The First Forum of the Global Network of Religions for Children (GNRC) took place May 16-18, 2000 in Tokyo, under the main conference theme "Prayer and Practice for the Future of Children."
The Forum’s nearly 300 participants came from 33 countries and area included Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Jews, Muslims, Shintoists, Zoroastrians and members of other religious traditions. The uniting force behind the Forum was the participants shared commitment to work at leadership and grass-roots levels to alleviate the suffering of children all over the world.
The Forum opened with an official declaration of the establishment of the GNRC by Rev. Takeyasu Miyamoto, President of Arigatou Foundation, which organized the conference, followed by addresses from distinguished guests including Mr. Yohei Kono, Foreign Minister of Japan, and a congratulatory message from the Executive Director of UNICEF, Ms.Carol Bellamy.
At the first day's plenary session, two keynote lectures were delivered under the theme of "Present Conditions of Child Rights and What Should Be Expected of Religious People." The speakers were Ms. Razia Sultan Ismail (International Convenor and Charter Member of the Women’s Coalition for Peace and Development and Former President of the World Young Women's Christian Association), and Ms. Kaluhyi Joyce Umbima (Executive Director of the Kenya Alliance for Advancement of Children and former Co-chair of the Global Girl Child Caucus).
At the second day's plenary session, two keynote lectures were delivered under the theme of "The Mission of Religious People to Create a Brighter Future for Children." The speakers were Rev. Jitsujo Arima (Head Priest of Genkoji Soto Temple and Executive Director of the Shanti Volunteer Association), and Sister Mary Rose McGeady, D.C. (President and Chief Executive Officer of Covenant House and Chairperson of the Child Welfare League of the America Public Policy Committee).
The Forum was also unique in that it invited six children to present their views*, inspiring and challenging the participants to address the deplorable conditions surrounding children worldwide.
Following the above presentations, the forum participants divided into four study groups for discussions on specific topics as follows:
Theme 1: The Realization of a World without Armed Conflicts—For the right to grow up unharmed and free of fear. Chairperson: Ms. Ingeborg Jack (Member of the Peace and Social Justice Committee of the Swarthmore Friends Meeting [Quaker])
Theme 2: Compassion for Children in the Family and Community—For the right to a dignified and wholesome life. Chairperson: Ms. Marta Palma (Coordinator of the Global Ecumenical Children's Network of the World Council of Churches)
Theme 3: The Contribution of Education to Development and Peace—For the right to free and universal education (UN representative of the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns)
Theme 4: Child Development in a Wholesome Environment—For the right to a healthy growth environment. Chairperson: Dr. A.T. Ariyaratne (President of the Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement)
The discussions of each study group were reported to the plenary sessions and all participants exchanged views under the chairmanship of the following individuals:
- Dr. Kiyomi Morioka (Professor of Sociology, Graduate School, Shukutoku University, and member of the Forum Advisory Committee)
- Mr. Manzoor Ahmed (Director, UNICEF Office for Japan)
- Mr. Yoshihisa Togo (Executive Director, Japan Committee for UNICEF, and member of the Forum Advisory Committee)
- Bishop Michael F. Fitzgerald (Secretary, Pontifical Council of Interreligious Dialogue)
- Rev. Ryusho Kobayashi (Former Executive Secretary of Enryakuji Temple at Mt. Hiei, President of Eizan-Gakuin, and member of the Forum Advisory Committee)
During the three days of the Forum, the participants also took part in interreligious prayer. Led by members of all of the religions represented at the Forum, they joined in prayers from the various religious traditions for the peace and happiness of children around the world.
The Forum concluded with the adoption by the plenum of the GNRC Statement, a call from the people of religion to the world to join with them in redressing the grievous suffering of children. In the Statement, the GRNC noted that the inherent dignity of the child is rooted in the “sacredness of reality,” seeing the child as a message of hope from the divine. Decrying the many specific ways in which children’s rights are violated around the world today, the GNRC affirmed that total social transformation is not only possible, but is a moral obligation. Children were also affirmed as the “subjects of their own destiny,” and recognized for their many “constructive actions for the benefit of all.” The GNRC Statement called upon the media, governments, international organizations, religions, its own participants, and people everywhere to take specific steps to ensure the well being of children. The Statement also referenced reports produced by the four Study Groups on potential follow-up activities on each theme.