Religious leaders in Iran pledge to advocate for non-violent disciplining
October 19-20 2011, Qom, Iran- Approximately one hundred influential religious leaders from various faiths and religions, experts, intellectuals, and policy-makers came together to debate on the country’s achievements and constraints in combating Violence against Children, with a focus on corporal punishment in family and educational settings. The event was supported by UNICEF Iran in close collaboration with the Iranian Judiciary and the Centre for Human Rights Studies of Mofid University, situated in the holy city of Qom. Present among the participants were also two international guests: a law professor from the University of Winchester, United Kingdom, and an official from the Ministry of Hajj and Religious Affairs of Afghanistan.
The first of its kind in Iran, this national inter-religious conference aimed to sensitize religious leaders and communities on issues pertaining to corporal punishment, and to highlight the important role religious leaders can play in overcoming this phenomenon in family and educational settings.
The conference began with a message from Grand Ayatollah Mousavi Ardebili, Chancellor of Mofid University and an influential member of the Iranian religious community, in which he proclaimed: “Children and adolescents are among those groups of any society that require extra effort and attention for the fulfillment of their material and spiritual needs. One of their most fundamental and vital needs is to grow and to develop in a safe environment filled with kindness, a healthy environment which is free of violence and abuse.”
At the opening ceremony, high-ranking representatives of the various religions in Iran, including Ayatollah Seyed Ahmad Beheshti, a leading Shi’a religious leader and head of Qom University, Archbishop Serkisian, representative of the Armenians of Tehran and north Iran, and Magus Rashid Khorshidian, from the Zoroastrian Society of Magi, delivered keynote speeches. “Religion can be summarized in kindness. With violence and abuse one cannot solve any problems. A child cannot be disciplined in this way.” said Ayatollah Beheshti.
“We should always remember that life, especially disciplining a child, is an art and we should treat our children in an artistic manner” said Magus Khorshidian.
Ms. Anna Riatti, Deputy Representative of UNICEF Iran, touched upon the global dimensions of violence against children and highlighted the critical role of religious leaders in preventing and eliminating violence against children and helping to transform children’s lives. “ Religious leaders have influence and opportunities to create greater awareness of the devastating impact of violence against children and are uniquely placed to play an active part towards changing attitudes and eliminating all forms of violence and humiliating treatment of children” said Ms. Riatti.
Following the opening ceremony, participants took part in working group discussions to compare international legal frameworks (Convention on Rights of the Child) with Islamic jurisprudence and national legislation, and to identify mechanisms through which religious leaders can bring these approaches to child rights closer together through emphasis on common points.
The conference received extensive media coverage. The message of Grand Ayatollah Mousavi Ardebili calling on the religious community to combat violence against children, which was read out at the opening ceremony of the event, was printed in major national newspapers.
A key output of the event was a declaration that commits the participating religious leaders to advocacy against violence against children and non-violent disciplining. The declaration also provides key recommendations for actions by religious leaders and other stakeholders to confront violence against children and protect children in their communities. Shortly after the conference, the declaration was presented to, and endorsed by, two highly influential religious leaders. In addition, a secretariat has been established in the Centre for Human Rights Studies of Mofid University, to ensure appropriate and timely action on key recommendations of the declaration.
Due to the enthusiastic reaction of government officials, religious leaders, and experts to this event, it was proposed by UNICEF Iran’s partners that the conference be held on an annual or biennial basis, focusing each time on a particular dimension of violence against children.
UNICEF Iran has in recent years collaborated successfully with religious institutions to support both academic analyses of the different articles of the Convention on the Rights of the Child from an Islamic perspective, and practical efforts for the promotion of values and behaviours that protect children from harm. These initiatives include, among others, development and dissemination of an advocacy package for religious leaders on Violence against Children, and development of a resource book titled “The Rights of the Child: A Comparative Study of Islam and International Instruments”.