Reports

GNRC Third Forum - Europe Report

Third Forum of the Global Network of Religions for Children
LEARNING TO SHARE
Values, Action, Hope
GNRC Europe
Regional Session Report and Action Priorities for 2008-2012

Number of participants: Twenty six adults and six young people
Countries represented: Belgium, Denmark, France, Italy, Japan, Luxemburg, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Romania, Turkey and the United Kingdom. Other countries: Japan and USA.

Introduction
All children in Europe, and in the world, are entitled to live in dignity with the full recognition of their spiritual values and rights in an atmosphere of mutual respect and solidarity. Unfortunately, if we look at the issues of poverty, violence and environment affecting children in the region, we have to conclude that this vision is far from reality. Children in Europe experience serious problems to which people of faith and people of goodwill need to respond together. The experience of Hiroshima of going from despair and destruction to rebuilding and hope is a good example to follow.

The dynamic of our regional sessions included a very fruitful dialogue between the young and the adult participants. Through the vivid testimonies of the young participants, the group was able to learn about activities implemented by the GNRC and the impact on the lives of these young people. The Workshop in Salamanca, Spain, allowed adults and young people to focus on the problem of migration. Through different moments of sharing and reflection using the Toolkit, the participants in Salamanca were able to understand the others and value diversity. In a predominantly Catholic country, the young people and the adults enjoyed moments of prayers and spirituality coming from different traditions. This was highly valued.

The two workshops implemented in Brussels, Belgium, on "human dignity" and on "challenges to a consumerist society" were opportunities for building the community among adults and young people from four different religions communities. All the youth and children had opportunities to freely express their own opinions and share their experiences. In the second one, they prepared their statement including their own practical commitments to work for a society that gives real value to living creatures and to the environment.

The One Day Conference in Solihull gave opportunities to children and young people from three schools to reflect on building peaceful communities at school using the Convention for the Rights of the Child. This activity was implemented together with the Sulihull Metropolitan Borough Council. The young participants from the Focolare Movement shared the ways as they disseminated the Children Statement that came out of the 2nd Forum in Geneva.

In fact, ethics education was high on the agenda of activities implemented by the GNRC Europe in the period 2004-2008, focusing on issues like human dignity, peace at schools, community cohesion and migration. In all the activities, the children participants came from different ethnic, religious, cultural and socio-economic backgrounds. According to one of the youth, during the workshops, they did not pay attention to the different backgrounds they were coming from, but to what united them.

Children's situation in Europe
Europe is a continent full of rich traditions and cultural and religious diversities. It has been enriched by its contacts and exchanges, not without violence and domination, with a variety of other cultures and civilizations. With greatest unrest around the world, many people look at Europe as a place to live and rebuild their lives affected, in many cases, by hunger and violence. This situation is putting big challenges not only to the European governments, but also to the civil society and to people of faith. Is Europe ready to share and embrace those who have been their neighbours for many generations and those who are just entering their frontiers? The question of uniting communities in an atmosphere of respect and mutual understanding is one of the biggest challenges for Europe today.

Human rights are on the whole respected in most European countries, yet there are millions of children in Europe who are deprived of their fundamental rights. According to a June 2007 report of the European Parliament, over the next twelve months, around 3,500 children under the age of 15 will die as a result of physical assault and neglect in the world's richest nations. One out of every ten school children, faces violence at schools -some of it so traumatic that suicide seems the only way out.

Although child poverty in south-eastern Europe and the former republics of the Soviet Union has declined significantly, the number of impoverished children in this region remains disturbingly high.

Poverty is especially acute among immigrants, as one in four poor children has non-EU parents. Migrant children are the most vulnerable; victims of war, persecution, trafficking and those separated from families. The plight of children is aggravated by increased racism and xenophobia towards certain groups including islamophobia. Prejudice against Gypsy/Roma hinders efforts to secure their basic rights.

In relation to violence, child sexual abuse and exploitation are significant problems in Europe today, as it is estimated that between 10% and 20% of children are sexually assaulted during their childhood in a variety of forms that include incest, prostitution, pornography, date rape, peer sexual violence and institutional sexual abuse. The banning of certain religious symbols and customs are regarded by many Muslim children in Europe as a form of violence.

Europe is suffering many natural disasters and other problems related to the constant pollution of the environment. There is a growing awareness among people and governments about the need to protect the earth and develop a more healthy relationship with nature. Children at schools learn practical ways to care for the environment. Human beings should move from being in control of environment and using it for their selfish desires- to being a part of the environment.

Our way forward
Young people are more willing to change and respond to the ethical imperatives to protect the earth and to end violence in practical ways. In fact, many of them are already engaged in initiatives to promote solidarity with other young people or to protect the environment. Adults need to become aware of the various ways in which they have failed. We all need to cultivate a more holistic view of our common life in this planet and take responsible actions. The resource book "Learning to Live Together" is a valuable tool in trying to achieve this.

In Europe, there is a need to give attention to the problems facing migrant children giving them the opportunities to integrate while retaining their own positive values and traditions. There is a call for a simpler life style recognizing that small changes can make a big difference. It is important to nurture enthusiasm in young people and encourage them to rediscover the spirituality of creation finding our own place in it.

The GNRC Europe will continue to foster respect for religious and cultural diversities and celebrate commonalities; encourage dialogue and collaboration among people of faith and people of good will in responding to children's rights and nurture the spiritual development of children through ethics education. Guiding criteria for its work includes:
  • Full participation and contributions of children and youth.
  • Use and dissemination of the resource book "Learning to Live Together".
  • Collaboration with other people and organizations working for the right and dignity of children. This includes Schools, local Governments, NGO networks, UNICEF, UNESCO, etc.
PRIORITIES FOR ACTION 2008-2012
In the next period, the GNRC Europe will address the following areas of priorities in an interconnected way:

1. Ethical Imperative to end violence against children
  • Promotion of ethics education for children with a specific focus on building peace and uniting communities, using the resource book "Learning to Live Together".
  • Formal and permanent participation of young people in the work of GNRC at all levels promoting their right to contribute to peace and mutual understanding.
  • Promotion of exchanges, especially of young people, with other regions of the world in the building of peace.
2. Ethical imperative to end poverty
  • Promote dialogue and specific action with religious communities on the main issues affecting children in the area of poverty, including spiritual poverty.
  • Actions to respond to the marginalisation and discrimination affecting Gypsy/ Roma and migrant children.
  • Mobilize religious and spiritual leaders in supporting advocacy for the rights of children, specially their right not to be discriminated.
  • Promote the participation of children and youth in addressing issues of poverty.
3. Ethical imperative to protect the earth
  • Promotion of a simple life and responsible consumption and use of natural resources.
  • Rediscovery of the spirituality of creation in order to capture the enthusiasm of youth.
4. Day of Prayer and Action for Children
  • Promotion and active participation in the Day of Prayer and Action for Children at national, regional and local level.
  • Include the use of silence for children of no faith, as well as music and symbols.
In relation to practical actions, the following were recommended:
  • Training on the use of the manual "Learning to Live Together", especially for young adults, teachers and educators. This may require collaboration with the European Union.
  • Launching of the manual "Learning to Live Together" in Brussels and other European countries in collaboration with the Inter-faith Council on Ethics Education for Children.
  • Organization of youth meetings following the participation of young people from Europe in the 3rd Forum.
  • Exploration of the possibility to have a GNRC regional meeting in 2009 in Barcelona, Spain.
The European participants are very grateful to Rev. Takeyasu Miyamoto for taking the initiative to create the GNRC and to all those who have prepared the Third Forum.