Children have an inherent spirituality that should be considered in order to achieve a holistic developmental of a child. Spirituality in all its aspects must be nurtured and affirmed, especially in children and youth, to achieve the maximum quality that life has to offer. Furthermore, this is much more critical for children and youth, who have been marginalized or who have suffered deprivation in every way. Thus the need for such nurture and affirmation in human spirituality is all the more pronounced. Children’s spiritual needs can be considered in terms of what may be universal (or innate) and in terms of what might be expressed through religious persuasion or affiliation to a faith community.
Respect for life, respect for the rights of others, and appreciation of the environment are the building blocks of spirituality. We are all born with an equal potential for good or bad, and so teaching children spirituality early in life becomes all the more important. As children have an inherent spirituality, spiritual experiences at an early age provide the basis for long-term identity and purpose. This includes a sense of love, compassion, awe and wonder, with moments of wisdom concerning the purpose of life. Early spiritual experiences help children in dealing with crises, resisting peer pressure and avoiding negative influences. Whatever religion or spiritual path children may follow; simply having a relationship with a higher being is the best protection they can have. This connection with something omnipotent makes children more resilient to life’s troubles.
You cannot preach water and drink wine. Therefore, in order to start nurturing spirituality in our children, we first have to “BE”. We need to have a level of satisfaction in ourselves and an ability to manage our own lives first before transferring these values onto our children. In this manner we form a cycle through which spirituality is transferred throughout the generations. Spiritual development involves teaching children to appreciate qualities such as compassion, generosity and sacrifice. When parents, adults and caregivers model genuineness, honesty, trustworthiness and kindness, children develop into kind and compassionate adults. Children can expect adults to meet responsibilities towards them to promote their physical, mental, emotional, and social development, including their spiritual needs. This should be done in accordance to their developmental ages and understanding and the relevant cultural expression of those within their faith communities.
The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child clearly states that every child has the right to be a citizen irrespective of their ethnicity, gender, religion, language, or any other status. Spiritual and religious rights are explicitly mentioned and protected including the right to freedom from discrimination in respect to status or beliefs; the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.
Violence in the community compromises children’s rights and poses serious risks to their development and safety, causing children to be injured, disabled, traumatized, exploited, orphaned, imprisoned and at times killed. Living in a community plagued by armed violence has severe consequences for children who are targeted as well as those who witness or feel threatened by such an environment. Violence disrupts social harmony and family life, interrupts schooling, compromises healthcare, undermines economic development and generates fear which limits children’s ability to move freely, participate in the life of their community, enjoy childhood and develop as empowered and productive members of society. Freedom from violence is critical to achieving a sustainable future in which every child can grow up healthy, well-nourished, resilient, well-educated, culturally sensitive and effectively protected from neglect, abuse and exploitation.
The beliefs, practices, social networks and resources of religion can instill hope, give meaning to difficult experiences and provide emotional, physical and spiritual support. Impact can be far-reaching when child rights efforts are grounded in the protective aspects of religious beliefs and practices in a community.