It is a great pleasure for me to join you at this Second Forum of the Global Network of Religions for Children.
Four years ago, I had the privilege to participate at the First Forum of GNRC right after the successful conclusion of the United Nations General Assembly’s Special Session on Children in May 2002.
I recall vividly the excitement we felt then. Among the many extraordinary things that happened at the Special Session on Children, I was particularly of the very active engagement of the world’s religious and spiritual leaders.
I am so happy to see some of the same leaders here today - Dr. Bill Vendley of the World Conference on Religion and Peace, His Eminence Alfonso Cardinal Lopez Trujillo of the Pontifical Council of the Family, and the Reverend Takeyasu Miyamoto, Leader of Myochikai and the President of the Arigatou Foundation.
I want to pay a special tribute to Rev. Miyamoto for his wise vision with which he helped established the Global Network of Religions for Children (GNRC). I recall fondly Reverend Miyamoto’s memorable speech at the UN General Assembly at which he spoke passionately about the need for global ethics education for children.
Events of the last two years have made it clear how desperately our world needs an ethics education, if we are going to create a World Fit for Children.
All the great religions of the world preach love, peace, solidarity and compassion. Yet, in today’s world, far too many crimes are committed, hatred is spread, injustice is justified, and intolerance inculcated often in the name of religion.
This state of affairs contributes to a vicious cycle of intolerance and conflict, which is ethically unacceptable.
We also have far too many instances where, instead of teaching children to appreciate and value diversity, xenophobic leaders teach them to see their own religion or faith as superior to others.
What children need in this increasingly materialistic world, is an ethical-moral value system to be imparted through education that teaches them how they can contribute to the greater good of humanity thought service and solidarity, peace and tolerance.
Today the world faces two different challenges when it comes to ethics and education.
The first challenge is that even at the elementary level, education remains a distant dream for millions of children around the world. There are countries and communities in the world today where more children are out of school than in school.
Although the constitutions and laws of most nations say basic education is a fundamental right of every child, in many countries in reality it is a privilege of only a lucky few. Today 121 million children never see the inside of a classroom, the majority of them girls.
But even for those who are lucky enough to get a basic education, sometimes its content can be very destructive.
A study published by UNICEF back in 2000, entitled “The Two Faces of Education in Ethnic Conflict” warned us that education can be part of the problems as well as part of the solution.
We have seen in many situations of armed conflict and ethnic tensions:
- the denial of education as a weapon of war
- the manipulation of history and textbooks for political purposes
- segregated education to ensure inequality, lowered self-esteem and stereotyping
- gender-based discrimination of girls
- and the use of education as an instrument of repression of minority groups and cultures;
On the positive side, education can be a powerful means for prevention and resolution of conflicts, especially through peace education.
Peace education, which ought to be part of global ethics education, promotes the knowledge, skills, attitudes and values needed to bring positive behavior changes. It enables children and youth to resolve conflicts peacefully at school, at homes and in their communities.
In this rapidly globalizing and inter-dependent world, it is the role of all good education systems to help children and young people to acquire respect for human rights, acceptance of diversity, understanding of issues of development, peace and justice, and a sense of global human solidarity.
Of course, we at UNICEF worry most about the millions of children who do not get a chance to go to school at all, or who drop-out prematurely and never complete even primary or basic education. The world needs to do a better job in meeting the Millennium Development Goals of providing universal quality basic education with gender equality.
But we also worry about children in rich countries, and children of the rich in poor countries, who are growing up mesmerized by the make-believe world of video games and electronic gadgets that alienate them from the real world.
Young people’s ready access and immersion into the fantastic world of entertainment and advertising that glamourizes violence and sex, enhanced with special effects, makes it increasingly difficult for them to distinguish between reality and virtual reality.
Paradoxically, the revolution in information and communication technology today leads children to be more aloof and isolated rather than being engaged in human interaction and community spirit.
Yes, we need to worry about the children of the rich and affluent - in both the industrialized countries and among the wealthy folks of poor countries - the children, who are likely to be the rulers of the world of tomorrow - and who maybe growing up in the cocoon of virtual reality today.
Will they have empathy for the poor and the down-trodden? Will they understand how the other half of the poor world lives? It is our job as parents, teachers and community leaders to protect our children from the temptations created by today’s tantalizing technology.
On the positive side, we have today, at our disposal the blessings of science and technology, which if properly harnessed could be used for the good of humankind that our ancestors could not even imagine. I take it that part of the mission of global ethics education is to precisely do that.
We need to include global ethics education as a strong pillar of the global movement for children which has been gaining renewed strength since the UN GA Special Session on Children. Specifically, we call upon various members of the global movement for children to undertake the following inter-related tasks:
- Women and Men of Goodwill
To refuse to tolerate the abuse of children, work to protect those their reach and promote their full inclusion in strong, healthy and nurturing families and other protective environment of society.
- The Media
To take the initiative in educating the public, including children, of their rights and plight, and to exercise restraint in publishing exploitative and degrading materials glamorizing sex and violence.
To enact legislation designed to protect the rights of children in conformity with the Convention of the Rights of the Child. To reallocate resources on a priority basis to strengthen families, and to ensure the survival, development, protection, and participation of children.
To engage their deepest moral and spiritual beliefs and teachings for the well-being of children and for the defense of their rights among their own believers and the public at large.
- Finally, we call upon Intergovernmental Organizations, and all agencies and entities of the United Nations to uphold the principles of the UN Charter and to encourage and support Member States and civil society to abide by the standards and norms enshrined in the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
The establishment of an Interfaith Ethics Council by GNRC is a timely and welcome development in this context. Its mission should envision a world in which all children are empowered to fully comprehend and develop their spirituality and faith in particular, embracing ethical values and learning to live in solidarity with people of different religions and civilizations.
We believe that ethics education should enhance children’s innate ability and desire to make positive contribution towards not only their peers and families but also their communities and the entire human family, so that we can all thrive, achieve greater justice, peace, compassion, hope and dignity.
We expect the Interfaith Ethics Council to promote ethics education in cooperation with all who share this vision, seek partnership and develop alliances with religious communities, United Nations agencies, NGO’s, and civil society to help realize the right of all children to full and healthy physical, mental, spiritual, moral and social development as set out in the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Religious leaders are by nature expert communicators and opinion leaders, accustomed to translating complex texts into understandable messages. We look to you to take the lead in this regard.
Collectively, we must rise to the challenge of creating and sustaining a new inter-faith dialogue on promoting a culture of ethics, and human values within the context of a culture of peace and non-violence.
As we search for things that unite us rather than divide us, let the common cause for children be that uniting force.
This is the time that we must recommit and redouble our efforts to provide the children of the world with hope and inspiration through a new Interfaith Code Conduct on Ethics Education for Children, based on the commonalities and shared values of all the world’s great religions.
Together, we must take a stand for justice, for morality, for peace and for dignity that would make any other position totally unacceptable. Children and young people empowered by such knowledge and ethical values can change the world. Indeed, an education based on ethical values suited to today’s complex world is vital for the survival and growth of the human family.
Dear friends, you can count on UNICEF to be your staunch ally and partner in this noble mission to promote global ethics education, and through it to help create a world truly fit for all God’s children.