Every child born comes with a message that God has not yet despaired of humankind, observes the poet Rabindranath Tagore. The ultimate and inviolable dignity of the child is understood to be rooted in reality by each religion in its own terms. Thus, the reality of the child expresses for each religion in its own way the mystery and meaning of human existence. Together, people of religious conviction agree that every child is promise, sacred gift, and pledge of the future. Our diverse religious visions shape our approaches to the child; they call us to repentance, hope, and commitment.
Moved by the plight of children and compelled by our religious commitments, we, women and men, coming from all continents and belonging to many of the world’s religions, have come to Tokyo, Japan, to inaugurate the Global Network of Religions for Children (GNRC) at the invitation of the Arigatou Foundation. We are already actively engaged as individuals and in organizations dedicated to the rights, dignity, and well being of children. We are convinced that we need to cooperate with one another in our concerns for children.
Our hearts cry out! Today our children are under siege.
- They are the often-targeted victims of armed conflict, coerced to kill as child soldiers, and are disproportionately killed or maimed by anti-personnel land mines. They make up more than half of the swelling refugee and internally displaced populations. As the most vulnerable, they perish and suffer grievously from economic sanctions. With grotesque distortion, violence is pervasively portrayed to youth as attractive and exciting in television, film and other forms of entertainment.
- 30,500 children die each day — 11 million each year — from largely preventable diseases. 200 million children are malnourished. Another 1.2 million are living with HIV, and over 11 million have been orphaned by AIDS, most of them in sub-Saharan Africa.
- Despite unprecedented economic prosperity, mostly in Northern industrialized countries and related to rapid globalization, more children are being born into poverty than ever before. 1.2 billion people in developing countries, half of them children, live in absolute poverty, surviving on less than a dollar a day. Because of crippling economic conditions, families often lack the resources essential for the care and development of their own children. While 60 million children are trapped in abusive and hazardous forms of labor, countless others are homeless and forced to live in the street, and often vulnerable to victimization by authorities.
- 130 million school-age children, more than two thirds of them girls, are growing up in the developing world deprived of the right to education, which thereby limits their possibilities to assume their chosen roles in society. Authoritarian standards or other forms of coercive social pressure can also be detrimental to children’s development. Children are often denied religious rights, and the lack of religious education can lead to spiritual impoverishment. We recognize spiritual poverty as a form of deprivation for children with far reaching consequences.
- Children fall prey to sexual abuse and exploitation in both domestic and commercial settings, including 2 million who become victims to the sex industry every year. Increasingly, children around the world are being exposed to shallow, distorted, and exploitative interpretations of sexuality, including child pornography, through film, television and internet.
- Children are increasingly subjected to deteriorating environmental factors including polluted air and water, the poisoning of the food and land, the dangers of radiation, deforestation, and desertification. They are inheriting a world out of balance that has resulted from the often-reckless use of non-renewable natural resources.
We recognize that all of the deplorable conditions noted above are often interrelated.
These grim realities can be changed, and this is the measure of our moral obligation to act. Our religious traditions, cultures, economies, governments, societies, communities, and families are responsible for the well being of our children. We must acknowledge where they have failed, and as religious persons we acknowledge in particular and repent for when our religious traditions have not put into practice their own deepest insights into the dignity of the child. Children are not objects. They have not only the right to protection and care; they also are entitled to recognition as subjects of their own destiny. All of our social institutions must be transformed and empowered to protect and care for, as well as nurture, our children as builders of society. We rejoice in the many signs of children taking constructive actions for the benefit of all.
Even as we prepare to form Working Groups to take concrete next steps (see Group Reports), we call upon
Women and Men of goodwill: To refuse to tolerate the abuse of children, work to protect those within their reach, and promote their full inclusion in strong, healthy, and nurturing families and other forms of society.
The media: To take up the positive role of educating the public, including children, on the dignity and plight of children, and to exercise self-restraint regarding degrading and exploitative materials on violence and sexuality.
Governments: To enact national legislation designed to protect children in conformity with the Convention on the Rights of the Child and to accept it as a framework for action for children. To re-allocate national resources, with attention to reducing expenditures on armaments, to ensure the protection, education, and well being of children and their families. To develop procedures and standards that link the remission of the debt of the poorest countries to their child-friendly practices.
Intergovernmental Organizations and in particular the United Nations and its agency, UNICEF: To uphold the UN Charter impartially, to exercise their mandates to monitor and encourage States compliance with the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and to engage in pro-active educational and service programs on behalf of children. To continue to develop partnerships with religious leaders and organizations, with particular attention to the Special Session of the UN General Assembly in 2001, which will review the achievements of the World Summit for Children and shape a new global agenda for them.
Religions: To engage their deepest religious and moral teachings for the advocacy of children and the defense of their rights among their own believers and in the public at large. To mobilize their social institutions in the service of children. To engage in multireligious action programs on behalf of children, including peace education.
Ourselves: To recognize our respective religious experiences and traditions as major resources in our commitment to working for children. To mobilize our commitment in the building of relevant coalitions and partnerships among our organizations, and across our religious boundaries, so as to enhance our abilities to respond effectively to the plight of our children and to learn from them.
The Arigatou Foundation: To assist religious individuals and communities to sustain the Global Network of Religions for Children (GNRC), as a child-focused network dedicated to the sharing of information and the building of action coalitions.
Children are for us a source of hope, they bear promise, and they confirm for us the sacredness of reality. We draw strength from them and from one anothers commitments to them. In this context, we acknowledge with gratitude the Arigatou Foundation for initiating, convening, and facilitating the GNRC.