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Statements and speeches

Faith and Children’s Rights: A Multi-religious Study on the Convention Rights of the Child

19 November 2019

Launch event with Arigatou International on the occasion of

30th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child

Palais des Nations

19 November 2019

It's a joy to be here with you and, on behalf of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, we offer warmest congratulations to Arigatou International, UNICEF and all those involved in developing and undertaking this multi-religious study, for whose launch we celebrate here as part of our celebration too of the 30th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.  Happy birthday!

Thank you!  Thank you for this remarkable opportunity you have opened up to strengthen implementation of the Convention of the Rights of the Child by recognizing and affirming the critical role that religious communities can play.

Thank you for understanding that, like all human rights, children's rights are not a question of what we "like" or "dislike", of that which we "approve of" or "disapprove of" but are matters instead of universal norms and standards, including legal obligations, that authorities -- the world over -- secular and religious -- should respect, protect and fulfill.

Thank you for knowing that human rights help explain to the powerful – whoever they may be - how they should behave towards – should treat -- those of us with less power – whether that be politically, socially, economically or culturally.   Thank you for knowing well that those of us who have the greatest power carry also the greatest responsibilities to do all that we can to make human rights a reality for children.

Thank you for standing up for children's rights!

Through this research -- and by the gift of your presence here too -- you affirm  that, in partnership with, by observing, the standards that are set out in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the world's religious communities and their leaders have unparalleled potential to lift up the dignity of children worldwide.

You know well, that for so many children the world over life is just too tough. A new majority lives today in the toughest of circumstances, in the poorest of places with the fewest opportunities – being those most exposed to the impacts of conflict, contagion, crisis and climate change.  

Millions of children are on the move – trudging down the world's harshest routes – travelling, even on their own, on dangerous, perilous journeys in search of a safer life – of human dignity: of life to be lived with less violence, more education and employment, less discrimination and abuse, more opportunity, less silencing more voice – searching, in other words, for where it is that they can enjoy and exercise their human rights.

Yet, a child's safe passage from birth, through childhood and adolescence onto adulthood – is not the child's responsibility: it is ours – the responsibility of the no-longer young.   

In this we all are implicated – be we of the secular or the sacred.  For the challenges that children and adolescents face have far less to do with their choices, their behaviour or their demands and far more to do with ours – with the decisions and behaviour of parents, families, schools, religious and secular communities, of governments and international actors. 

Why is it that when we, the unyoung, speak of children, we so very often speak only about what children don't yet know, can't yet do, what they need to learn and about how vulnerable they are?   Yet children's "vulnerabilities" are the product mostly of the bad decisions and bad behavior of the unyoung – of behavior that abuses, neglects, excludes, discriminates.  And aren't we all are made vulnerable, depending on the context? 

Furthermore, children have competencies too.  Did you know that:

  • An 11 year-old invented the icy-pole/the popsicle?
  • A 12-year-old invented wind surfing?
  • A 14-year-old discovered the basic workings of the modern television?
  • Braille – the system used by visually impaired people to read and write - was invented by a 15- year-old?

The willingness and capacity of children to help shape a far better world could not be clearer.  Around the globe, children in primary school to teenagers -- in unprecedented numbers -- are voicing their demands of us, gathering at protests in cities in every region.  And they are reminding us that they want, need and have the right to the assets, space, support and freedom to make informed decisions about their bodies, their opportunities and about our shared futures.


What is clear – as indeed this research elaborates -- is that in the advance of dignity and rights for our world's children, faith and belief -- inextricable to us as human beings—has a profound role to play.  Religious communities already do so much – shelter, schools, hospitals, support – the world over; wherever you find children you will find communities of faith at work.  And the symmetry of their faith with human rights is a resource to be strengthened.  And their deviation from those standards – such as it is – is something we cannot let rest. 

Faith calls us up – into relationship with a sense of higher power.  Faith calls us back into connection with that from which we have come, with those who went before us.  And faith calls on too: It narrates for many of us even our ultimate destinations.  But it must call us out too!  Call us into an outwards-facing relationship of heightened awareness as to the impact of our faith on others.

For while personal belief need have no boundary, personal actions, which can bring the most communal of consequences, simply cannot be afforded that the same luxury.  "What is the consequence of my belief for your belief?" must be asked, considered and explored respectfully.  But the real deal-breaker question is "What is the consequence of my belief's actions for your physical, material and tangible existence"?

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) – and all that flows from it - anticipates that you and I might not share the same faith – so it seeks to protect the believer (and the unbeliever), not the belief: freedom of speech and worship but indivisible from the freedoms too from want and from fear.  Inseparable one from the other – no one fundamental freedom can be allowed its exercise in ways that obliterate realization of the others for the "other". 

My freedom from want and freedom from fear cannot be secured at cost to your freedom of worship and freedom of speech.  But the corollary is just as true: no freedom of worship or belief can excuse disproportionate restriction on freedom of speech, nor can be left to foster a cruel spread of want or fear – whether by acts large in scale or intimate in their detail.

Above all – it is the best interests of the child must be at the forefront.  To that end, as the Study emphasizes, "religion and children's rights are two very powerful forces with enormous potential to improve the lives and well-being of children all around the world."  In that we indeed all should have faith.