“Multi-Religious Perspectives on the CRC@30”
The 30th Anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child
July 15, 2019, 1:15 – 3:15 pm at the Ford Foundation
Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit
Dr Tveit, the World Council of Churches (WCC) and UNICEF have a global partnership to promote children’s rights. WCC’s members include over half a billion Christians in 345 member churches in 140 countries. What are some examples of the steps taken by the churches to promote children’s rights within their communities and congregations and what is the future of this initiative?
Thank you for the opportunity to participate in this panel session, commemorating 30 years of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Over the last five years, we at the World Council of Churches have partnered with UNICEF to promote children’s rights in a way that reflects our unique position as a global ecumenical fellowship of churches with ties to grassroots Christians around the world. The WCC-UNICEF partnership led to development of “Churches’ Commitments to Children,” a joint action plan supporting churches in their engagements for child protection, child participation, and climate justice initiatives for and with children.
When I asked the WCC member churches in 2017 to consider joint efforts through the “Churches’ Commitment to Children,” we witnessed immediately a strong willingness of churches to unite for children and join hands with secular partners to translate the Convention into effective action on the ground. We shared more than 100 effective tools and strategies to strengthen the work for children.
A network of over 400 influential supporters, ranging from church leaders to Nobel Prize winners and activists at the grassroots level, are now collaborating around the action plan, using their influence to advance the three main objectives of our joint WCC-UNICEF programme. In light of the 30th anniversary, I have also called upon our executive committee to lift up throughout church communities around the world the rights of children.
Let me offer you examples of steps taken by churches to promote child rights, in each of these three areas of engagement:
1. Activities of churches promoting children’s right to be protected range from shelters, such as the “Obra Ecumenica Barrio Borro” in Uruguay, where adolescent victims of trafficking receive vocational training, to campaigns to end corporal punishment, such as the petitions and theological studies of the Anglican Church in Canada to prohibit violent disciplining, and sermons which educate communities on ways in which the CRC comports with messages of the Bible. Such a campaign in Nigeria recently reached up to 40 million people.
As a pre-condition for any activities related to children, every church must have a solid child safeguarding policy and verify that measures are in place to prevent any misconduct in activities involving children and adolescents. I speak here not only about prevention of grave crimes, such as sexual abuse of children, but the whole range of mistreatment of children.
The WCC’s child safeguarding policy and related tools now serve as model for member churches. We collaborate closely with the National Council of Churches in Australia in in-depth training for staff and volunteers working with children, to be made available to churches in other parts of the world. In Indonesia and in Jamaica, the WCC supported National Councils of Churches in expanding child safeguarding measures across the country, and collaborating around the INSPIRE strategy in actions to end violence against children in society at large.
Because it is essential that children can speak out in confidential settings when they suffer injustices or need advice on a situation, steps are now also undertaken to promote awareness about the toll-free child help-lines through church facilities in Tanzania, India and the Philippines, with support from the “Out of the Shadows” index fund.
2. Child Protection also implies creating an environment in which children are taken seriously, are encouraged to express themselves, ask questions, and share concerns. As part of the “Churches’ Commitments to Children” action plan on child and youth participation, the WCC trains churches on how to include children’s voices in alternative reports to the UN Committee on the Child and the Universal Periodic Review. As a result, a 15-year-old girl named Peace from Nigeria has recently shared at the UN Human Rights Council her account of the violence experienced by her peers and proposed solutions, based on a child-led WCC coordinated report.
In steps undertaken by the Protestant church in Argentina, young people from slums were given media training, to discuss national and international news from various sources and produce short videos in which the teenagers express their views on community and world events and propose ideas on how to address key challenges for a better future.
For the engagement of younger children, the Protestant Church in Geneva developed with us a special puppet theatre play for Sunday schools, explaining child rights to 4-8 year old children and telling them how churches support refugee children and undertake initiatives to protect the planet with and for children.
3. In fact, regrettably, we see today an increase of child rights violations due to consequences of the climate emergency worldwide. Therefore, in the future the “Churches’ Commitments to Children” initiative will accelerate efforts to address the root causes of child rights violations and to promote strong measures to address the climate emergency.
We have just obtained the Keeling Curve Prize to support churches’ efforts for child rights through climate justice, through the WCC-UNICEF partnership. Through the network of church-run schools, Sunday schools, and summer camps we are supporting the initiatives of young people to influence decisions that affect their future.
And we look forward to collaborating with many of you present here in doing what the children and teenagers in the climate marches are demanding from adults: changing the systems which cause climate change and environmental deterioration. This includes changing our financial systems and consumer behaviors which are not compatible with the Convention of the Rights of the Child, divesting from fossil fuels, measuring our ecological footprints, and even addressing eco-anxiety, which is spreading among children and adolescents as a serious form of psychological violence.
One of our ambitious objectives for 2020 for the “Churches’ Commitments to Children” is that 50 percent of the WCC's constituency should have eco-friendly systems (including banking and pension funds arrangements) and have activities in place that build the capacity of young people to act as climate activists and to measure the footprint of their community and institutions.
Children exhibit such optimism and growth yet also such vulnerability to violence. They carry some of the heaviest burdens of human conflicts. They need a reconciled world. They should have in a particular way the right to hope. We can help.
I thank you.
 Christian ideas about human dignity and equality strongly shaped the concept of human rights in the CRC and other human rights documents. Background material about the CRC and reference documents that outline positive relationships between biblical perspectives and child rights can be found on www.oikoumene.org/resources-children www.oikoumene.org/resources-children.