A World Day of Prayer and Action for Children seeks to bring together people of religion and goodwill to safeguard the integrity, rights and dignity of children, and promote their survival, development, protection and wellbeing.
All religions of the world teach love, peace, solidarity and compassion. They emphasise values such as respect for children and young people in their own right. They commend empathy because children and young people are threatened by the vicissitudes of life, and more often than not, they face the consequences of what previous generations are leaving them as heritage.
Religions seek to foster responsibility enabling children and young people to live with hope and not to be at the mercy of those who seem more powerful. They call to mind the need for reconciliation between people of different faiths and cultures as a requirement for the safety and security of our children and young people
And yet, we know that in the name of religion, many wrongs 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.
To counter this, and to make use of the positive power and influence of the world’s religions, we propose to have a specific day every year when people of all religious traditions of the world — in unison — will rededicate themselves to promoting the well-being and rights of children as a sacred duty. We will do so both through prayers, and through visible, tangible, measurable actions.
We propose that the 20th of November, designated by the United Nations as Universal Children’s Day, is celebrated by the world’s religions as A World Day of Prayer and Action for Children. On that day, which coincides with the anniversary of the most universally embraced human rights treaty — the Convention on the Rights of the Child, we propose that prayers and meditations are held in places of worship and veneration on a common theme that relates to the wellbeing of children and protection of their rights.
We propose that services and acts of worship are held by particular religious communities, as well as interfaith ceremonies and rituals where people from different faiths come together to pray and recommit themselves to working for children’s well-being.
These moments of worship, prayer, silence, meditation and reflection will celebrate the gift of joy that children bring into their local communities and into the world. They will enable participants to reflect on various ways in which we have failed to meet the basic needs and to bring dignity to children, and to explore ways of being more effective in fulfilling our responsibilities in relation to future generations. Special efforts will be made to strengthen our ability to listen and work in partnership with children to build communities characterized by respect and understanding.
We propose that one or two common but specific actions are carried out, nation-wide or region-wide, by people of all religious traditions, working in partnership with local governments, community groups and secular organizations involved in providing basic services to children. These activities could include, for example, immunizing children against infectious diseases; educating families on the importance of breast feeding; combating hunger and malnutrition; providing water and sanitation; promoting birth registration; campaigns against harmful traditional practices, corporal punishment, bullying and mobbing, or hazardous child labour; and movements to promote girls’ education, peace education, ethics education, etc.
There is a precedent for such action. In the 1980s when UNICEF launched a “Child Survival Revolution,” it reached out to the religious communities 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. 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 a most natural partner for such an ambitious — and sacred — enterprise. And this partnership yielded impressive results.
Indeed, religious communities have always been involved in programmes and projects that support family and children. 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, education for all, etc.
The themes and actions selected for cooperation 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 each year. But given the great diversity of our world today, there could also be regional or country-wide themes.
It is our hope that religious leaders in every country and community would, in a spirit of interfaith cooperation, work closely with respected local, national or international organizations dedicated to the cause of children, such as local government services, NGOs, UNICEF, UNESCO and other relevant UN organizations.
The well-being, dignity and rights of our children are intrinsically linked to our life today and tomorrow. At the heart of every religious tradition is the insight that children are humanity’s hope that a better world is possible.
A World Day of Prayer and Action for Children offers a unique opportunity not only to celebrate this common conviction that binds all humanity, but also to harness global solidarity to build a brighter future for all our children.
While prayer and action for children are certainly needed every day, a designated World Day of Prayer and Action would enable the world’s religious communities to inspire other stakeholders to take well-coordinated and united action to protect the rights and promote the wellbeing of children, and to renew an invitation for all to join in making real the hopes we all have for our children.