Civil society partnerships

Child protection

Child protection means preventing and responding to violence, exploitation and abuse. All children are at risk of harm, but for many girls and boys this risk is heightened by their age, gender or ethnic, religious, socio-economic or other status. An equity-based approach to child protection emphasizes child protection systems (laws, policies and service provision) and societal factors, including social norms, and seeks to understand how the two intersect. These two complementary ‘pillars’ are applicable in all contexts, including emergencies. By addressing governance and institutional reform, as well as harmful discriminatory social norms, UNICEF’s child protection strategy focuses on the root causes of inequity using context-appropriate strategies that are consistent with a human rights-based approach. 

Why partner with religious communities for child protection?

Violence against and exploitation and abuse of children violate the fundamental tenets of the world’s major religions, which speak to the inherent dignity of all human beings.

In every setting, religious communities provide care and support for their members, particularly the poorest, most marginalized and most vulnerable to violence, exploitation and abuse. They often prioritize the educational needs of vulnerable children and assist with shelter and access to needed services, including medical and legal support. They provide counselling and spiritual guidance and speak out on behalf of those who are powerless to advocate for themselves. They can be powerful allies in protecting the most vulnerable children.

In emergency settings such as conflict, where children face particular protection concerns including displacement or recruitment into armed forces or groups, religious communities may have some of the only remaining structures and resources. They are called by their faith traditions to attend to those most in need and will remain long after the emergency is deemed to be over from an international perspective. They thus provide the foundations on which to build long-term protective environments.

What can religious communities do to protect children?

  • Interpret child protection principles in a language that is meaningful and appropriate to their communities, thus raising greater awareness of key child protection issues.
  • Use teachings from religious texts that emphasize child protection in worship services, religious education and in the proceedings of special religious events such as holidays and rites of passage.
  • Speak out against all forms of violence against children, including sexual abuse of girls and boys, in their communities and beyond.
  • Clarify that cultural practices harmful to children are not part of religious beliefs and practices and advocate for their abandonment.  
  • Develop and implement codes of conduct regarding appropriate interaction with children within their places of worship, organizations, institutions (including schools and orphanages) and community associations, including reporting and response mechanisms for child abuse.
  • Promote education and training on all forms of violence and good practice in child protection for families, teachers and others in the community, using religious texts and teaching to promote positive discipline and respect for the inherent dignity of all children.
  • Lend their moral influence to campaigns addressing child protection issues and advocate for favourable changes in policy and legislation to strengthen legal and monitoring systems to better protect children. Religious communities can also facilitate or assist in community monitoring mechanisms.
  • Mobilize communities to take actions to protect children and assess their needs, such as:
    • Ensure safe, family-based care for vulnerable children, including separated or unaccompanied children.
    • Improve access to needed social services, including child-sensitive counselling.
    • Facilitate childcare for parents seeking support.
    • Organize safe spaces for children to play and learn.
    • Engage and empower children in decision-making whenever relevant and appropriate.
    • Provide material, spiritual and emotional support to families who are struggling in the face of adversity.
    • Link parents/caregivers with cash-for-work or other livelihood support schemes to ensure adequate financial resources available to households to care for children.
    • Advocate for formal and non-formal education and prevention of child labour.
    • Advocate for the prevention of child recruitment and the release of children associated with armed forces or groups. Religious leaders can also play an important role in mediating between returning children and families/communities that may not be receptive to their return. By offering spiritual guidance, perhaps performing religious rites or prayers, they can use their authority to restore a sense of dignity and belonging to children, especially girls, who have been marginalized or shunned following the return to their communities.

Key resources on child protection


 

 

Religious traditions

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