Child Rights Organizations and Religious Communities: Powerful Partnerships for Children (1)

By Hanmer, Stephen | Cross Currents, September 2010 | Go to article overview

Child Rights Organizations and Religious Communities: Powerful Partnerships for Children (1)


Hanmer, Stephen, Cross Currents


  The instinct to care for children comes from deep within the
  teachings and spiritual vision of all religious traditions, which
  motivates people of faith to make the commitment to take practical
  actions for children. Fulfilling these commitments requires the
  collaborations of religious communities with each other, and with
  other partners, because these challenges cut across all religions and
  are too great for any one group to handle alone." (3)

Religious communities play a key role for the care and protection of children and have been a key partner to the work of many child rights organizations. Throughout the world, child rights organizations, including the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), are working with religious communities of all faiths to address the well-being of children in areas ranging from health care and education to HIV and AIDS to protection from exploitation and abuse.

This article explains why it is important for child rights organizations to work with religious communities, provides examples of successful work with religious communities (in particular UNICEF's work with religious communities), discusses the main challenges of such partnerships and proposes what can be carried out to further effective engagement. In this article, religious communities refers to both men and women religious actors and structures within religious traditions and organizations at all levels--from local to global. These include grassroots and local communities, leaders, scholars, practitioners, youth groups, women of faith networks, faith-based organizations and denominational, ecumenical and intra-religious umbrella organizations, and networks. (4)

Why partner with religious communities?

As the United Nations Children's agency responsible for promoting the care, protection, and rights of children all over the world, UNICEF works in all types of contexts and in areas ranging from health to nutrition, water and sanitation, to education, HIV and AIDs, and protection of children from violence, exploitation, and abuse. Partnerships with key actors, such as civil society, and government, are a central feature of UNICEF's efforts to promote the rights of children. Indeed, it has long been recognized at UNICEF, as it has throughout the United Nations, that achieving the Millennium Development Goals depends on working in partnership with all sectors of society. Key among these essential partners is religious communities.

With their extraordinary moral authority and power, religious communities are able to influence thinking, foster dialogue, and set priorities for members of their communities. As those who are often the first to respond to problems, religious communities have the trust and confidence of individuals, families, and communities. (5)

From the smallest villages to the largest cities, and from districts and provinces to national and international levels, religious communities offer large networks for the care and protection of children and the safeguarding of their rights. The role of religious communities tends to be especially important at the family and community levels, which international organizations and governments are generally less able to reach effectively. (6) With almost five billion people belonging to religious communities, the potential for action is substantial.

Child rights organizations, including UNICEF, are guided by the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the most comprehensive legal instrument for the protection of the rights of the child. There is often a misperception that the language of the Convention on the Rights of the Child is contrary to religious beliefs. But the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1989 and ratified more quickly and widely than any other human rights instrument, was not created in a vacuum:

  The Convention on the Rights of the Child reflects a vision of
  children in which children are social actors, members of a family and
  a community, with rights and responsibilities appropriate to their
  age and stage of development. … 

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