In addition to the benefits that the structures and systems of religious communities bring to child rights efforts, it is important to understand the role that faith and spirituality play in the lives of children. Four articles of the Convention on the Rights of the Child explicitly recognize the ‘spiritual’ as an element of holistic child development, along with social and moral well-being, cultural development and physical and mental health (articles 17, 23(3), 27(1) and 32(1)).
Whether or not they are members of established religious communities, all children have a sense of awe and wonder that can lead them to connect with and derive meaning from the world around them, including the natural environment. As children develop, these innate sensibilities begin to be shaped more formally, primarily by the family and then by their broader communities. Religion often influences them through the social and cultural institutions in which they participate.
“The mosque, church or temple often provides children’s first point of contact with the community beyond their immediate neighbours and with wider social institutions. There, children learn not only religion but also important lessons about morals, social behaviour and their own value as human beings. They also learn subtle messages about whether the world is a safe place, how to be a good person, and what their responsibilities are as members of a religious group. Their developing religious identity becomes part of the wider, collective identity that binds children and adults together into a people having a sense of collective meaning and place in the world.” *
The profound influence that spirituality and religion can have on children’s development and socialization offers the potential to reinforce protective influences and promote resilience. The beliefs, practices, social networks and resources of religion can strengthen children by instilling hope, by giving meaning to difficult experiences and by providing emotional, physical and spiritual support. When child rights efforts are grounded in the protective aspects of religious beliefs and practices and a community that encourages and enriches the spiritual and religious life of each child, the impact can be far-reaching and sustained.
*Wessells, Michael and Alison Strang, 'Religion as Resource and Risk: The double-edged sword for children in situations of armed conflicts', in A World Turned Upside Down: Social ecological approaches to children in war zones, edited by Nil Boothb et al., Kumarian Press, Bloomfield, CT, 2006, P.205.