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Religious leaders can play strong role in promoting child rights, UNICEF Representative says at human rights conference

Qom, 13 May 2009 – Faith-based organizations have the potential to make a dramatic and positive difference in the lives of children, Paul Hulshoff, UNICEF’s Representative in Iran, said at a two-day international conference on peace, human rights and religion at Mofid University that ended in Qom today.

“Considering the important role and standing of Iran’s religious leaders, UNICEF will continue to seek their collaboration, support and guidance to further promote children’s rights and well-being and protect children against abuse and harm,” he said.

Introducing a panel of speakers focusing on the issue of peace, women and children, Mr Hulshoff reminded the audience that the concerns of children in the context of peace, human rights and ongoing global challenges such as food security and climate change were often overlooked.

“Let us remember that currently the population of the world’s less developed regions and Middle Income Countries consists in majority of young people, with children under 18 years accounting for roughly 40 per cent of the population. Simply the force of these numbers alone poses major challenges in meeting the critical needs of the countries’ youngest population groups,” he said.

The conference, held by Mofid University’s Centre for Human Rights Studies in cooperation with the United Nations Development Programme in Iran, takes place every two years in the city of Qom, Iran’s centre of religious studies. The event received financial support from UNICEF’s country office in Iran through an exclusive panel on children.

In his address, the UNICEF Iran Representative spoke about the situation of child rights in the context of conflict as well as peace. Referring to the most recent report by the United Nations Secretary General on children and armed conflict, he reflected on the continuing violation of child rights around the globe and the threats on their lives, health and well-being many children are still subject to.

“Let’s not forget: they are not only the unintended victims of war, they are in some cases directly targeted. And they always remain the victims of the wars of adults,” Mr Hulshoff said.

However, in times of peace also, much more can be done to protect children from harm, let their voices be heard and are given meaningful opportunities to help shape the environment in which they live.

 “For too many children, of all ages and from all social backgrounds, religions and cultures, violence forms part of their everyday experience of growing up, often in silence and unreported, often socially accepted and condoned. We cannot truly speak of peaceful societies when children’s exposure to violence continues unabated,” the UNICEF Iran Representative said.

Recalling the 2006 Kyoto Declaration by the Eight World Assembly of the World Conference on Religions for Peace, he said the role of religious leaders was paramount in creating greater awareness of the profound impact of violence against children and suggest ways for cultural sensitive and effective action. 

In closing his speech, Mr Hulshoff reminded the audience that this year marks both the 20th Anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the 10th anniversary of the adoption of the Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict, key documents for the protection of children.

“I appeal to all of you to build on this momentum and to do even more to protect the rights of children,” he concluded.

The other speakers at the UNICEF panel included Dr. Saeed Rahaee, a committee member of the centre for human rights studies at Mofid University and a former member of the national committee of bio-ethics of UNESCO and head of the jurisprudence research department at the office of Grand Ayatollah Ardebili, his Excellency Ayatollah Mohammad Moosavi Bojnourdi ,a distinguished religious scholar who has been continuously supporting UNICEF in child rights advocacy, Dr. Mohammad Mattar, the Executive Director of The Protection Project at The Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies with extensive experience on human trafficking, Dr. Maryam Mohaghegh-Damad, lawyer and instructor at Mofid University and Imam Sadeq University, and Nabila Ayoubi (the adolescent participant introduced by APCL, one of UNICEF counterparts. Mr Hulshoff’s speech, as well as those of the other panel members, will be made available in English and Farsi at




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