Civil society partnerships

Why work with religious communities?

“The instinct to care for children comes from deep within the teachings and spiritual vision of all religious traditions, which motivates people of faith to make the commitment to take practical actions for children. Fulfilling these commitments requires the collaborations of religious communities with each other, and with other partners, because these challenges cut across all religions and are too great for any one group to handle alone.” (World Conference on Religion and Peace)

Religious actors have deep and trusted relationships with their communities and strong linkages with the most disadvantaged and vulnerable members. As such, they are particularly well placed to address inequity related to societal factors – such as social norms, behaviours and practices that affect access to services or fuel discrimination and deprivation – and thus facilitate efforts towards the realization of the rights of the most disenfranchised.

Shared values

"It is a moral obligation for us to provide an environment that enables children to fully explore their innate potential with human dignity, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child is the major vehicle to accomplish this essential task." (Global Network of Religions for Children)

The Convention on the Rights of the Child expresses a holistic vision of the child that is informed by and reflects values shared with the world’s major religious traditions, such as:

  • Fundamental belief in the dignity of the child.
  • High priority given to children and the idea that all members of society have rights and duties towards them.
  • A holistic notion of the child and a comprehensive understanding of his or her physical, emotional, social and spiritual needs.
  • The importance given to the family as the best place for bringing up children.

Religious communities have developed structures and defined relationships shaped by these values, and their mandates and belief systems encourage efforts to speak out on behalf of and assist the disadvantaged, marginalized and vulnerable. Their traditions of intergenerational sharing of knowledge and faith help to sustain and perpetuate these systems.

Moral influence and leadership

Due to their moral influence, religious leaders can influence thinking, foster dialogue and set priorities for members of their communities. For example, 74 per cent of people in Africa identify religious leaders as the group they trust most.

  • Religious leaders shape social values and promote responsible behaviours that respect the dignity and sanctity of all life.
  • Many religious leaders are skilled and influential communicators who can reach the hearts and minds of millions of people in ways that humanitarian actors cannot.
  • Because they have more access to the family and personal spheres than most outside actors, religious leaders serve as an important conduit of communication for social change and transformation.
  • In situations of conflict, the moral influence and trust bestowed on leaders of religious communities allows them to play significant roles in mediation and reconciliation, as well as to advocate for the special protection needs of children and other particularly vulnerable members of their communities. 
  • Religious leaders provide spiritual support and stability, which can help meet people’s psychosocial needs in the face of adversity.

Extensive networks

With religious communities counting almost 5 billion members, their potential for action is great. From the smallest village to the largest city, and from districts and provinces to national and international levels, they offer a variety of networks for the care and protection of children and the safeguarding of their rights. The following are some examples of the reach of religious and inter-religious actors:

  • They are involved in the provision of social services such as education, health and socio-economic support for especially vulnerable persons. 
  • Their influence and access is particularly important at the family and community levels and generally transcends socio-economic and class barriers.
  • They have volunteer networks rich in dynamic and creative human resources. 
  • They operate diverse media and channels of communication, including newsletters, websites, radio and television. These media can facilitate advocacy efforts and reach millions of people with behaviour and social change communication.
  • In emergency situations – whether human-made or natural disasters – they are often first responders in providing emergency support at the community level.

In spite of the positive role religious communities can play, it is important to acknowledge from the outset that there are often concerns about partnering with religious communities, as very real problems and challenges exist. There are times and places in which such partnerships may not be beneficial. There may be religious actors whose approaches and practices are not in keeping with child rights principles.



 

 

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