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Civil society partnerships

Religious tradition: children and non-violence

Non-violence in thought, word and deed is an essential feature of Buddhist morality. Buddhism is concerned with the welfare of all beings; if everyone develops compassion, mutual respect and loving kindness, children will not be ill-treated. The Buddha’s advice to parents is to support children to become generous, compassionate and responsible. In the Buddhist view, true compassion has the power to uproot the causes of misery and suffering in people’s lives and direct them to happiness.

Christians believe human beings are created in the image and likeness of God and look to the example of Jesus to live their lives. Jesus treated the vulnerable with love and compassion. The recorded interactions between Jesus and children demonstrate kindness and respect, and his reported words about causing children to stumble (Matthew 18:6), and the consequences for doing so, are among the strongest in the New Testament. When Jesus set a little child in the midst of the disciples and said, “the kingdom of God belongs to such as these” (Mark 10:14), he demonstrated enormous regard for children. By blessing and laying his hands on children, Jesus gave them status and dignity (Mark 10:16).

The traditional culture of a large portion of humanity has been shaped by Confucian principles of conduct. Although externally strict regarding obligations among members of society – especially with one’s elders – these are based on deep harmony of the part with the whole. The family, as one of the smaller wholes, mirrors the harmony of the cosmos when all its members behave with respect, compassion and love toward each other. The Confucian philosopher Mencius states that everyone has a heart that “can’t bear to see others suffer” (Mencius 1.6) and illustrates this principle with the example of no one being able to bear the sight of a young child being thrown down a well.

According to the Hindu Vedas, one should never commit violence against another living being, as all beings have an inherently divine nature. For Hindus, children are viewed as a precious gift, and sometimes as a relative from a previous lifetime and incarnation. One of the most popular depictions of the Hindu deity Krishna is of Krishna as a mischievous child, illustrating that it is possible to know the divine through a relationship with one's children.

Islam views human life as a sacred gift from God. The Qur’an repeatedly stresses the sanctity of life (hurmat al hayat). The life of every individual – regardless of gender, age, nationality or religion – is worthy of respect. There is no distinction made between young and old, male or female. Corporal punishment and other forms of humiliating treatment of children conflict directly with the advice of the Prophet, which recommends treating those who are under the age of seven as children (employing tenderness and compassion), those from age seven to fourteen with care and concern and those from fourteen onwards as close friends (with trust and cooperation). The Prophet emphasized: “Be generous, kind and noble to your children and make their manners good and beautiful.”

Jainism is a religion whose moral tradition is focused on non-violence, respecting the life of all beings, with the goal of complete non-violence in action, speech and the Jains believe in “showering love and respect towards all living beings”. The Lord Mahavir added the vow of non-violence to those followed by monks and nuns: “Know that violence is the cause of all miseries in the world. Violence is in fact the knot of bondage. Do not injure any living thing.”

The birth of a Jewish child is welcomed with words of blessing Baruch haba, B’ruchah haba’ah (Blessed be the one who arrives). The Talmud cautions parents against generating fear in children, citing the story of a child who died of such fear (Semakhot 2:5-6). Prayers of blessing for one’s children for parents returning from worship are enjoined in the Siddur, or prayer book. Children are to be raised in a climate promoting tzedek (fairness) and kevod (respect), and are to engage in the performance of mizvoh (good deeds). The Babylonian Talmud comments: “Jews are compassionate children of compassionate parents” (Betzah 32a).

Source: Adapted from UNICEF and Religions for Peace, ‘From Commitment to Action: What religious communities can do to eliminate violence against children’, New York, 2010, p.5.  Additional feedback was provided by Varun Soni, Dean of Religious Life, University of Southern California, and Jeff Israel, New School University



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