being allowed to naturally develop into a mature adult, he or she will more likely turn out to be a psychologically, emotionally, and spiritually sound adult. Taking short-cuts, however, by pushing children to advance, even spiritually, faster than their psychological make-up will allow, can result in damaging psychological effects that become manifest later in adulthood.

The first step on the way to child abuse is baptism at an early age

The view of child baptism changed in the last years of the 20th century. The new view is not always conceded by representatives of the Watchtower Society. Nevertheless, the new view is the official stance of the GB as found in the Watchtower literature.

The view of the Scandinavian branch office on baptism

The Scandinavian Branch Office of Jehovah’s Witnesses had asked for a meeting with representatives of the Norwegian Minister for children and families. The purpose was to correct some misinformation about JW that was presented in a TV program. After the meeting, JW sent a letter to the Minister to answer some questions.

One question was: “How old must a person be to be baptized? If a person can be baptized before he is 18 years old, can such a person be disfellowshipped? Is there an age limit in connection with disfellowshipping?” The answer was:

Jehovah’s Witnesses do not baptize infants. So, in order to be baptized, one must be old enough to understand what the Bible teaches, believe in it, and have made a decision to live in accord with it. This is something that an infant cannot do. When children become older, they may, at a certain point in time, choose to be baptized. But before they can make such a decision, they must be mature enough to understand the responsibility that they take.

This is a good answer. That a person must be mature enough to understand the responsibility that baptism leads to is, of course, very important. This was practiced for most of the 20th century. But in the last part of the 20th century and into the 21st century, the GB has led a campaign that, for all practical purposes, has flagrantly dismissed the importance of maturity as a requirement for baptism. Moreover, the GB has placed a responsibility on the shoulders of young children that they are simply too young to carry. I will elucidate this.

Baptism of children in the 20th century

The word “children” is used for persons who are below 18 years old. What was the view of the baptism of children in the years after World War II? The article “Youth in the New World Society” in The Watchtower of May 15, 1956, page 304, says:

Some may ask, then, Would it be proper for me in my early teens to make such a dedication vow and symbolize this by water immersion? Since many children are baptized each year at circuit assemblies and other conventions of Jehovah’s people, can it be said that this is the proper course for these young ministers to take? Of course, if they do not know in their own mind what they are doing, then they are not ready to take this vital and important step.

The definite age as to when baptism or dedication is appropriate cannot be designated. If a child has sufficient knowledge of Almighty God, Jehovah, and his righteous purposes and adheres faithfully to the upright principles set down in his Word, if the child has reached the age of accountability and desires to make a dedication to Jehovah, it is in order for him to do so and it is then proper to take the step of baptism by water.

This is a fine description of the requirements for Christian baptism, and the points mentioned are:

  • No definite age.
  • Baptism from early teens possible.
  • Must know what they are doing.
  • Must have sufficient knowledge of God.
  • Has reached the age of accountability.
  • Adheres faithfully to the principles in God’s word.

The only exception I will take is that most children in their early teens have not reached the age of accountability.

The Watchtower of 1 August 1956, page 473, has a warning in connection with persons who consider being baptized at an early age:

These have been young people, or perhaps children of dedicated parents, hence well acquainted with the hope of life in a restored paradise. Sometimes these young ones, perhaps in their early teens, have been immersed, claiming to be dedicated. Then shortly they disappear from view as far as Jehovah’s witnesses are concerned. They become wholly absorbed in worldly ways and pleasures, sometimes indulging in shameful conduct, bringing reproach on their parents.

Then the parents, in great grief, raise the question as to whether their young son or daughter really understood the significance of dedication and baptism. But is that not a poor time to raise that question? Should they not have made sure about that at the time? It is so easy for young ones to take up something with great enthusiasm for a time, then take up something else with equal zest. They are just getting a taste of what life has to offer, including the attractions of this world with its dreams and vanities. (Eccl. 4:7) They are susceptible to suggestions. They see others of their age being immersed, so why not they? With their knowledge of the truth they feel they can say Yes to the two questions put to them at the time of immersion.

But can it be said that at that stage they really appreciate what it means to take the step of dedication as a perpetual “vow to God” to do his will for all time, involving their whole life? The scripture says: “Better is it that you vow not than that you vow and do not pay,” pleading “it was a mistake.” “Why should the true God become indignant on account of your voice and have to wreck the work of your hands?” That is just what happened to the prodigal son.—Eccl. 5:4-6.

