UNICEF helps launch World Day with candlelight vigil in New York’s Times Square

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UNICEF joins religious leaders to launch global initiative to improve children’s health and well-being

NEW YORK/ GENEVA 16 November 2010 – A candlelight vigil from 6 to 7 p.m. in New York’s Times Square commenced a series of global activities in some 40 countries to mobilize secular and faith-based organizations to work together for the wellbeing of children.

The theme for these activities in 2010 will be maternal health and child survival, with a particular focus on breastfeeding. UNICEF is supporting activities in 20 countries around the world.

The New York event, supported by UNICEF, marks the start of the second annual global initiative by civil society actors to hold a World Day of Prayer and Action for Children, organized around Universal Children’s Day (November 20), which commemorates the adoption by the UN General Assembly of the landmark Convention on the Rights of the Child.

“This initiative enlists religious communities as equal partners in global efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals,” said Dr. Nicholas Alipui, UNICEF Director of Programmes. “With their ability to influence behaviour at the family and community level and across all social strata, religious leaders have enormous power to effect real and lasting change in the lives of children.”

Studies show that breastfed children have at least six times greater chance for survival in the early months of life than non-breastfed children. Breastfeeding reduces the risk of mortality from acute respiratory infection and diarrhea, two major child killers, as well as from other infectious diseases.

Dr. Alipui joined religious leaders from a range of faiths, children’s advocates and Broadway stars speaking on behalf of marginalized children at the candlelight vigil for homeless children. The event was organized by Covenant House, the largest privately-funded agency in the Americas working with homeless children and youth.

UNICEF has a long history of working with religious leaders from all faiths on issues that affect children: from joining forces with churches to negotiate a ceasefire during the civil war in El Salvador so that children could be vaccinated, to working with Imams in Afghanistan to promote girls’ education and partnering with Buddhist monks in Cambodia to support children affected by HIV and AIDS.

Other activities that will take place around the World Day of Prayer and Action for Children with UNICEF support in coming weeks include:

  • In Algeria, sermons in 15,000 mosques will focus on children’s rights and the importance of breastfeeding;
  • In the Democratic Republic of Congo, the five major religious groups, whose networks reach more than 30 million people, will lead week-long family and community campaigns promoting key family health practices like breastfeeding and immunization;
  • In Bangladesh, Hindu,  Muslim, Christian and Buddhist leaders will come together with the government for a workshop on implementing a nationwide Infant and Young Child Feeding Campaign;
  • In Kenya, government ministries and the Inter-Religious Council of Kenya are organizing child health action campaigns around the country, with a focus on exclusive breastfeeding.

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