As part of the ongoing ecumenical journey to uphold the dignity and rights of children in Asia, the Christian Conference of Asia organised and facilitated the Asia Regional Consultation on “Upholding the Rights and Dignity of Children” in September 2018, held in Jakarta, Indonesia. Sixty participants from countries and regions across Asia gathered in Jakarta and discussed various issues and challenges faced by children in Asia, such as the impact of a digitalized world on children and the implementation of child rights protection mechanisms in Asia and other regions.
The participants of the consultation were made aware of the struggles in respective countries and sub-regions: millions of children continue to be victims of the most egregious forms of violence and exploitation, including sexual exploitation. Child protection, thus, is a common area of interest and work. At the conclusion of this consultation, the Christian Conference of Asia was requested to initiate and facilitate a platform where all child rights advocates from its member constituencies could work together, learn from, and mutually support each other.
One of the concrete actions taken by the participants was the formation of the Asia Advocacy Network on Dignity and Rights of Children, brought into existence and coordinated by the Christian Conference of Asia. This step proved to be a historic milestone in the Asian ecumenical journey on protecting the dignity and rights of children. network now serves as a collective response and a stepping-stone for strengthening unified ecumenical action to mobilise and advocate for child rights protection in collaboration with civil society, governmental, and non-governmental agencies, as well as other faith-based organisations in Asia.
It is of utmost importance that the advocacy work within churches and other related bodies / organisations be strengthened over time. The Economist Intelligence Unit 2018 - Out of The Shadows report recommends strengthening national legal frameworks on the protection of children against sexual violence. In conjunction, it is imperative that Asian churches be mobilised as part of the advocacy efforts, given the vital role that churches play in ensuring and promoting a safe environment for children within the community.
As part of the network’s advocacy efforts, the Christian Conference of Asia in collaboration with the World Council of Churches (WCC) invited 38 representatives from organisations and churches that have been working in the field to meet together in October 2019. The event was part of a pilot project of the Out of the Shadows campaign that offered capacity-building workshops to church representatives in Africa and Asia.
The specialists hailed from different parts of Asia: the Christian Conference of Asia’s constituencies, international bodies (UNICEF, ECPAT, World Vision), and also regional and national bodies (Voice of the Children Malaysia, Salinlahi Alliance for Children’s Concerns, the Association for the Rights of Children in South East Asia). Representatives of these organisations shared the kind of work they were engaged in, which provided insights into the ground covered so far and also defined the scope of work yet to be done in different parts of Asia.
While churches in Indonesia, Philippines, India, and others have developed church-level safeguarding policies and codes of conduct, community awareness on child protections was still left desired and the implementation of frameworks was still to be strengthened further. What was also affirmed was the necessity of interfaith actions to reach out to as many children as possible, along with ensuring that all children had access to justice and legal recourse.
An issue that came up repeatedly during the deliberations of the meeting was that increased commitments to providing safe spaces for children were to be made, and that this information was to be continually disseminated to Asian churches and councils. The baton of ensuring child protection is to be constantly relayed to church leaders and activists. Viewing all children as God’s precious gifts, the common task and responsibility of all is now to ensure that the rights and dignity of children are well-protected under all circumstances. Though securing this objective may involve complex systems and difficult tasks, it is not impossible to achieve!
It is also time to shift the paradigm from not just working for children, but with children and young people. As UNICEF executive director Henrietta Fore spoke at the CRC@30 Commemoration Event, “… let us also commit not only to listening to children and young people, let us support them, take action with them, and follow their lead.”