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Sharing common goals: UNICEF, faith-based organizations and children

For over 20 years the Catholic Church and UNICEF have worked together to limit the extreme and absolute poverty on boys and girls in Latin America and the Caribbean. To read more, see the Publications link box on the right.

"Religion plays a central, integrating role in social and cultural life in most developing countries… there are many more religious leaders than health workers. They are in closer and regular contact with all age groups in society and their voice is highly respected. In traditional communities, religious leaders are often more influential than local government officials or secular community leaders." (Religious Leaders as Health Communicators. New York, NY: UNICEF, 1995)

Faith-based organizations and religious groups have become important partners in UNICEF's work with children across the globe. In developing countries, UNICEF works very closely with religious communities - ranging from those of the Buddhist and Islamic faith to several denominations within the Christian faith - whose tenets of religion include an interest in the health and wellbeing of people, and particularly of children.

Worldwide, UNICEF and religious groups are acting together as advocates for children on a wide range of programmes addressing children's rights, including:

  • Educational projects for out-of-school and abused children.
  • Fundraising for assistance to children in difficult circumstances.
  • Advocacy and education for HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention.
  • Combating sexual commercial exploitation of children and child labour.
  • Best possible health care for children.
  • Engagement of religious leaders in advocacy for child rights.
  • Integration of child rights promotion and child protection into social action programmes led by churches and religious groups.
Through its Regional Buddhist Leadership Initiative, UNICEF has helped the Buddhist response to HIV/AIDS prevention and care in the Mekong subregion to grow

In Latin America

UNICEF and Latin American Episcopal Conference (CELAM) have jointed forces to carry out different programs directed at protecting the social rights of children and adolescents and their families in Latin America and the Caribbean for over 20 years.  From the Dominican Republic to to Guatamala to Brazil, UNICEF and CELAM has focussed on five areas: Survival and child development; promotion and defense of children’s rights; education for peace, democracy and development; preventive education in risk situations; pastoral / Ministry to persons living with HIV/AIDS.  Read more.


The Diocese  of North Eastern Caribbean and Aruba (Anglican Church) created a youth telephone hotline aimed at providing a supportive youth friendlyservice for youth and adolescents in times of crisis, giving factual information on HIV/AIDS and other issues affecting this cohort, and providing a confidential network referral service to social service organizations. Trained youth volunteers operate the hotline on a daily basis.


UNICEF and several dioceses work together to improve the living conditions of the civil population affected by the country´s internal strife.  A rights-based approach is used to focus on three basic areas: basic education, primary health care and psychosocial attention. Since January 2001 to the date, a total of approximately 1,000 children under the age of five, 5,900 children between the ages 5 to 14 and 150 pregnant women, received primary health care services.  Furthermore, 2,300 members of displaced families and 200 teachers received training in early pregnancy and vector borne transmitted infections.  Also in the area of education 4,000 school-aged children in 22 primary schools, were targeted within the primary education component.


The Archdiocese of Guayas  and UNICEF work together promoting breast feeding, growth monitoring, complementary diet, and the consumption of iron and vitamin A foods.  UNICEF and the Catholic Church are also working  together to reduce anaemia in pregnant women caused by iron deficiency, and to improve the quality of the nutritional services provided by the Catholic Church health centers and the quality of child care within the

El Salvador

The Poligono Industrial Don Bosco, directed by a salesian priest has turned into an important answer to the lack of options in adolescent crime prevention.  UNICEF advises Minor Judges to use the Poligono as an alternative to semi-confinement for youngsters deprived of their freedom.  UNICEF strengthened the Poligono capacity and provides financial aid to youngsters in conflict with the law, providing education, technical training, psycological follow-up, sports and housing inside the Poligono premises.


Since 2000 a group of organized communities related to the San Carlos CARITAS Diocesan, promote and improve holistic development of children and adolescents, and empower the State of Cojedes citizens using the rights of the child.  Currently the Matrix Protection Community Counsel has been installed, and ten more are in process.

In Europe


Through its Facts for Life programme, UNICEF makes available life-saving knowledge on the prevention of child deaths and diseases and the protection of women during pregnancy and childbirth. In Turkey, UNICEF has collaborated for several years with 'imams' - respected religious leaders of the Muslim faith who officiate the traditional Friday prayers - to disseminate these important Facts for Life. Imams have been trained to convey crucial information to parents and caregivers in areas such as health, education, agriculture and hygiene.

