UNICEF partnership with religious leaders in Georgia to promote child rights

Inter-religious conference on child rights organized in Tbilisi

UNICEF Georgia
Inter-Religious Conference
UNICEF/GEO-2020/Blagonravova

13 February 2020

UNICEF and the State Agency of Georgia for Religious Issues continue to work within their recently forged formal partnership with religious leaders to promote and protect child rights in Georgia.

The most recent manifestation of the bilateral partnership was a conference dedicated to the 30th anniversary of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. The event took place on February 3 at the National Parliamentary Library of Georgia in Tbilisi and featured the attendance of religious leaders from a broad spectrum of denominations alongside representatives of diplomatic missions, international organizations, government agencies, civil society and the media.

Issues raised and highlighted at the conference included the Convention on the Rights of the Child 30 years on, achievements and challenges in Georgia vis-à-vis the Convention, the Code on the Rights of the Child in Georgia and its recent adoption, children’s rights from the perspective of various religious leaders and the role of religious leaders in protecting and promoting child rights.

Ghassan Khalil on inter-religious conference
UNICEF/GEO-2020/Blagonravova

The conference was opened by Zaza Vashakmadze, Head of the State Agency for Religious Issues, who briefly discussed the progress and achievements attained through the formalized partnership between the agency and UNICEF, beginning with the signing of a memorandum of cooperation in September 2019, the successful and ongoing implementation of a number of training sessions and workshops for religious leaders on the rights of the child and the continued support of the action on the part of the Human Rights and Civil Integration Committee of the Parliament of Georgia.

“We value our partnership with religious leaders and we want to make sure it brings tangible results for children”

Dr Ghassan Khalil

“We value our partnership with religious leaders and we want to make sure it brings tangible results for children,” said Dr Ghassan Khalil, UNICEF Representative in Georgia, in his opening words at the conference. “We have initiated an open and mutually respectful dialogue with all religious denominations to mobilize their influence to promote child rights and end rights violations in their communities. What we have seen through the seminars is very encouraging. UNICEF will continue strengthening this partnership with religious denominations in the best interests of children in Georgia. Religious leaders are very close to their communities, to families and they can make a change.”

Four seminars, with the participation of more than 100 Orthodox Christian priests, Muslim muftis and imams, as well as representatives of the Lutheran Church in Georgia have been organized so far by UNICEF and more sessions are planned for 2020.

Inter-Religious Conference
UNICEF/GEO-2020/Blagonravova

Sophio Kiladze, Chairperson of the Human Rights and Civil Integration Committee of the Parliament of Georgia, also underlined the importance and the success of the partnership for children’s rights. “It is impossible to discuss child rights in Georgia without the involvement of religious leaders,” she said in her opening words at the conference, “and so we asked you to be a part in our work on drafting the Code on the Rights of the Child. We received great support from the Georgian Orthodox Church in our work. We also received support from other religious representatives. We attach tremendous importance to UNICEF’s activities in Georgia as well as those of the State Agency for Religious Issues. I will be very happy if our cooperation becomes even stronger.”

The initiative to work with religious leaders to promote and protect child rights in Georgia was also underlined and lauded at the conference by the religious leaders themselves.

“The Georgian Orthodox Church and UNICEF are working in tandem to promote child rights.”

Fr Giorgi Pirtskhelani

“The Georgian Orthodox Church and UNICEF are working in tandem to promote child rights,” said Fr Giorgi Pirtskhelani, Head of the Youth Direction of the Public Relations Unit of the Georgian Orthodox Patriarchy. “At the same time, we value the important cooperation with all religious denominations. The UNICEF seminars have been a great help to our religious representatives working in the country and we will continue our collaboration.”  

“The seminars for our religious leaders in Batumi were extremely impressive,” said Adam Shantadze, Mufti from the Administration of All Muslims of Georgia. “We think that free, intelligent, spiritually well-nurtured future generations will save our country.”

“We, as religious communities, are obliged to protect the rights of the child,” said Bishop Markus Schoch from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Georgia and the South Caucasus. “Trainings for Sunday School and youth leaders on issues like sexual abuse and violence would be very useful.”

Projected engagement of UNICEF and the State Agency for Religious Issues in cooperation with religious leaders to promote child rights in Georgia comprises further trainings, signing the Declaration on the Rights of the Child by all religious denominations and the publication of a collection of written works on how child rights are perceived in different religions.