A Day of Prayer and Action for Children by the World’s Religions
A Concept Note and Draft Proposal
by the GNRC Secretariat
Childhood is considered sacred and needing special protection by all the religions of the world. Throughout history, many religious leaders have been the apostles of virtue and good deeds, and protectors and guardians of the weak, the oppressed, and the vulnerable. Countless faith-based organisations today provide services to the needy in areas government and secular services do not reach, from tending to the sick, sheltering the homeless, and educating the minorities, to defending the oppressed. Around the world, there are also many unsung examples of people of different faiths coming together to meet the urgent needs of their communities.
Religions are thus close to the people, but the great potential this gives them to safeguard and improve the well-being of children has yet to be realized adequately. Although all the religions of the world preach love, peace, solidarity and compassion in theory, in practice, far too many crimes are committed, injustice justified, indifference to the plight of children accepted, harmful traditional practices perpetuated, and intolerance and even hatred inculcated in the minds and hearts of children, in the name of religion. This state of affairs is simply unacceptable.
To counter the trend toward abuse of religion that is harmful to children and to energize all religions to put into practice their highest principles of care and protection for children, it is proposed to have a designated day once a year when all the religions of the world will – in unison – rededicate themselves to promoting the well-being of children as their sacred duty. They would do so both through prayers, and through visible, tangible, measurable actions, in all places of worship in all communities of the world.
It is proposed that the 20th of November, the anniversary of the most universally embraced human rights treaty – the Convention on the Rights of the Child – be designated as the Day of Prayer and Action for Children by the World’s Religions.
On that day, all over the world, in every community, prayer services will be held in all the places of worship on a common theme that relates to the wellbeing of children and protection of their rights. These prayers will include both events held by particular religious communities, as well as interfaith liturgies where people from different faiths come together to pray and recommit themselves to working for children’s well-being. The prayer services will give people of faith opportunities to celebrate the gifts that children bring into their local communities and into the world; to reflect on the various ways in which they have failed to bring dignity to children; to explore ways of being more effective in fulfilling their responsibilities in relation to children; and to strengthen their ability to listen and work in partnership with children to build communities characterized by respect and understanding.
To accompany the prayers, one or two common but specific actions will be carried out, nation-wide or region-wide, in all places of worship or in their vicinity, or in other locations but with the participation of religious leaders of all relevant denominations. These activities could include, for example, immunizing children against infectious diseases; educating families on the importance of breast feeding; promoting birth registration; campaigns against certain harmful traditional practices; or movements to promote girls’ education, peace education, ethics education, etc.
There is a historic precedent for such action. In the 1980s when UNICEF launched a “Child Survival Revolution,” it reached out to the religions of the world and requested them to lend their support to this initiative. One specific action UNICEF proposed was to increase childhood immunization levels from less than 20% in the early 1980s to 80% by 1990. It was agreed that such dramatic progress was not possible in most developing countries with their weak health infrastructure. A massive social mobilization was needed involving institutions that reached all communities and enjoyed their respect. The widespread network of religious institutions and leaders was considered the most natural partner for such ambitious – and sacred – enterprise.
When approached, the religions were very receptive to the idea. Thus whenever a country launched a National Immunization Day, in many countries, their places of worship made it a point to ask all their followers to ensure that they took their children to be immunized at designated health posts on the scheduled dates and times. Indeed quite a few of them offered their premises for such immunization services.
A remarkable example of this was the role played by the Catholic Church in El Salvador calling for “Days of Tranquility,” when a temporary ceasefire was negotiated to stop the ongoing civil war to allow children on both sides of the conflict to be immunized. Since then similar efforts have been made in other countries, including Lebanon, Sri Lanka, Sudan and elsewhere.
More recently, religious organizations have been involved in campaigns to help children orphaned by HIV/AIDS, to counter such harmful traditional practices as female genital mutilation, to promote birth registration, girls’ education, etc.
If every year, on a certain pre-designated day, all the world’s religions were to agree that on that day there will be common prayers as well as some concrete visible actions to promote the well-being of children in all their places of worship, it would make an enormous difference in the lives of children, and would send a powerful signal to the whole world that religions can be a unifying force for human solidarity.
Obviously the themes and actions selected should command universal respect, and not be partisan, political or divisive. Ideally, it would be best to have one single theme for prayer and action throughout the whole world. But given the great diversity of our world today, there could also be regional or country-wide themes.
To ensure this, religious leaders in every country and community should, in a spirit of interfaith cooperation, work closely together with respected national or international organizations dedicated to the cause of children, such as UNICEF.
An initial formulation of the “Objective” of the Day of Prayer and Action is as follows:
To get the process toward adoption and establishment of the Day of Prayer and Action for Children started, the Global Network of Religions for Children (GNRC) will convene an initial planning meeting with selected leaders of the world’s religions and representatives from UNESCO and UNICEF who will be attending the Third GNRC Forum in Hiroshima, Japan during 24-26 May 2008 to discuss and agree on the concept of a “Day of Prayer and Action for Children by the World’s Religions.”
Following agreement on the basic concept, the idea would then be presented to the senior-most religious (and some secular leaders) around the world for their advice, consideration, informal endorsement and blessing. Assuming their concurrence, the first such worldwide “Day of Prayer and Action for Children by the World’s Religions” could be launched on 20 November 2009.
As a part of this preparatory process, one year earlier on 20 November 2008, GNRC members in the GNRC’s regional networks could organize pilot launches in 4 to 6 countries, or at the sub-national level in some countries.
It is proposed that this subject also be discussed in various thematic panel discussions at the GNRC Forum with a view to solicit suggestions from a cross-section of participants, including children and young people themselves.