Of course, individuals, including young ones, vary greatly. At a surprisingly early age some can take a serious view of things and hold to it. There are Bible examples of this, such as Samuel. We cannot lay down a general rule or age limit. Each one in the family must be dealt with individually. At the same time, we want to avoid a course that, in effect, tends to produce prodigal sons.

The article has several fine points. The reason for this article evidently was that several young ones, some in their early teens, had been baptized. And after a short time, they left the congregation and became a part of the world.

The reasons given are important. Young ones are susceptible to suggestions, they do something with great enthusiasm for a time, and then they start to do something else with even greater enthusiasm. Such young ones are inexperienced, and they are not mature enough to take the responsibility of baptism.

My experience from 1961, when I became a Witness, and for most of the 20th century, is that the view of baptizing persons below 18 years of age was quite balanced. And there was no campaign for children to be baptized at an early age.

Baptism of small children in the last part of the 20th and in the 21st century

Something must have happened inside the GB in the late 1980s because several strange things occurred inside the organization, including the focus on the baptism of small children.

Every article in The Watchtower has a particular purpose and is carefully scrutinized. When illustrations show persons with clothes, the clothes are modest and show how JW should dress. And when examples of behavior are mentioned, the purpose is to show that this kind of behavior is what the Witnesses should exemplify. When examples of baptisms at an early age are portrayed, these are also examples intended to send a message as to what should be done. In connection with baptism, we read in The Watchtower of 15 April 1987, page 13:

‘What, though, if my son or daughter gets baptized when young and then cools off?’ some parents wonder. Certainly, a youth should not get baptized just to please a parent or because some friends do. Yet Joseph, Samuel, King Josiah, and Jesus when teenagers all had a serious view of the worship of God and held to it. (Genesis 37:2; 39:1-3; 1 Samuel 1:24-28; 2:18-21; 2 Chronicles 34:3; Luke 2:42-49)

In modern times, a Christian named Jean was baptized when she was only ten years old. When asked years later if she really understood the step, Jean replied: “I knew I loved Jehovah, I appreciated what Jesus did for us, and I wanted to serve Jehovah.” She has served faithfully for some 40 years since her baptism. Each youth is an individual; no one can set a standard age limit. Parents should strive to reach their child’s heart, helping him or her to develop godly devotion. They should not only keep before their children the privilege of dedication and baptism but also fortify them to be steadfast worshipers.

Examples of young children that were baptized continued in the literature, and in The Watchtower of 15 March 1988, page 14, we read:

An infant could not understand that the holy spirit is God’s active force; nor could it repent of past sins and make a solemn vow to do God’s will.

But it seems that some among Jehovah’s people have gone to the other extreme. Many Christian parents let their children wait until they are in their late teens before broaching the subject of baptism. Time and again, we hear of youngsters making a valid dedication solely on their own initiative. For example, the preteen son of an elder sincerely wanted to get baptized. So his father had three other elders discuss with the youngster the questions designed for those contemplating baptism. Their conclusion was that, though quite young, he qualified to be baptized as an ordained minister of Jehovah God. Why, attending the Pioneer Service School in the Bahamas recently was a ten-year-old baptized girl, the daughter of two full-time ministers!

In recent years, the GB has launched a campaign in favor of the early baptism of children. One example is that Mark Sanderson who, as zone overseer, gave lectures where he admonished parents to help their small children to be baptized. The Watchtower of March 2016, page 3, had an article entitled: “Young ones — are you ready to get baptized?” The article said:

“I HAVE known you since you were born,” said a Christian elder to 12-year-old Christopher, “and I’m happy to hear that you want to get baptized. I would like to ask you, ‘Why do you want to take that step?’” The elder’s question was valid. Of course, it gives all of us much joy to see that every year thousands of young people around the world get baptized. (Eccl. 12:1) At the same time, Christian parents and elders in the congregation want to make sure that such young ones make a decision that is not only voluntary but also well-founded.

