World Day of Prayer and Action for Children (DPAC): Religious leaders promoting exclusive breastfeeding
Nineteen UNICEF country offices participated in the World Day of Prayer and Action for Children (DPAC) initiative in 2010 that mobilized religious communities around a common agenda for maternal health and child survival, with a focus on exclusive breastfeeding. In Algeria, for example, sermons in the country’s 15,000 mosques focused on children’s rights and the importance of breastfeeding; in the Democratic Republic of Congo, four of the main religious groups, which have a combined network of nearly 30 million people, led week-long campaigns on the importance of key family health practices such as breastfeeding and immunization.
In Madagascar UNICEF found that religious and community leaders, as well as local radio stations (including young reporters’ clubs), were strategic in mobilizing communities for child rights, including the provision of services such as screening children for malnutrition and child protection.
In 2009 UNICEF Kyrgyzstan conducted orientation meetings with religious figures and other representatives from all levels of state structures for a nutritional programme aimed at fortifying complementary food for children aged 6–24 months.
UNICEF in Algeria advocates with the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Waqfs to encourage the active participation of religious leaders in promoting and supporting breastfeeding.
North Darfur (Sudan)
UNICEF began working with imams in North Darfur (Sudan) in 2009 to promote breastfeeding and other aspects of infant and early childhood nutrition. After receiving training, over 100 imams began including information about the importance of breastfeeding in the first two years of a child’s life in their worship services. Many imams would reference the Qur’an and other Islamic teaching. As their audience was male, they also incorporated messages about the importance of caring for wives and children. The success of the programme has been indicated by a significant increase in the number of children being brought into centres for nutrition assessments and supplemental treatment. Women reported that the messages from the imams were the reason for their changes in behaviour.