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Faith in Action for Children

Interfaith Prayer With Children In the Wake of the COVID-19 Pandemic

22 April 2020

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Information is essential for every leader who wants to take action and do it well. That is why the World Day offers its compact “ABCs of Action and Advocacy” series online. Each title provides a “big picture” overview on a particular issue followed by progress to date and action ideas. Brief stories, quotes, and facts are offered that can be easily shared. And further resources are listed, to connect you with the global community of child advocates at work on the issues.

Across much of the developing world, one out of every three girls is married before they turn 18. Yet they are, according to the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, still children.

This week, at the 2011 meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative, The Elders, an organization of eminent global leaders first convened by Nelson Mandela, announced the launch of a major global initiative dedicated to ending this practice within a generation.

UNITED NATIONS — Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Nepal and some of the world’s other poorest countries delivered not only money but new services in the year since U.N. member states pledged more than $40 billion to save the lives of mothers and children, a new study of the spending said Tuesday.

The spending report was released at a high-level event chaired by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who has made raising money for the health of mothers and their children a special project.

by Sarah Costa

Imagine you are a woman, forced to leave your home and community because there is no food or water to feed your family. You must walk hundreds of miles with your children to a refugee camp in another country. As you make your long trek, you watch other mothers carrying their own starving and malnourished children, on the brink of death -- or already dead -- and pray that your own children will survive, in the sun, in the heat, with only a few sips of water to keep them going. You encounter violent militias and armed bandits along the way who leer at and threaten you and your daughter. Imagine that you cannot ward them off, and your daughter is kidnapped and raped.

This scenario plays out every day in the Horn of Africa as thousands of Somalis, the overwhelming majority of them women and children, flee their country to find food and shelter in neighboring Kenya and Ethiopia. Yet when they finally reach the camps, which are supposed to be safe havens, they find that the dangers continue, and are sometimes even worse.

Thousands of refugees have reached camps like Dadaab in Kenya -- the biggest refugee complex in the world. Built for 90,000 people, it now hosts nearly five times that number. While we have been hearing news stories about the desperate need for food, water and basic health care, we have heard little about the appalling sexual violence women and girls there face every day.

Many of the displaced Somalis are in areas on the outskirts of the established camps; they live in ad hoc settlements that lack security and basic services like latrines. The International Rescue Committee found a fourfold increase in reports of sexual violence at Dadaab in June 2011 compared to January-May. The real numbers are likely much higher, because many women and girls fail to report attacks for fear of their safety, because they don't want to be ostracized by their families and communities or because they don't trust that their rapists will ever be caught or prosecuted. Some of those living in the camps also face violence from their partners, and some are being forced into early marriage or survival sex, because they have no other way to support themselves.

The world can -- and must -- act quickly to stop this. While managing the sheer number of people at the camps is a daunting challenge for those on the ground, getting it right now will more effectively protect women and girls than trying to fix problems after they have become entrenched.

Based on years of research and direct experience, the Women's Refugee Commission has identified the top ten critical needs facing displaced women and girls in crisis-affected settings. Our immediate recommendations include not only ensuring that they have safe access to basic necessities, such as food, cooking fuel, potable water, sanitation and shelter, but that they are protected from sexual violence and that health care, particularly reproductive health care, is available. Victims of sexual violence must also receive psychosocial support. The recently updated Minimum Initial Service Package for reproductive health outlines the basic measures needed to respond to the priority reproductive health needs of women and girls from the onset of a crisis. Governments and humanitarian agencies have initiated these efforts, but activities must be rapidly scaled up to meet the magnitude of the need.

One of the greatest risks the women and girls face arises out of what should be a simple task -- cooking for their families. Most of the food rations they receive from humanitarian agencies -- lentils, flour and a corn-soya blend -- need to be cooked. But often they don't receive cooking fuel, and firewood is becoming harder and harder to find because of widespread deforestation caused by the large influx of displaced persons over the past several decades. Women and girls have to go deeper into the desert around the camps to find wood, which makes them more vulnerable to sexual assault and rape. The solution is simple: they should have safe access to the cooking fuel required to cook the food rations they receive. Given the level of environmental degradation in the region, this will require the international community to invest more in alternative fuel sources and to promote fuel-efficient stoves.

There are other solutions that should not be difficult to implement. For example, women's and girls' risks of sexual violence would be greatly reduced if the camps had better lighting, latrines with locks and tighter security.

As the world responds to this and other emergencies, the particular plight of women and girls has to be put into better focus. Humanitarian agencies must recognize that women and girls are almost always among those at most risk in such crises and that their specific needs -- and rights -- must be met. If we don't take these most basic measures to protect them, we will further compound the tragedy and the devastating impact it is having on them.

It's time to put the lives and safety of women and girls at the top of the humanitarian agenda.

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For Immediate Release

World Day of Prayer and Action for Children and Partners Urge Action to “Stop Violence Against Children”

World Day of Prayer and Action, United Nations Special Representative, UNICEF and Religions for Peace reaffirm commitment for the protection of children

(NEW YORK, 24 June 2011) – Engaging faith-based organizations to “stop violence against children” was the focus of a panel discussion at the United Nations, during which four leading authorities on child protection reported on progress and urged the 85 attendees to help by enlisting support.

Mr. Kul Chandra Gautam, Convening Chair of the World Day of Prayer and Action for Children and former Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations, announced the World Day’s 2011-2013 emphasis on positive parenting, birth registration drives, and prevention of early child marriage to prevent violence.   “We cannot make sustained progress for children in a world of violence,” he said. “We need to plant seeds for a non-violent world, starting with children.”  He urged attendees to “create momentum” by encouraging “friends, families and local houses of worship to partner with others to commemorate the UN-declared Universal Children’s Day on the 20th of November as a World Day of Prayer and Action for Children.”

One girl below the age of 18 is married off every three seconds worldwide, according to a community development charity which is calling for the British government to help end child marriage.

Plan UK will publish a report this week entitled Breaking Vows which states that 10 million under 18s become child brides every year. In developing countries in South America, North Africa and parts of Asia, one in three under 18-year-olds, and one in seven of all girls under 15, are married.

Rates of early and forced marriage are also high in Europe, with the highest percentages in central and eastern Europe where 2.2 million girls have married before their 18th birthday. The highest rates are in Georgia (17%) and Turkey (14%). At least 10% of adolescents marry before the age of 18 in Britain and France which confirms, says Plan UK, that early marriage is of global concern. The UK governments Forced Marriage Unit received more than 1,700 calls from at-risk girls last year.

The spring meeting of the World Day of Prayer and Action for Children Planning Committee was held in Geneva and formally agreed to adopt a new theme to guide all World Day activities for 2011-2013. The prevention of Violence against Children – in the home, and family, schools, alternative care institutions, workplace and the community – will inform the direction of all World Day activities, held in commemoration of Universal Children’s Day. World Day activities will focus in particular on issues which cut across all regions of the world: the abolition of corporal punishment, the prevention of early child marriage and the promotion of birth registration.