As part of the Day of Prayer and Action for Children, the Bishop of Dili in Timor-Leste along with children and special guests gathered in front of the cathedral to release colourful balloons to signify hope for a better protective environment for children.
By Stephen Hanmer and Clara Sommarin
NEW YORK, USA, 29, November 2011—Mohamed, a 15-year-old in Mauritania, used to be frightened to go to his Madrassa (Qur’anic school) because he was regularly hit by the teacher. “It upset me a lot… sometimes I was beaten up badly,” he said.
But now, Mohamed likes attending school and enjoys learning thanks to a ground-breaking fatwa (religious decree) issued two years ago forbidding violence against children. Previously, corporal punishment of children had been widespread in both Madrassas and non-religiously affiliated primary schools.
Reducing corporal punishment
The fatwa was the result of a study conducted by a prominent network of Imams with support from UNICEF which examined the Qur’an and other Islamic texts and found no justification for corporal punishment. The fatwa has been distributed to more than 2,000 schools and religious centres and supported by awareness-raising workshops.
“Those in charge of the Madrassas who read the fatwa acknowledged that its content was in full agreement with the teachings of Islam,” said Imam Hademine Ould Saleck. “Some teachers admitted they were mistreating children and most agreed to stop beating them.”
The fatwa was recently highlighted at a ceremony presided over by the Minister of Social Affairs and the UNICEF Representative to commemorate the third annual World Day of Prayer and Action for Children. Awareness-raising sessions that focused on further reducing corporal punishment were also held in the different regions of the country.
VIDEO: UNICEF reports on the efforts to fight violence against children at schools in Mauritania.
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‘Violence does not discriminate’
Similar events took place around the globe to celebrate the World Day of Prayer and Action for Children, which has a new three-year theme: Stop Violence against Children. The campaign will mobilize faith-based and secular organizations to protect children from all kinds of violence.
The day is observed on 20 November to coincide with Universal Children’s Day and the anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. UNICEF supported activities in 37 countries and worked with religious communities to reach out across their vast networks and encourage their congregations to eliminate violence against children.
“Violence does not discriminate,” said Anthony Lake, UNICEF Executive Director. “It cuts across race, religion, class and culture.”
Prayer and action
One of the most important ways mothers and fathers can help their children is by practicing positive parenting. Parents play a critical role in providing the on-going care and support children need in order to survive and thrive and in guiding their development and behaviour; this can be done without resorting to violent discipline, which not only harms the child but is also ineffective.
Another key step to protect children is birth registration. This simple act establishes their existence under law and provides the foundation for safeguarding many of their civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights. Unregistered children may face challenges in accessing health care, education and social assistance. They are the first to fall through the cracks in protection systems, and there is a risk that violations of their rights will go unnoticed.
On 20 November 2011, Catholic Archbishop Jose Domingo Ulloa conducted a nationally televised mass on the importance of a violence-free early childhood in Panama.
The third most important focus of the World Day is child marriage, which affects girls disproportionately. Child brides are at greater risk of violence, abuse and exploitation and their health can be compromised due to early pregnancy. A multi-faceted approach and a long-term commitment to changing attitudes and behaviour is the need of the hour.
“To end such violence, we need to work together – across religious faiths, across political parties, across all boundaries – to raise awareness, to reach out in our communities and to strengthen systems that protect children,” said Mr. Lake. “Let it begin with a prayer and end in action.”
Building on its long history of working with religious communities from all faiths on issues that affect children, UNICEF supported activities in 37 countries for the 2011 World Day of Prayer and Action for Children, including the following:
Afghanistan- The Ministry of Religious Affairs conducted radio and television interviews with mullahs, other broadcasters provided child-friendly information about children’s rights, and mullahs used Friday prayers to highlight messages on violence against children.
Nigeria- A national workshop with key religious leaders engaged them as advocates for universal birth registration. Their effectiveness will be assessed through regular on-site reporting using Rapid SMS technology.
Panama - The Roman Catholic Archbishop of Panama celebrated a nationally televised mass on the importance of a violence-free early childhood. Various other religious communities also celebrated the Day of Prayer and Action for Children during their different religious ceremonies, while the First Lady led an event with children in a park in central Panama City.
South Sudan-The Supreme Council of Imams of South Sudan and the Sudan Council of Churches urged the government, community leaders and all citizens to protect children.
Timor-Leste- A televised address by the President and a Mass at Dili Cathedral led by the Bishop focused on the critical role of religious communities in protecting children from violence.
Uganda- Religious leaders shared messages related to the theme of ‘Zero Violence against Children’ with their congregations through their radio shows and a prayer breakfast organized in partnership the government and religious and cultural leaders.
Learn more about UNICEF-supported activities in this global partnership with religious leaders and groups.