Members of #TheTotalShutDown singing during the Gender-based Violence Summit. File picture: Oupa Mokoena / African News Agency (ANA)

Johannesburg - #TheTotalShutDown activists are tackling alleged abuse and rape in the religion sector ahead of Lent.

Organisers said the Roman Catholic Church, whose priests and nuns have been accused of sexual abuse of children for decades, was not the only church organisation marred by abuse and rape. 

''With the start of Lent, the #TheTotalShutDown would like to shed light on the widespread gender-based violence in religious organisations,'' the organisers said in a statement on Thursday.

"While we acknowledge that the majority of reports come from the Roman Catholic Church (RCC), we realise that such violations are not exclusive to the RCC. Many more religious groups are complicit in covering up these incidents."

Last year, #TheTotalShutDown organised national marches across South African cities, bemoaning the scourge of violence directed at females. 

The protests led to a presidential summit on gender-based violence in November 2018, where women survivors from all walks of life shared their heartbreaking stories with President Cyril Ramaphosa. 

The organisation said victims across the religious sector were mostly children and that those who report crimes such as rape were belittled and never believed. 

In some religions, underage girls were allegedly being forced into marriages with older men in which they face abuse, including rape.

''Evidence is ignored, kept under wraps or destroyed," said the statement. 

"Rapist priests, pastors and other men of the cloth are treated with compassion and understanding by their peers and left in place to continue violating children, women or moved to new hunting grounds are moved to new hunting grounds where they prey on unsuspecting congregants.

''The Islamic madrassas have faced countless allegations of physical abuse. Children as young as six have reported being hit with sticks, punched in the back, kicked, slapped and having their hair pulled by Imams. 

"The rape and molestation of children also appear present in the Orthodox Jewish community, with many cases not reported to the police for due to fear of stigmatisation.''

The campaign, called #SanctifiedSexualAssaults will take place across the religious spaces ahead of Lent. 

#TheTotalShutdown called on religious leaders to ''weed out the rot'' in their organisations and help end violence against women and children.

''Denying, stigmatising and avoiding responsibility is happening at an institutional level, and decade-late apologies do not suffice as justice for all,'' the organisation said.

Lent is a period preceding Easter, devoted to fasting and abstinence by Christians.

African News Agency (ANA)