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Kul Gautam is Chair of the Council of the World Day of Prayer and Action for Children (DPAC). He was formerly Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF. In Coimbatore with DPAC’s council to participate in Shanti Ashram’s Interfaith Round Table 2013, Kul shares his thoughts on the role religion can play to help children.
What is the World Day of Prayer and Action for Children and why does it work for children by networking with worldwide religious organisations in particular? what inspired its model?
November 20 is Universal Children’s Day and everybody celebrates it differently — doctors through health initiative and teachers through schools — but many religious organisations wanted to know how exactly they could contribute. Since all religions prioritise prayer, we suggested that they spend the day in prayer for children and take those prayers forward through action. That’s how, in 2009 after a meeting in Hiroshima, November 20 also became the DPAC.
Religious organisations can initiate much change because they influence society’s behaviour.
For instance, in the 90s, Latin America, despite being a middle-income region, had lower child immunisation rates than many poor nations. While the Ministries of Health acknowledged the problem, they said they didn’t have medical personnel to cover every place. That’s when the UNICEF suggested immunising children through churches because Catholicism was powerful in Latin America. Every single village, however far-flung, had a church whose pastor the village respected. Immunisation could be done by them with just basic training. We soon saw rates rise very fast. So partnering with religious organisations does work.
In India, where conflict between religious communities has often been an undeniable part of our history, how do you see this approach panning out?
This model is especially appropriate for multi-religious, multi-cultural societies like India because it encourages interfaith cooperation to overcome misunderstanding and unjustified hatred.
While religious communities may argue on issues of politics and theology, they can come together for the cause of children, because at its core every religion wants the best for its children. There are superficial and misinterpreted teachings from religious texts which are used to exploit children by keeping them from schools, marrying them young, etc. But it takes a diamond to cut another diamond. So for every one of these misinterpretations, progressive religious leaders can show the positive, enlightened path that highlights the well-being of children.
What are DPAC’s key focus areas in India and how does partnering work on the ground?
In India, we realised that while education and health for children were being addressed, movements against violence towards children needed working on. Reports of girls being sexually molested and exploited, child abuse at home and in schools, child marriages and child labour were common. On the ground, DPAC has a triumvirate partnership between religious organisations, secular bodies such as UNICEF and Save the children Fund, and sometimes local governments too because while they pass good laws, implementation can be helped by others. In India, we’ve partnered with the Ramakrishna Mission Vivekananda University in West Bengal and Shanti Ashram in Tamil Nadu to work for emphasis on positive parenting. Discipline can be implemented without violence, and through love. We also focus on making children aware that India is a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, and that therefore they can demand their rights. But those come with responsibilities which they must fulfil too.
Nepal is your country of birth and upbringing, and you’ve spearheaded the Rollback Violence Campaign (RVC) there. What are the similarities you find between India and Nepal in the challenges that face children?
Nepal and India have similar traditions, history, culture and religion. Even in politics, you have had a Maoist/Naxalite Movement, as have we. And while its goals were to achieve justice for people, violence was an accepted means. That’s where the RVC stepped in and upheld Gandhi’s principle of non-violent means towards justice. Just as in India, DPAC in Nepal works against child marriage by partnering with religious organisations. Traditions such as these have been ingrained for centuries and justified by religion. Priests conduct these marriages! So we need to work against it from within the religious framework.
How have your years with the UN influenced the vision that DPAC has?
Parallel to the 2002 UN General Assembly Special Session for Children, there was a meeting of the world’s top religious leaders who pledged to support the summit’s commitment to ‘A World Fit for Children’. So DPAC’s vision was sown then. I was also instrumental in drafting many of the summit’s goals towards child survival which we continue to strive for today. Having worked with UNICEF for 35 years, I’m a child of the UN and my philosophy of life is influenced by the UN, so I know its many positives. But as an insider, I also know its shortcomings which we now try to overcome.
