|At a demobilization ceremony in Sudan, adolescent boys walk away from the weapons they once carried as child soldiers. Children’s involvement in armed conflict is one of the concerns to be addressed at the Religions for Peace Youth Assembly in Japan.|
By Sabine Dolan
NEW YORK, USA, 21 August 2006 – More than 300 young religious leaders from countries around the globe have gathered in Japan this week to promote peace and reconciliation.
Known as the ‘Religions for Peace’ Youth Assembly, the event is part of the Religions for Peace Eighth World Assembly, a one-week summit of the world’s religious communities that opened today in Hiroshima and ends later this week in Kyoto.
Under this year’s theme, ‘Confronting Violence and Advancing Shared Security’, the assembly will address issues such as transforming conflict, building peace and advancing sustainable development. During the conference, young leaders representing diverse traditions will discuss the unique role of religious youth in preventing violence.
UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman will attend the event later this week to underline the agency’s recognition of faith communities as solid partners for the fulfilment of UNICEF’s mandate.
|Logo of Religions for Peace, the global coalition whose youth assembly is bringing together more than 300 young religious leaders on 21-23 August in Hiroshima, Japan, before moving on to Kyoto on 24-25 August.|
A platform for action
Among the delegates to the assembly is activist Ishmael Beah, 26, who was recruited to fight as a child soldier in Sierra Leone at the age of 13, after his parents and two brothers were killed. Young Ishmael fought in the country’s civil war for almost three years before he was released and placed in a rehabilitation home with help from UNICEF. In 1998, he came to live with a family in New York City.
“I don't think anyone should use children in war, because if you are doing it, then you're basically destroying the future of a nation or the future of the whole world,” said Mr. Beah, who participated in today’s opening ceremony.
“I want to be able to influence more young people so they can take action,” Mr. Beah explained, adding that he had never given up hope during his own ordeal as a child caught in war. If anyone had told him then that he would be attending such an assembly today, “I would never believe them,” he said.
For delegates like Mr. Beah, the Religions for Peace Youth Assembly provides a platform to advance cooperation among faiths and build partnerships that can protect children from violence and conflict.
Delegates attending the Religions for Peace meetings in Japan include representatives of the Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jain, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh, Shinto, Zoroastrian and Indigenous spiritual traditions.