A Day of Prayer and Action for Children
Throughout history religions of the world have considered it their sacred duty to instill moral, ethical and spiritual values in younger generations and to promote the well-being of children. While the holy scriptures and teachings of all religions have long guided this noble mission, the adoption of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child was welcomed by many religious leaders and people of faith as a great advance for humanity. Indeed, the Holy See, which enjoys the status of permanent observer at the United Nations, was one of the first states to accede to the Convention. Similarly, many faith-based organizations accredited as consultative partners to the United Nations Economic and Social Council, including the World Islamic Call Society and the World Council of Churches, have actively supported the Convention and used it as a framework for their own advocacy in support of child rights.
Just prior to the historic 1990 ‘World Summit for Children’, UNICEF and the World Conference on Religions for Peace organized a major conference entitled ‘The World’s Religions for the World’s Children.’ This conference set the tone for interreligious cooperation for children and promoted universal ratification of the newly adopted Convention. The treaty’s appeal, to religious organizations, governments and secular institutions alike, is that it provides a practical, human rights-based framework for cooperation among all people to enhance the quality of life and dignity of children.
As the principles that inform the Convention have grown in universal acceptance and public discourse, children’s rights have gained increasing prominence on international agendas. A major highlight of the UN General Assembly Special Session on Children in 2002 was a Religious Leaders’ Forum that brought together leaders of the world’s major faiths and traditions. Invoking their support for the Convention, the leaders issued a ‘Commitment of the World’s Religions to Children: A Multi-Religious Declaration’, in which they vowed to use their collective capacity and moral assets to promote the survival, protection, and development of children. I had the personal honor of addressing the UN General Assembly on behalf of the religious leaders attending the special session, and I called on world leaders to give high priority to protecting the rights and promoting the well-being of children. Assuring them of the support of the world’s religious communities, I pledged to establish an Interfaith Council on Ethics Education for Children to help realize the commitment to quality education made by the world leaders in the meeting’s outcome document entitled A World Fit for Children. Together with the Arigatou Foundation, UNICEF and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, the Interfaith Council has produced Learning to Live Together: An Intercultural and Interfaith Programme for Ethics Education, which is now being used by religious communities, educators, and youth leaders around the world to empower children to exercise their rights and fulfill their responsibilities.
Working hand in hand
The work emerging from the Convention has grown into fruitful collaborations between international organizations and religious leaders. In the 1980s, when UNICEF launched a ‘child survival revolution’, it requested the support of the world’s religions in reducing child deaths. One specific goal was to increase childhood immunization levels from less than 20 per cent in the early 1980s to 80 per cent by 1990. National Immunization Days were launched in several countries, and Christian, Muslim, Buddhist and other spiritual leaders asked their congregations to take their children to be immunized. More than a few religious leaders also offered their places of worship as sites for these immunization services. The success of this effort has contributed to saving millions of children. More recently, religious organizations have participated in campaigns to help children orphaned by AIDS, to counter such harmful traditional practices as female genital mutilation, and to promote birth registration and girls’ education. Prominent examples of this work include collaborations between Buddhist monks and UNICEF in the Mekong region in Asia on the Sangha Metta (Compassionate Monks) project for the prevention and care of children suffering from HIV and AIDS. Thanks to this network, when the bird flu epidemic recently struck Southeast Asia, more than 5,000 monks and nuns received education and disseminated messages on the prevention of deadly avian influenza.
Government partnerships with religious organizations have also proved fruitful, as demonstrated by the ‘Religion and Health Project’ implemented by the Ministry of Health and the National Council of Religious Affairs in the Kingdom of Bhutan. This partnership has helped improve the health and well-being of child monks through a programme of upgrading water, sanitation and hygiene practices in dozens of monasteries. A similar programme was implemented in war-torn Somalia involving nearly 200 mosques.
A Day of Prayer and Action for Children
Recognizing the great potential of the world’s religions to promote the well-being of children, the Arigatou Foundation helped to establish the Global Network of Religions for Children, which has become the world’s major interfaith organization devoted exclusively to promoting child rights. As the world prepares to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Convention on 20 November 2009, the Global Network has proposed a ‘Day of Prayer and Action for Children by the World’s Religions’ as an annual celebration of this anniversary. The goal is that on this day, all over the world, in every community and in all places of worship, prayer services will be held, followed by specific, measurable actions for the survival, protection and development of children.
Although all religions of the world preach love, peace, solidarity and compassion, it is unfortunately true that wrongs are committed, injustices justified, indifference to the plight of children accepted and harmful traditional practices perpetuated in the name of religion. It is my hope the ‘Day of Prayer and Action for Children’ will help counter such negative practices and send a powerful signal to the global community that religions can be a unifying force for humanity. Together, the moral and ethical influence of the world’s religions, the resources of the world’s governments, the influence of UN agencies in creating international standards of human rights, and the people power of civil society can form a formidable alliance for implementing the Convention on the Rights of the Child and helping to build a world that is truly fit for every child.
Reverend Miyamoto is the leader of Myochikai, a Japanese Buddhist organization, the president of the Arigatou Foundation, and the founder of the Global Network of Religions for Children.
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