The Yearbook of 2017, page 26, contained another example of baptism of a young child:

Kodi, from England, says: “Thanks for all the time and effort you put into making jw.org, JW Broadcasting, and the Caleb and Sophia videos. Thank you for making the Bible easier to understand. I was baptized when I was eight. When I’m a bit older, I’m going to volunteer to help build Kingdom Halls! And I would like to work at Bethel. I’m nine now, so I’ve not got long to go.”[2]

These examples in the Watchtower literature of children that were baptized at the age of 8, 10, and 12 years or younger are read both by parents and by their children. And they set an example for other parents and children to consider and act upon.

Are children between 8 and 12 years old qualified to be baptized?

The letter from the Scandinavian branch office to the Norwegian Minister of family and children said that persons who are going to be baptized must be “mature enough to understand the responsibility that they take.” And The Watchtower of 1 August 1956, page 473,  said that dedication to Jehovah is “as a perpetual “vow to God” to do his will for all time, involving their whole life.”

Are children between 8 and 12 mature enough to fully understand what it means to dedicate their lives to Jehovah for all time? I will answer this by asking another question: Is a child between 8 and 12 years old mature enough to marry and promise the mate to be faithful to him or her for as long as they shall live? The fact that many mature adults have made that same promise and found themselves unable to keep it suggests an answer to that question.

Regarding marriage, the Norwegian Government writes:

The person who will enter into marriage must be 18 years old. This is an absolute age limit, and no dispensation will be given.[3]

In connection with this age limit, I will one time more quote from The Watchtower of 1956, page 473:

It is so easy for young ones to take up something with great enthusiasm for a time, then take up something else with equal zest. They are just getting a taste of what life has to offer, including the attractions of this world with its dreams and vanities. (Eccl. 4:7) They are susceptible to suggestions.

No person from the age of 12 years old or below is mature enough to enter into marriage. And in keeping with that, I will say with certainty that no child from 12 years old or below is mature enough to understand and take on the responsibility of being baptized. There is no exception. From my point of view, I will say that if a child below his late teens is mature enough to be baptized, that will be a rare exception.

The problem with encouraging small children to be baptized is that a huge responsibility is placed on their shoulders, a responsibility that they are not able to carry. In many cases, this may hamper the psychological growth that should occur during the teen years. In some cases, early baptism will work out well, as in the case of Jean that was baptized at the age of ten, as mentioned above. But in many cases, it has worked out in a bad way, leading to disfellowshipping or the weakening of a person’s faith in God.

The second step on the way to child abuse is to appoint small children as pioneers

While the baptism of young children may be bad for some of these children, I will now discuss one side of this issue that is bad for all. This is the appointment of young children as pioneers. This is, in reality, “child labor” because it takes up such a large portion of the time and strength of the children. The pioneer service may deprive the children of their childhood, and it may prevent them from getting a good primary education that will allow them to become more useful to Jehovah later on as a well-rounded spiritual adult.

Examples of children who are pioneers

In the organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses, there are full-time ministers called “regular pioneers” that are as young as seven years, and I will give some examples of young pioneers right from the JW literature. The Watchtower of 15 March 1988, pages 14, 15, says:

But it seems that some among Jehovah’s people have gone to the other extreme [of baptizing infants]. Many Christian parents let their children wait until they are in their late teens before broaching the subject of baptism. Time and again, we hear of youngsters making a valid dedication solely on their own initiative. For example, the preteen son of an elder sincerely wanted to get baptized. So his father had three other elders discuss with the youngster the questions designed for those contemplating baptism. Their conclusion was that, though quite young, he qualified to be baptized as an ordained minister of Jehovah God. Why, attending the Pioneer Service School in the Bahamas recently was a ten-year-old baptized girl, the daughter of two full-time ministers!

The Watchtower 15 February 1995, page 25, says:

Indeed, young people, both those brought up in the truth and others, seem to take their worship of God seriously. For example, Tamar and her sister Keila were both baptized at the age of 10 and entered the full-time pioneer ministry by 11. Wendy Carolina was 12 when she symbolized her dedication by water baptism, and two years later, in 1985, she started regular pioneering. Today she is an effective teacher, still enjoying the full-time ministry. Young Jovanny, baptized at 10 and a regular pioneer at 11, is conducting four home Bible studies. When ten-year-old Rey discovered that a secondhand-book vendor had a booklet published by Jehovah’s Witnesses, Rey begged his mother to buy it for him. He read it from cover to cover. His search for more Bible literature eventually led him to the branch office. Today he is enjoying the full-time service, and his mother is also serving God.

