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Challenged by the global epidemic of violence against children, we, leaders and members of the world’s religious and spiritual traditions, girls and boys, women and men, from 70 countries, together with representatives of governments, the United Nations, and international and grassroots organizations, met in Panama City, Panama for the 5th Forum of the Global Network of Religions for Children (GNRC), from 9-11 May 2017.
Building upon the GNRC’s 17 years of service to the world’s children, we affirm the fundamental dignity of every boy and girl. We reaffirm the moral imperative to protect children from harm, as enshrined and protected in the teachings of all of the world’s religious and spiritual communities and in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and its optional protocols. We believe in the power of interfaith cooperation to transform the world.
ISSUED 14th May 2017 – PANAMA CITY, PANAMA; NAIROBI, KENYA; SANTIAGO; CHILE; TOKYO, JAPAN;
Five hundred faith leaders from 70 countries, joined by representatives of governments, the United Nations, and international and grassroots organizations, have made a solemn commitment to greater effort and cooperation in the cause of ending violence against children. The leaders met in Panama City, Panama for the 5th Forum of the Global Network of Religions for Children (GNRC) from 9-11 May 2017, reaffirming the universal “moral imperative to protect children from harm.”
The outcomes of the forum were summed up in “The Panama Declaration on Ending Violence Against Children,” which was adopted enthusiastically by all the participants at the end of the Forum.
The President of the Republic of Panama H.E. Juan Carlos Varela officiated the opening of the Forum, calling for an urgent response from the international community and all of the human family to address the plight of children worldwide. Speaker after speaker, including UNICEF Executive Director Mr. Anthony Lake; UN Special Representative of the Secretary General on Preventing Violence Against Children Ms. Marta Santos Pais; Global Partnership and Fund to End Violence Against Children Director Dr. Susan Bissell; HRH Prince El Hassan bin Talal of Jordan; President of the Pontifical Council on Interreligious Dialogue Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran; World Council of Churches General Secretary Rev. Dr. Olav Fykse Tveit and WCC Moderator Dr. Agnes Abuom, declared in one voice that it is unacceptable that one billion children worldwide continue to endure physical, psychological or sexual violence.
The leaders thanked Rev. Keishi Miyamoto, President of Arigatou International, for convening the GNRC, calling for more support to end the conditions that cause one child to be killed every five minutes in a violent act, worldwide. The faith leaders promised to reject and speak out against all forms of violence against children. Welcoming participants to the GNRC 5th Forum, Rev. Miyamoto maintained that it is indeed possible to end violence against children if religious and spiritual communities, governments and international as well as multilateral organizations work together.
Noting that the causes of violence against children are complex and varied, including deep-seated cultural, political, familial and socio-economic causes such as poverty and social exclusion, the faith leaders called for “extraordinary and urgent collaboration among religious and spiritual communities, UN agencies, international and multilateral organizations, governments, civil society, the private sector, media — and, most importantly, with children” to end today’s unprecedented violence against children.
The faith leaders and international organizations represented also vowed to “embrace internationally agreed strategies and mechanisms to address violence against children, including the Sustainable Development Goals 16.2 on ending abuse, exploitation, trafficking and all forms of violence against and torture of children; 5.2 and 5.3 on ending violence against women and girls; and 8.7 on ending economic exploitation of children.”
The First Lady of the Republic of Panama Honorable Lorena Castillo Garcia de Varela, who also attended the GNRC 5th Forum, asked faith leaders to put aside their differences and do all they can to end violence.
The GNRC Forum is organized every five years by Arigatou International to address issues affecting children globally and bring people together to build a peaceful world.
Global Network of Religions for Children (GNRC)
The GNRC is a global-scale interfaith network of organizations and individuals specifically dedicated to securing the rights and well-being of children everywhere. GNRC members come from all of the world’s major religions and many other spiritual traditions. The GNRC is one of the four main initiatives of Arigatou International, a faith-based non-profit organization. Arigatou International works under the motto of “All for Children,” bringing together people from all walks of life to build a better world for children.
The primary supporter of the Global Network of Religions for Children (GNRC), Arigatou International, is a non-profit organization which strives to bring people from all walks of life together to build a better world for children. Arigatou International is “All for Children,” and it draws on universal principles of common good to offer compelling new ways for people of diverse religious and cultural backgrounds to work together on children’s issues. Arigatou International develops and sustains unique multi-stakeholder initiatives designed to ensure that all children are treated with dignity, all children’s rights are respected, and all children have the opportunity to freely pursue their full human potential.
“One out of three girls and one out of five boys will be exploited by the age of 18, 90% are by someone they know,” was one of the imperative statements issued by Dr. Alaa Murabit, one of the keynote speakers at the GNRC 5th Forum. Guided by the Forum’s three subthemes namely: the role of Faith Communities in Protecting Children from Violent Extremism, Gang Violence and Organized Crime; Nurturing Spirituality and Ending Violence in Child Upbringing; and Ending Sexual Exploitation and Abuse of Children, faith leaders, professionals, analysts and activists explored the reality of violence against children globally.
The argument was that very little attention had been put on the issue of violence against children and that religious voices are weak. It was pointed out during various thematic panel discussions that religion plays a vital role in offering spiritual guidance and comfort to children, youth and the community, thus faith leaders should be given more platform to nurture such skills in people. More faith-based and interfaith programs that address child violence should be increased. Extra attention was also given to experience sharing so as to offer an avenue for learning and call to action. It was also pointed out that religious leaders should be ready to take up vital roles in ending violence against children and not wait for the professionals to give them a ‘green light’.
In the case of government policies, it was argued that in other countries bureaucratic procedures might stagnate process of ending violence against children. There is immense fear from religious leaders when going against the government so as to secure a better future for children hence international actors should intervene in looking for better solutions.
Among the memorable speeches of the forum was that of H.G. Dr. Barry C. Morgan, former Archbishop of Wales and Dr. Alaa Murabit, UN High-level Commissioner on Health, Employment and Economic Growth. Dr. Morgan pointed out that the inherent rights of the child were present in the teachings and traditions of all the world’s major religions and it was up to the faith leaders to uphold and advocate for them. He added that faith leaders have the power to convince societies in which they live, to be strong advocates of children’s rights. They can also challenge those who use religion to condone or ignore violence against children and can partner with agencies to create awareness that violence against children is a human rights violation.
Dr. Murabit challenged the participants on their role of ending violence against children citing that negligence, traditional and cultural practices and denial has contributed to an increase in violence against children globally. She stressed that only the joint efforts of all the stakeholders would end violence against children and that it is high time the society united as one. She concluded with emphasizing the importance of girl child education noting that educating 10% of girls in a country, increases the GDP by 3:2
Arigatou International’s initiatives namely: the Global Network of Religions for Children (GNRC), Ethics Education for Children, Prayer and Action for Children and Interfaith Initiative to End Child Poverty, got a chance to explain how they work with faith communities and partners to end violence against children.
Participants later split into sub-regions to discuss common problems they have and possible solutions in relations to ending violence against children. The day ended with a cultural event at Ciudad del Saber, where participants got to experience real Panamanian culture through dances, songs, historical stories and attires.