|UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence against Children Marta Santos Pais addresses participants in the religious leaders' roundtable hosted by UNICEF. Beside her is Religions for Peace Secretary-General Dr. William F. Vendley.|
By Branwyn Lancourt
NEW YORK, USA, 4 November 2010 – On a chilly, downcast November afternoon earlier this week, distinguished religious leaders from the Executive Committee of Religions for Peace, an international, multi-religious coalition, convened at UNICEF headquarters in New York for a decidedly uplifting purpose: to discuss the important role that religious communities can play in eliminating all forms of violence against children around the world.
Also taking part in this special roundtable discussion were the UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence against Children, Marta Santos Pais, UNICEF Chief of Child Protection Susan Bissell and UNICEF Chief of Civil Society Partnerships Liza Barrie.
The event’s moderator, Dr. William F. Vendley, Secretary-General of Religions for Peace, began the conversation by highlighting the idea that the well-being of the child is at the heart of what it means to be a religious leader.
"Our common voice resounds despite differences in our backgrounds and traditions," he said. "The child is more than just a legal entity. We have a duty as religious people to place the rights of children at the centre of our lens and must be firmly committed to their inestimable worth."
A crucial role
Ms. Santos Pais reminded the group of its crucial role in promoting respect for the dignity of the child in all regions, in times of peace and in times of war.
|Archdiocese of Abuja Archbishop John O. Onaiyekan, Co-Moderator of the African Council of Religious Leaders, addresses the UNICEF-hosted roundtable on ending violence against children.|
"You command extraordinary moral authority, foster dialogue and help to bridge differences, influence thinking and behaviour change,” said Ms. Santos Pais. She expressed her hope and expectation that – with the “influential voice and support” of religious leaders – “the principle that no religious teaching or tradition may justify any form of violence against children can become truly universal and irreversible."
Ms. Santos Pais added that support from religious communities will bring universal ratification of the Optional Protocols to the Convention on the Rights of the Child – which provide legal protection against the sale of children, child prostitution, child pornography and the involvement of children in armed conflict – well within reach.
Ms. Bissell underlined the critical role that religion and religious leaders can play in promoting the fulfilment of child rights and creating safe and protective environments for children.
"With almost 5 billion people belonging to religious communities, your capacities for action are substantial,” she said. “From the smallest village to the largest city, religious communities create and sustain large networks for the care and protection of children."
|A participant in the roundtable discussion on ending violence against children holds a copy of the joint UNICEF-Religions for Peace publication, ‘From Commitment to Action: What Religious Communities Can Do to Eliminate Violence Against Children.’|
UNICEF has a long history of working with communities of all faiths on issues that affect children worldwide. Most recently, Religions for Peace and UNICEF jointly issued the publication, 'From Commitment to Action: What Religious Communities Can Do to Eliminate Violence against Children.’ Produced with input from religious leaders and child-protection specialists, it is a guide for religious communities' work to promote child rights, and to prevent and respond to rights violations – in particular, violence against children.
The partnership between UNICEF and Religions for Peace includes country-level projects to strengthen the capacity of religious communities, including multi-religious mechanisms, that protect children affected by conflict. In his remarks, Bishop Gunnar J. Stalsett of Norway called this type of work “faith translated into action” and emphasized the point that “goals need to be simplified to facilitate concrete results.”
Commitment to action
Archbishop John O. Onaiyekan of Nigeria emphasized the need for results at the family level, as well. “Educating families on non-violent ways of disciplining their children is a clear way to effect direct change. This is where a shared message between UNICEF and religious leaders can make a solid impact,” he said.
In a statement released by the International Executive Committee of Religions for Peace in advance of the roundtable discussion, the group outlined the many ways in which it has demonstrated its commitment to action on behalf of the world’s children. The statement highlights education as an essential part of that commitment.
As the roundtable drew to a close, the religious leaders asserted their resolve to continue their efforts for children. Participants emphatically declared that they would carry forward their shared principles on child protection and children's rights, and steadfastly endeavor to turn these beliefs into action.