London: Malala Yousafzai, who emerged as a global icon for women's rights after being shot at by Taliban for advocating girl's education in Pakistan, will give her first public speech in New York on her 16th birthday on July 12, a day that would now be marked as 'Malala Day'. UN Special Envoy and former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced on Friday that Malala is determined to continue campaigning for girls' education and will speak to a specially convened meeting of young people from around the world at the United Nations.
On Wednesday, 17 April, my attention was drawn to a very tragic story in the Times of India, under the headline, “Early motherhood forcing young brides to bury aspirations.” It is about an 18-year-old girl who killed her two-day-old son in India as she feared that motherhood might end her dreams of pursuing education. The story filled me with even stronger resolve to speak up on this issue.
It also reminded me of another story, in Kabul, where 15-year-old Freshta escaped marriage to a man more than twice her age. "I am educated, that is why I could refuse my parents' decision. But my sister is only 13 years old, and they will marry her to an old man," said Freshta with tears in her eyes, worrying about the fate of her sister. Freshta is living at a secret shelter for women in Kabul; a place she was referred to by the police after being beaten by her family and expelled from home for rebelling against her family's wishes.
The Templeton Prize has been awarded to Desmond Tutu, the former Anglican archbishop of Cape Town, South Africa. The award recognizes his lifelong work in advancing spiritual and liberating principles such as love and forgiveness around the world.
Tutu became a globally recognized figure as a result of his longstanding and principled opposition to South Africa's apartheid regime. Then, after the election of Nelson Mandela in 1994 as president in the country's first multi-ethnic elections, Tutu chaired the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Employing a revolutionary and relentless policy of confession, forgiveness, and resolution, the commission helped move the nation from institutionalized racial repression toward egalitarian democracy.
Progress shows that stunting in children can be defeated – UNICEF
DUBLIN, 15 April 2013 – A new UNICEF report issued today offers evidence that real progress is being made in the fight against stunted growth – the hidden face of poverty for 165 million children under the age of five. The report shows that accelerated progress is both possible and necessary.
Improving Child Nutrition: The achievable imperative for global progress confirms that a key to success against stunting is focusing attention on pregnancy and the first two years of a child’s life. Stunting in a child is not only about being too short for his or her age. It can also mean suffering from stunted development of the brain and cognitive capacity.
By Li-mei Hoang
LONDON | Wed Apr 10, 2013 5:33am EDT
(Reuters) - Most victims of sexual violence in conflict zones are children who are suffering rape and abuse at an appalling rate, said campaigners who described the attacks as the "hidden horrors of war".
In the worst-affected countries, such as Liberia and Sierra Leone, children made up more than 70 percent of victims, said a report by charity Save the Children published on Wednesday.
The study contained harrowing stories of children being killed after being raped and of others who were abducted and abused by armed forces and groups. It also said children as young as two were being attacked by opportunistic predators including teachers, religious leaders and peacekeepers.
FLORENCE/BRUSSELS/DUBLIN 10 April 2013 – A timely study on child well-being in rich countries,launched today by UNICEF’s Office of Research, finds that the Netherlands and four Nordic countries – Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden – again sit at the top of a child well-being table; whilst four southern European countries – Greece, Italy, Portugal and Spain – are placed in the bottom half of the table.
Report Card 11, from UNICEF’s Office of Research examines the state of children across the industrialized world. As debates continue to generate strongly opposed views on the pros and cons of austerity measures and social spending cuts, Report Card 11 charts the achievements of 29 of the world’s advanced economies in ensuring the well-being of their children during the first decade of this century. This international comparison, says the report, proves that child poverty in these countries is not inevitable, but policy susceptible – and that some countries are doing much better than others at protecting their most vulnerable children.
JAKARTA, 8 April 2013 (IRIN) - Efforts to protect children in Indonesia from abuse are obstructed by barriers to crime reporting, which may worsen with the threatened closure of police-run units that handle crimes against women and children.
Usman Basuni, assistant deputy minister for child participation at the Women Empowerment and Child Protection Ministry, told IRIN these specialized police units - known by their local acronym, PPA - are at risk of closing because crimes against women and children are rarely reported, which has led police to shift their resources elsewhere.
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