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Civil society partnerships

UNICEF and faith-based partners launch World Day of Prayer and Action for Children

© UNICEF/NYHQ2009-2072/Berkwitz
Dr. William Vendley, Secretary-General of Religions for Peace, makes opening remarks at an interfaith service in commemoration of the World Day of Prayer and Action for Children, held at the Tillman Chapel of the Church Centre for the United Nations.

By David Ponet

NEW YORK, USA, 18 November 2009 – As the international community prepares to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) on 20 November, UNICEF today took part in the global launch of the World Day of Prayer and Action for Children.

To mark this day, faith communities around the world are engaging in activities related to the well-being of children and the protection of their rights – values espoused by all religious traditions and enshrined in the CRC.

UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman spoke at the global launch event today in New York. She noted that religious leaders and faith-based groups have the moral standing and influence to instill a sense of global solidarity, which can help bring about positive change for children.

Prayer and action combined
Organized by two of UNICEF key faith-based partners – the Arigatou Foundation and Religions for Peace – this new initiative aims to unite people of goodwill from many religious traditions, governments, civil society and international organizations in the name of children’s rights.

Going forward, the World Day of Prayer and Action for Children will set aside a specific day every year for people of all religious traditions to rededicate themselves to promoting child rights through prayer and tangible, measurable action.

© UNICEF/NYHQ2009-2071/Berkwitz
UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman speaks at the UN event marking the launch of the World Day of Prayer and Action for Children.

What makes this day unique, in fact, is its emphasis on both prayer and action to make a difference in children’s lives. The actions may be as diverse as are the needs of children – from immunizing them against infectious diseases to combating hunger and malnutrition to advocating against harmful traditional practices and promoting girls’ education.

Shared principles
The principles of justice, humanity and dignity articulated throughout the CRC reflect deeply held values found in major religious traditions. Among these shared values are:

  • A fundamental belief in the dignity of the child
  • The high priority given to children, as well as the idea that all members of society have responsibilities towards them
  • A holistic notion of the child and a comprehensive understanding of his or her material, emotional and spiritual needs
  • The importance given to family as the best place for the upbringing of the child.

From the smallest village to the biggest city – and on to the national and transnational levels – religious communities offer a large and enduring network for the care and protection of children. And with their moral authority, religious leaders are able to change mindsets and set priorities for their communities. Working with partners in the public and private sectors, they can help deliver the services that children need in order to thrive.

© Baha'i Botswana/2009
At a class for students of the Baha’i faith in Botswana, children use guides developed by UNICEF in partnership with faith-based organizations.

UNICEF’s partnerships with faith-based groups date back to the 1980s, when the agency launched a ‘child survival revolution’ worldwide. Since then, UNICEF and religious groups have been acting together as advocates for children on a wide variety of issues, including commercial sexual exploitation, HIV/AIDs awareness, female genital mutilation/cutting and access to education for abused children.

Humanity’s best hope

The World Day of Prayer and Action for Children recognizes the power of partnerships to safeguard child rights. Across the globe, UNICEF country and regional offices are participating in events to mark the day. For example:

  • In Gambia, UNICEF is working with the Supreme Islamic Council and the Gambian Christian Council to focus prayers on maternal health and child survival at the closing session of an all-Africa ministerial meeting on women’s issues
  • In Sri Lanka, hundreds of children gathered with religious leaders for a keynote address by UNICEF’s Regional Director
  • In Jordan, imams will deliver sermons on eliminating violence in schools
  • In Mauritania, UNICEF and the Ministry of Childhood are coordinating with the country’s mosques to address children’s issues during Friday prayers
  • And in Botswana, UNICEF is launching resource guides on children’s rights, developed with religious organizations.

At the heart of every religious tradition is the insight that children are humanity’s best hope. The World Day of Prayer and Action for Children offers a unique opportunity not only to celebrate this common conviction, but also to harness global solidarity towards a brighter future for all children.



CRC @ 20

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