Keeping child rights and related areas of programming as the point of reference for partnership can help to avoid tensions and potential pitfalls that can arise from incompatible goals or competing agendas. The 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights”. This understanding is also reflected in the principle of non-discrimination that appears in the Convention on the Rights of the Child (article 2).
Religious communities offer many social, spiritual and material assets to a strategic partnership with child rights organizations that can enhance both partners’ work to address the needs of the most vulnerable children and families. Partner assessment and selection should prioritize those contributions that religious actors can make to child rights programming because of who they are. At the same time, some religious groups have raised concerns about the child rights agenda, such as that it erodes or competes with the rights of parents to raise their children as they wish. An important starting point is to learn how potential religious partners understand and relate to fundamental child rights principles through the following steps:
In trying to understand religious value systems, it is very important to consider that religion is one component of a dynamic interaction between social and other cultural factors. Attitudes and behaviours that are understood to be religious in nature are often more characteristic of other social and cultural norms. These distinctions, while nuanced, can be very significant when addressing child rights concerns that are associated with religious values but may actually be grounded in cultural values that religious actors can challenge and help to change.
There will, inevitably, be areas of work in which there is lack of agreement about particular approaches. One example, as mentioned earlier, is that condom distribution as an HIV-transmission prevention activity may not be supported by some religious communities. It may be possible to disagree on such an issue and still be able to work together on areas of common concern – for example, promoting HIV testing, addressing discrimination against children affected by HIV and/or providing care and support for orphans and other vulnerable children. Agreeing to disagree should, moreover, be done with mutual respect and the avoidance of actions to disparage each other. In addition, it is important to keep the door open for dialogue even where there is no active partnership.
However, there may be instances where disagreements focus on issues that are at the core of each actor’s mandate and values, making partnership undesirable if not impossible. From a rights-based perspective, this would include any practice or approach that infringes on basic child and human rights. For example, it would be unacceptable to work with a faith-based organization that pressured aid recipients to convert or made any aid conditional on religious views or practices. This is different to child rights organizations working with religious actors to promote child rights issues within their own faith communities. An example of this might be providing information and support to religious leaders to develop messaging for use in services for their congregations on the importance of caring for children as reflected in their holy texts.