The Yearbook of 2001, page 222, says:

Young ones are also showing their zeal in preaching the word. Elber Heguía, a 13-year-old brother, has been pioneering for two years in the Centro Congregation in San Pedro in the province of Jujuy [in Argentina].

The first quotation mentions a ten-year-old girl who was a pioneer who was attending the Pioneer Service School. In order to attend this school, a person must start pioneering before the month of September in the previous year.[4] This means that this girl must have started pioneering when she was nine years old. The second quotation speaks about Tamar, Keila, and Jovanny, who became pioneers at the age of 11, and Wendy Carolina, who started pioneering at the age of 14. The third quotation tells about Elber Heguía, who started pioneering at the age of 11.

Should we view these examples of young children who were regular pioneers as exceptions? Because they are mentioned in the Watchtower literature, these must be taken as examples for others to follow. That young children serve as pioneers is not an exception. This was shown at the morning worship at Brooklyn Bethel on Wednesday, October 3, 2012. Regarding the USA, the chairman said that there were 212 pioneers who were 12 years and younger, and two of these were only seven years old. There were also 6,844 pioneers between 12 and 18 years.

But why do I say that this situation with so many young pioneers represents child abuse? This is so because Wikipedia defines child labor as “the exploitation of children through any form of work that deprives children of their childhood, interferes with their ability to attend regular school.” And this is the case with young children who serves as pioneers.

The similarity between child labor and the pioneer service of children

What does the Watchtower Society expect from a regular pioneer? Until 1999, the requirement was that a pioneer should use 1,000 hours during one year to preach to other people. This means a requirement of preaching 83 hours per month, or if the pioneer takes a four-week vacation per year with limited preaching, he or she needs to use about 90 hours per month to preach the good news of the Kingdom.

In 1999, the requirement of hours of preaching was reduced to 840 hours per year.[5]

The need for children to have a good education, recreation, and rest

The Awake! magazine of 22 May 1999 had an article on child labor. On page 11, the article discussed how the parents educated their children in ancient Israel and how the children also found time to play:

Surely, children in Bible times had a lot to do. As they grew, boys were given practical training by their fathers in agriculture or in a trade, such as carpentry. (Genesis 37:2; 1 Samuel 16:11) While at home, girls were taught by their mothers the domestic arts that would be of value in adult life. Rachel, Jacob’s wife, was a shepherdess when she was a young girl. (Genesis 29:6-9) Young women worked in the fields during the grain harvest and in the vineyards. (Ruth 2:5-9; Song of Solomon 1:6) Such work was generally done under loving parental supervision and was combined with education.

At the same time, young children in Israel knew the joy of relaxation and amusements. The prophet Zechariah spoke of ‘public squares of the city being filled with boys and girls playing.’ (Zechariah 8:5) And Jesus Christ mentioned young children sitting in the marketplaces who played the flute and danced. (Matthew 11:16, 17) What was behind such dignified treatment of children?

Regarding the situation of children today, the magazine says on page 13:

Of course, we are living in “critical times hard to deal with.” (2 Timothy 3:1-5) Because of harsh economic realities, in many countries even Christian families may find it necessary to let their children join the work force. As already noted, there is nothing wrong with work that is wholesome and educational for children. Such work can promote or enhance a child’s physical, mental, spiritual, moral, or social development without interfering with necessary schooling, balanced recreation, and needed rest.

Undoubtedly, Christian parents want to have their children work under their own caring supervision, not as virtual slaves of cruel, insensitive, or unscrupulous employers. Such parents want to make sure that any type of work their children perform does not expose them to physical, sexual, or emotional abuse. Also, they want to have their children nearby. In this way, they can fulfill their Bible-based role of spiritual educators: “You must inculcate [God’s words] in your son and speak of them when you sit in your house and when you walk on the road and when you lie down and when you get up.”—Deuteronomy 6:6, 7.

Pioneer service will preclude a good education, recreation, and rest

In this section, I will show that pioneer service for children has the same effect as child labor. I started in the pioneer service when I was 19 years old, and I continued for 15 years. And I appreciated this service very much. But my point is that pioneer service is not for children.

