Early childhood development
The earliest years of a child’s life are the most crucial for his or her development. With proper nutrition and health care, as well as social and emotional support and caring, children are able to thrive physically, mentally and emotionally. However, when these factors are not present and learning opportunities are inadequate to provide stimulation, development can be seriously impaired, affecting not only the future of the child but also her or his family, community and society as a whole. Poverty is the underlying cause of these situations, and early interventions that take a holistic approach in promoting the conditions that foster well-being are the most effective in breaking cycles of poverty.
Why partner with religious communities for early childhood development?
Religious leaders have access to the most intimate social unit: the family, where early childhood is shaped. They can be crucial partners in providing information, guidance and support to families of young children that can promote each child’s right to healthy development.
More concretely, religious communities can:
During emergencies children are especially vulnerable to disease, malnutrition, violence and separation from family or caregivers. Education can be disrupted through displacement and loss of infrastructure. Sexual and gender-based violence usually become more prevalent, placing children and women at particular risk of physical and emotional trauma.
The Core Commitments for Children in Humanitarian Action (CCCs) are the main policy guidelines for UNICEF’s work in crises, whether these are of a sudden or slow-onset nature, natural disasters or conflict situations.
In emergencies UNICEF works in collaboration with local and international partners to ensure comprehensive and effective delivery of humanitarian assistance that permits the diverse array of programmes necessary to address the full spectrum of children’s rights.
Why partner with religious communities in emergencies?
In emergency situations the roles of religious communities can be even more clearly advantageous in providing immediate and sustainable support to affected people.
While religious differences are used to justify and fuel conflicts, this should not be a reason to avoid engaging with religious leaders. Sensitivity and a deeper understanding of the religious as well as socio-economic and political dimensions of a conflict are essential. In these situations, inter-religious mechanisms or associations may be very effective in creating space for humanitarian assistance.
Discrimination based on gender denies children opportunities for development and the realization of their basic rights. While gender discrimination can affect boys and men, it disproportionately affects girls and women in much of the world, denying them access to education, health care, participation in governance and decision-making, and protection from violence and abuse. The impacts of discrimination extend beyond individuals to their families, communities and societies at large, preventing them from developing to their full potential. The SDGs cannot be achieved in the absence of equal outcomes for girls and boys.
UNICEF integrates gender equality into all aspects of its programming as well as into its commitments with partners at all levels. Promoting equal outcomes for girls and boys is an element of all partnerships.
Engagement with religious communities can provide rich opportunities for confronting discrimination and promoting equal outcomes for girls and boys. Tapping into the deeply held values of dignity and the sanctity of life shared by most faith traditions, religious partners can mobilize assets for change that child rights organizations would not be able to do alone.
Some considerations in promoting gender equality in working with religious communities are:
Children’s participation can play a crucial role in furthering their protection from violence. Through their participation, girls and boys can raise awareness of the violations they experience as well as positively contribute to preventing and addressing violence and abuse.
Religious communities are multi-generational and are in a unique position to encourage the participation of children by creating opportunities for them to express their thoughts, ideas and solutions for promoting and protecting their rights. Children’s participation not only facilitates their healthy development but also benefits the religious community as a whole.
This has special implications for very young children and those who have traditionally been marginalized or excluded from decision-making such as girls, children with disabilities and those from minority groups. Being given an opportunity to share their views in a meaningful way with a respected religious person can be a very empowering experience for them.
Some considerations in working with religious communities to promote meaningful child participation might include: