Are followers of a faith and supporters of human rights in danger of forming opposing camps?
This was a central question at a roundtable convened by the Archbishop of Canterbury, on Human Rights, Human Dignity and Faith at Lambeth Palace. Following speakers from the Department of International Development and Amnesty International UK, I told the room about UNICEF’s long and positive history of collaborating with faith communities around the world to help children.
Helping children on the ground
I was glad to share examples of how we’ve helped real children in real places, as a counter-balance to the philosophical and theological perspectives provided by Professors from Oxford, LSE and King’s College London.
In Ethiopia, Orthodox priests have been trained to ask carers about vaccinations when they bring a baby to be baptised. In Egypt, a study of religious texts led the Grand Mufti to declare that female genital mutilation/cutting is prohibited by Islam. In El Salvador, Sri Lanka, Ethiopia and other countries affected by conflict, religious leaders have helped negotiate ceasefires so that UNICEF can vaccinate children.
In Afghanistan, UNICEF has encouraged religious leaders to promote girls’ education and where there are no clinics, mosques have been used for vaccination drives. In many countries, child soldiers, and other children affected by violence, have been reintegrated into their communities though the joint work of UNICEF and faith groups. In Mauritania, work with religious leaders led to a fatwa against corporal punishment of children at school and at home.
These partnerships for children are rooted in shared values and a vision of a better world. Followers of the major faiths believe in the fundamental dignity of each individual, each child; emphasise the family as the best place for children to be brought up and challenge injustice so none are left out. These values underpin the Convention on the Rights of the Child and UNICEF’s approach. We all want a world fit for children, where none are hungry, ill or excluded.
The conversation also covered UK issues. Participants were interested in our proposal that children’s rights should form part of any British Bill of Rights. I also raised the responsibility of companies to respect children’s rights.
The roundtable concluded with points on human dignity for everyone regardless of their age, gender, sexuality, circumstances or behaviour; the importance of rule of law and a healthy democracy; protection of basic liberties and the obligation to work at civil public discourse.
Lots of food for thought! I left with the sense that there is more uniting followers of faiths and human rights activists than dividing them, and I know that to create a better world for children we all need to work together in solidarity.
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Alison Marshall is Public Affairs Director at UNICEF UK.