I will now look at the time a child must spend to get a good primary education, and I use Norway as an example. In the first year, children use 24 hours per week at school; in the second year, they use 25 hours, and from the fifth to the seventh year, they are at school 28 hours.  This means that the children use between 100 and 110 hours for their education for nine and a half months every year.[6]

To this amount, we must add two hours per day for dressing and getting ready for school and for traveling to school and back; this comes to 40 hours per month. To get a good education, some homework is necessary, and if we use the small number of one hour per day for homework, that is 20 hours per month. Adding these numbers, we see that children use between 160 and 170 hours per month for their primary education.

Both small children and older ones need recreation; they need to spend time together with their friends, they need to be able to play with others—they simply need a childhood. If a child is a part of a family of JW, he or she will attend meetings two times a week and perhaps use some time to prepare for these meetings.

A child who is a pioneer will use about 75 hours per month for preaching—one vacation month with less preaching is included. He will also spend time for personal study of Bible subjects that he can use in his preaching. He must prepare for Bible studies that he is conducting, and he uses a lot of time traveling to the places where he is preaching and back home again. My experience is that the necessary extra time he needs to spend is more than the time he uses for preaching.

But to be conservative, let us say that he uses the same amount of extra time as he uses for preaching. This would mean that he uses 150 hours per month, which is five hours per day, in his pioneer service. If we add to this the 160 hours a child uses for his education, we find that schooling and pioneer service requires the use of 310 hours per month or 10 hours per day. This is beyond the capacity of any child because there is little time for recreation and rest!

A child in elementary school uses 160 hours per month for his education, including preparation and travel. If the child is a pioneer, he uses 150 hours per month in the preaching work, including preparation and travel. This means that the child uses 10 hours per day for schooling and pioneer service combined. This shows that pioneering for a child has the same negative effect as child labor.

 

Who is responsible for the abuse of the children?

There are four areas of responsibility, 1) the child has some responsibility, 2) the parents have some responsibility, 3) the elders have some responsibility, and 4) the members of the Governing Body have the greatest responsibility. I will elucidate the responsibility by quoting from an article in The Watchtower of 15 September 2006, page 30, discussing whether a Witness who killed another person with his car has bloodguilt:

To illustrate: If weather conditions were bad at the time of the accident, the driver should have exercised greater care. If he was drowsy, he should have stopped and rested until he was no longer sleepy, or he should have had someone else drive.

Suppose the driver was speeding. If any Christian exceeds the speed limit, this is a failure to render “Caesar’s things to Caesar.” It also betrays a disregard for the sacredness of life, for there is the possibility of fatal consequences.

The important point here is that every Christian has a responsibility for his or her actions and how they affect other people. If we are careless and cause harm to someone else, we bear responsibility for this harm. To let a child between seven and 16 years of age — the time when the child is in elementary school and high school—become a pioneer is extremely careless. And someone must bear the responsibility for this carelessness.

The child himself has, of course, some responsibility. But as The Watchtower of 1 August 1956, page 473, said: “It is so easy for young ones to take up something with great enthusiasm for a time, then take up something else with equal zest.” Children are susceptible to suggestions, and children tend to have sensitive consciences. In all sincerity, the child wants to serve Jehovah, but he or she often lacks the ability to see the consequences of his or her actions. So, in my view, the child bears little responsibility for the situation.

The parents have a greater responsibility. Some parents are pioneers, and so they may follow the example of Hannah, who said: “If you…give your servant a male child, I will give him to Jehovah all the days of his life.” (1 Samuel 1:11) Because of this or for other reasons, the parents may view primary education as not so important compared with the preaching of the good news of the Kingdom. To be sure, the Kingdom does indeed have greater value. But a value comparison between having a normal childhood vs the value of God’s Kingdom is a straw-man argument that is completely beside the point. As we have already discussed, in order for children to grow up to become psychologically sound and well-rounded adults, they require the childhood Jehovah created them to enjoy. This will increase the chances of them growing up to become sound and balanced Witnesses able to take on more responsibilities in connection with Kingdom preaching later on in life—when they are mature enough to take on such responsibility (Eccl 3:1, 4). Both the application of Hannah’s unprecedented situation to the circumstances of our present world and considering basic education as of little value are unbalanced viewpoints that go against what is written about education even in the aforementioned JW brochure. So, the parents of child pioneers bear a great responsibility for imposing such “child labor” upon their children.

