NEW YORK, 20 November 2011 – On the occasion of the 22nd anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, UNICEF today joined with World Day of Prayer and Action for Children in launching a new three-year initiative in more than 30 countries to protect children against violence.
World Day of Prayer and Action for Children is a movement that harnesses the powerful role of religious communities can play in keeping children safer by promoting affirmative measures such as birth registration and positive parenting, and discouraging potentially harmful actions such as child marriage.
While significant progress has been made in reducing child mortality and increasing child health, around the world, millions of children are subjected to violence, exploitation and abuse.
“Violence does not discriminate,” said Anthony Lake, UNICEF Executive Director. “It cuts across race, religion, class, and culture.”
One of the most important ways parents can help their children is by practicing positive parenting. Parental influence and protection pay a critical role in determining a child’s well-being and can be done without resorting to violent discipline, which harms the child and is not effective.
Another key step to protect children is birth registration. This simple document establishes the existence of the child under law and provides the foundation for safeguarding many of the child's civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights. Unregistered children may face challenges in accessing health care, education and social assistance. They are the first to fall through the cracks in protection systems and there is a risk that violations of their rights will go unnoticed.
An important focus of the World Day is child marriage, which affects girls disproportionately. Child brides are at greater risk of violence, abuse and exploitation, and also more vulnerable to catching sexually transmitted diseases than more mature women.
“To end such violence, we need to work together – across religious faiths, across political parties, across all boundaries – to raise awareness, to reach out in our communities, and to strengthen systems that protect children, said Mr. Lake. “Let it begin with a prayer and end in action.”
UNICEF has a long history of working with religious leaders from all faiths on issues that affect children: from partnering with imams in Mauritania to eliminate corporal punishment, to joining forces with Buddhist monks in Bhutan to support children affected by HIV and AIDS, and working with churches in Ecuador to address child and maternal health.
Activities that will take place around the World Day of Prayer and Action for Children with UNICEF support in coming weeks include:
In Nigeria, a national workshop with key religious leaders is planned around the Day of Prayer and Action for Children to engage them as advocates for universal birth registration. The effectiveness of interventions by religious leaders will be assessed through regular on-site reporting using RapidSMS technology.
In Panama, a bulletin on the Day of Prayer and Action for Children will appear in the Roman Catholic Church’s newspaper during November, a letter from the Catholic Archbishop will be read in all services on 20 November and the Archbishop himself will celebrate mass during a live broadcast and talk about an end to violence against children. Various other religious communities will also celebrate the Day of Prayer and Action for Children during different religious ceremonies.
In Afghanistan, UNICEF and the Ministry of Religious Affairs plan radio and television interviews with mullahs during the week prior to the Day of Prayer and Action for Children and other broadcasters will provide child friendly information about children’s rights. Mullahs affiliated with the Ministry will use Friday prayers on 25 November to highlight messages on violence against children.
The World Day of Prayer and Action was launched in 2008 to improve the lives of children everywhere. In 2010, the World Day was celebrated in 46 countries around the world.