In East Asia and the Pacific


UNICEF Manila and the National Council of Churches in the Philippines - composed of eleven major Protestant religious denominations - are working together on the 'Child-Friendly Local Church Communities' (CFLCC) initiative. The CFLCC has published bible-based study guides on children's rights and promotes the development of children's ministry in Manila.

In other initiatives, numerous parish priests and evangelical ministers are integrating child rights in their Sunday homilies and religious outreach in villages, communities and churches.

The Regional Buddhist Leadership Initiative - Through its Regional Buddhist Leadership Initiative, UNICEF has involved a growing number of Buddhist monks, nuns and lay teachers, in the Mekong subregion and as far away as Bhutan, in the Buddhist response to HIV/AIDS prevention and care. What began as a small number of committed monks and nuns has grown into an outstanding outreach programme. Buddhist leaders are employing ideas and skills they have gained through the Initiative to carry out low-cost, sustainable prevention and care activities in their local communities. They have been involved in prevention programmes with young people, spiritual counseling and the provision of food and essentials to people with HIV/AIDS. Read the full story

In South Asia


Since the establishment of the new administration in Afghanistan in late 2001, UNICEF has worked closely with religious leaders to promote key programmes including girls’ education and child health. Imams regularly promote girls’ enrolment, national immunization days and other health campaigns through Friday worship across Afghanistan, while is areas of the country with limited school and medical facilities mosques have been used to provide classrooms and immunization centres. Read more


In Bhutan, child care is often guided by traditional Buddhist principles. The local religious community, through the nationwide Monastic Body, as well as through community lay-based monks and traditional religious practitioners such as healers, shamans and nuns, have a tremendous influence on the daily lives of the Bhutanese people. Devout Buddhists in Bhutan turn to religious leaders for advice on a wide range of matters affecting their lives, including the care and protection of their children. In 1989, these trusted religious practitioners began exploring their potential role in children's healthcare at a breakthrough UNICEF-led workshop. UNICEF has since worked with the Government of Bhutan, the Department of Health and the Council for Religious Affairs to harmonize modern healthcare services for children with religious and traditional belief systems. Religious leaders have been educating their communities and followers on essential areas of child care, including immunization, hygiene, good nutrition, safe water and the use of oral rehydration therapy. Read more

In Africa

Since 1990, UNICEF UK and Christian churches around the country have been collaborating on a fundraising activity known as the 'Jar of Grace Appeal'. Successful appeals have raised well over £150,000 for immunization, supplies of oral rehydration sachets, Vitamin A supplements and educational programmes. More


HIV/AIDS has taken a heavy toll on the people of Ethiopia. Here, religion plays a vital role in the lives of Ethiopians. UNICEF recently partnered with the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (NORAD) to mobilize a range of Ethiopia's religious leaders in the fight to prevent HIV/AIDS and the stigma surrounding the disease. A range of influential leaders have pledged to educate their followers - especially young people - about the importance of caring for and ending discrimination against those living with HIV/AIDS.

Fundraising Efforts

A number of UNICEF's National Committees have partnered successfully with religious institutions in their advocacy, awareness-building and fundraising efforts on behalf of children. Some highlights from around the world:

Hungary - A number of Catholic schools have been active partners in UNICEF's annual campaign to sell UNICEF greeting cards, which raises funds for children living in difficult circumstances.

Netherlands - UNICEF has successfully worked alongside a number of religious groups to advocate against the use of child soldiers and child labourers. In a landmark effort, UNICEF and the Christian NGO 'Children at Risk' were among a number of groups to introduce 'The Rugmark Foundation' in the Netherlands in 1995. Rugmark recruits carpet producers and importers who make and sell carpets that without employing child labourers.

Related documents

Working with Muslim communities in Cameroon



Links to publications

UNICEF and the Catholic Church in Latin America: Working for the Children

UNICEF and the Catholic Church in Latin America: Activities Report

More links

Since 1990, UNICEF UK and Christian churches around the country have been collaborating on a fundraising activity known as the 'Jar of Grace Appeal'.
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Remarks by Carol Bellamy to religious leaders, Nairobi 10 June 2003

Buddhist monks and nuns fight against HIV/AIDS

The Catholic Church and UNICEF in Latin America strengthen cooperation bond

UNICEF organises roundtable for Islamic leaders, experts, civil society and NGOs

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