The elders have a greater responsibility than the parents. Their duty is to be certain that the person who applies for the pioneer service is living in harmony with Christian moral standards and that he or she will be able to fulfill the requirements of being a pioneer. When they recommend a child who is still in elementary school or high school, they should know that pioneer service is not compatible with their school work. Interestingly, almost all bodies of elders would tell you that, at some point over the years, they have had to deny an adult’s application for pioneering because, in their assessment, the applicant’s secular work would have placed enormous stress and the potential for psychological “burn out” on the brother or sister. Even in cases where the application was not denied, the elders may have strongly suggested the brother or sister not try to take on pioneering in addition to such fulltime secular jobs. And the history of JW is replete with such cases of “burn out” of adults who could not do both—pioneer and maintain fulltime secular work. Given that children are even more fragile and vulnerable to such time-consuming stresses in addition to being robbed of their childhood, the elders must bear a great responsibility for not acting in behalf of such dear young ones.

But the members of the Governing Body bear the greatest responsibility. Just as a driver who drives in a careless way and kills a person has bloodguilt, their glorification of children who have become pioneers, as well as their authorizing such appointments by what they have written in the Watchtower literature, can only be viewed as extreme carelessness. Their campaign in the 21st century of baptizing children at an early age and the examples extolled in the Watchtower literature of children who are pioneers both influence sincere children, their parents, and the elders to view and promote child pioneering as something exemplary and praiseworthy. And the announcement at the morning worship program of October 3, 2012, that almost 7,000 children in the USA alone were pioneers shows that the advertisements of the GB for children to become pioneers are working.

To let children in elementary school or high school become pioneers is the same as putting them under child labor because it will deprive them of their childhood and a good education. The members of the Governing Body bear the supreme responsibility for child pioneers, because they, more than anyone else, have promoted it and have the influence and power to put an end to it. This means that the members of the GB are currently encouraging the abuse of children.

 

[1]. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Child_labour.

[2]. The Yearbook of Jehovah’s Witnesses 2017, page 26.

[3]. https://www.regjeringen.no/no/tema/familie-og-barn/innsiktsartikler/ekteskap-og-samliv/mer-informasjon-om-ekteskap/id672620/.

[4]. The Kingdom Ministry of September 1994, page 1.

[5]. Our Kingdom Ministry of January 1999, page 7.

[6] https://www.sarpsborg.com/globalassets/slashsider/skoler/sandesundsveien-b/fag-og-timefordeling.pdf.

CONCLUSION

Of the definitions of child abuse in the Shepherd book, only porneia, which is a sexual relationship between the adult and a child, is a disfellowshipping offense according to the Christian Greek Scriptures.

In this study, the focus is on the aspect of “child abuse” as it relates to “the extreme neglect of a minor.” The important point is that the members of the Governing Body are guilty of “the extreme neglect” of a particular group of children among JW by promoting and facilitating a form of child labor that is detrimental to the psychological health and wellbeing of such children. And in so doing, the members of the GB are guilty of child abuse.

The first step of this abuse was the campaign of the 21st century of baptizing children at a young age, as low as seven years. The second step was the appointment of small children, as young as seven years old, as pioneers.

I have calculated that children in primary school use about 160 hours per month in connection with their schooling. I have also calculated that regular pioneers use about 150 hours in connection with their pioneer service per month.

This means that if a child in primary school is a pioneer, he uses a combined 10 hours per day for this service and his education. This is beyond the capacity of any child to psychologically sustain because there is little time for recreation and rest! A child who is a pioneer is deprived of his childhood, and the quality of his learning is hampered because of all the time he must use in his pioneer service.

Thousands of young children are working in the GB promoted and sanctioned “child sweatshops” of fulltime service as pioneers among JW, because this is the psychological equivalent of child labor. Because these pioneers are appointed with the blessings of the members of the GB, these members are responsible for their child labor. And this means that the members of the GB are guilty of the abuse of children.

Rolf Furuli

Author Rolf Furuli

More posts by Rolf Furuli

Leave a Reply