“Stop violence against children and protect their well-being!” is the all embracing theme of the World Day movement from 2011 to 2013. Tremendous strides were made this year, thanks to the thousands of religious, governmental and community partners all over the world who organized faith observances and community action events on or around 20 November.
“At last count, Council members and their affiliates organized a combined total of 87 initiatives in 70 countries,” says Meg Gardinier, Director of the World Day Secretariat in New York City. A preliminary view of World Day 2011 Event Map brings a few of these creative and inspiring activities to life:
In AFRICA: Worshippers in Angola bringing corporal punishment issues to the forefront at church services… Muslim and Christian leaders in Kenya engaging students in discussions about violence, providing school uniforms to children suffering neglect; and launching Peace Clubs.
In ASIA: Mullahs in Afghanistan announcing the World Day on radio and TV interviews…School-centered campaigns, health check-ups, and region wide “Youth Voices on Child Poverty” competitions in India…Metro Manila children in the Philippines issuing a call to key government leaders to mainstream children into the peace process and cease armed conflict in their generation.
In EUROPE: Youth of Bosnia and Herzegovina organizing their “From Big City to Small Hearts” clothing drive for children in Sarajevo…In Romania, a “Stop Violence Between Children” emphasis, with a school-centered workshop “Let’s Act Against Bullying!”
In LATIN AMERICA: Multiple celebrations in public places in Curitiba, Brazil, plus an event in Congress and an interfaith celebration in a church; the main message focusing on child rights and particular types of violence against targeted children…In Chile, children and adults gathering in Quinta Normal Park in Santiago for prayers and scripture readings, a mini-workshop on the “Learning to Live Together” manual, live music by an ethnic drum group, and recreational activities.
In the MIDDLE EAST: In Israel, school activities in Ramle focusing on child rights; 14 and 15 year-olds taking part in activities and games to gain awareness about their rights…
In Jordan, the youth group Fisher Program continuing their two-year “Bag of Love” program as a World Day observance…
In Palestine, 80 Muslim leaders in sessions to familiarize with key messages on child protection and child rights; disseminating the message at Friday prayers.
In OCEANIA: In Papua New Guinea, raising public awareness about child protection in Goroka, where violence against children is a significant problem; children using their training in music, debating and drama in creative presentations on the issues; parents and teachers being trained in positive discipline; new children’s clubs, parent support groups and child protection committees contributing to the day with participation from governments.
The New “Positive Parenting” Emphasis
Ms. Gardinier also reports that many events this year focused on a “promoting non-violence through positive parenting.”
For its part in celebrating World Day 2011, the World Day Secretariat in New York City convened on 18 November a panel of four experts to offer global findings on violence against children, and explore the vital role of positive parenting programs. Some of their comments follow.
From UNICEF: “Positive parenting is the most effective and sustainable strategic intervention to prevent violence against children,” said Dr. Nurper Ulkuer, Chief of the Early Childhood Development Unit of UNICEF. Youngsters aged one to four who are completely dependent on adult care are most vulnerable, she said. Citing the UN Secretary-General’s Study on Violence against Children (2006), she defined forms of violence as physical violence, neglect, sexual violence, harmful traditional practices, and psychological violence.
Positive parenting counters violence by promoting “appropriate care practices, strong parent-child bonding and attachment, non-violent relationship, and support to families to encourage these factors,” she said. She urged religious leaders to “raise awareness, foster dialogue and set priorities” for members of their communities, to promote “a protective environment for children.”
From YALE UNIVERSITY: “The size of the brain of a child who experiences recurrent child abuse or neglect and violence is 1/3 the size of a normally functioning brain,” said Dr. Pia Britto, Associate Research Scientist at the Child Study Center of Yale University. She said that the experience of violence “induces stress into the system,” which “in elevated amounts becomes toxic for development.”
Dr. Britto also cited a survey on child discipline, with over 30,000 families responding from 24 low and middle income countries from every region of the world. Findings indicated that 66% of children are experiencing psychological violence in the home (Source: World Bank 2010) and 63% of children experience physical violence.
“Just as harsh parenting limits child development, learning and health, positive parenting by contrast has the potential to improve children’s lives and well-being,” she said.
From COVENANT HOUSE New York: “Many don’t believe they have any personal strength,” said Sr. Nancy Downing, Director of Advocacy at Covenant House, about the homeless teenaged mothers in their parenting program. “We help them with goal setting, setting clear expectations for their kids, and developing awareness of what their children need.”
The program helps parents understand for example, why it doesn’t work to tell a six-month-old to “be quiet” or a two-year-old to “sit still.” Without positive structures or much education in their own growing up years, the young parents now have a chance at Covenant House to learn new skills and not be alone in their struggles.
“And it’s a false assumption that young fathers aren’t interested,” Sr. Downing added. “We engage them with mentors to help them address the barriers in their lives.”
From INTERNATIONAL RESCUE COMMITTEE: “In the USA, every five hours one child dies due to abuse and neglect,” said Mr. Eduardo Garcia Rolland, Child Protection Technical Advisor of the IRC. “Everyone wants the best for their family. But you need to improve parenting skills to make a difference.”
You have to give alternatives. “We can say ‘don’t hit your baby,’ and the response might be ‘what do I do then?’”
He shared how the IRC’s New Generation program with the poorest and most vulnerable children in Burundi focused on building economic capacities of their families and improving parental abilities to provide a safe and nurturing environment for their children. Results show significant improvements in the way parents are disciplining their children.
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The newest member of the World Day Council was pleased to attend the panel presentation. “Families are the foundation for human life,” said Mr. Somboon Chungprampree, Executive Secretary of the International Network of Engaged Buddhists. The monks of their organization operate 1,500 monastic schools, linking with families in Burma and elsewhere, he said.
The panel discussion was presented under the sponsorship of the Permanent Mission of Chile to the United Nations. Ambassador Octavio Errazuriz welcomed everyone in this effort to “explore how religious communities, secular organizations and inter-governmental organizations can partner to assist parents in raising their children through peaceful and non-violent means.”
The government of Chile and UNICEF have been working in partnership to develop a guide to address violence in the family. The guide provides examples of positive discipline, discusses how to prevent violence within the family, including sexual abuse, child abuse and domestic violence.
The guide also provides legal advice and information on who to contact and where to go for help. Another important aspect of the program in Chile is the incorporation of home visits to its Early Childhood Development programs to reach and improve children at risk. UNICEF and partners have supported national campaigns to raise awareness of the impact of corporal punishment on children and promote alternative approaches to child discipline.
“It is an honor for me to open this panel for the World Day,” he said, “as it connects religious and secular organizations in a common effort to improve life for the planet’s most disadvantaged children.”
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Written by the World Day Secretariat