Child participation is a central pillar in preventing and ending violence against children. Many faith traditions offer critical perspectives on the importance of meaningful child participation and the inherent dignity and value of children as complete members of society.
To this end, the JLI’s Ending Violence Against Children (EVAC) Learning Hub launched a webinar series at the end of September, Seen But Not Heard: A 3-Part Series to Lift Up Child Voices to End Violence, dedicated to the topic of child participation.
The first webinar, Multi-Religious Perspectives on Child Participation, brought together academics and practitioners from Baha’i, Christian, Hindu, Jewish and Muslim traditions to share their own faith teachings and traditions on meaningful child participation.
Webinar slides are available below the summary and if you press the download button to the right.
Dr Carola Eyber at Queen Margaret University and academic chair of the EVAC Hub discussed barriers to child participation based on the extensive research conducted for the JLI EVAC Hub’s scoping study on Faith actors’ involvement in the prevention, elimination and perpetuation of violence against children.
Some of the obstacles highlighted by Dr Eyber include:
- How children are often viewed as passive, reactive, or incomplete “adults in the making”
- How children are often seen as innocent victims, with an emphasis on their vulnerability. This can limit adults’ understandings of the resilience of children, resulting in “rescue and rehabilitation” approaches that seek to “save” children without listening to how children articulate their own needs.
- How children’s agency and contributions to households and communities – whether in income generation, childcare, or household work – are often ignored or overlooked.
- The hierarchical natures of some communities, including faith communities, which places elder men at the top of the hierarchy and places children at the bottom.
Dr Eyber concluded with the essential need for adults in faith communities to change their mindsets, recognising children as active contributors to their communities, and as partners in ending violence against children.
Judge Mohamad Abu Zaid drew from his experience as a senior judge in the family courts of Saida, Lebanon, where 60-70% of the cases the Judge deals with are related directly or indirectly to children.
“I take inspiration from the Prophet Muhammad as a religious leader, but also as a father and a grandfather” Judge Mohamad Abu Zaid
When seeking to engage with and listen to children in his rulings, Judge Abu Zaid is directly inspired by the example of the Prophet Muhammad, who despite being the highest religious authority in his community, was known to engage the children in his community in a respectful, friendly and comforting way, seeking to understand their concerns.
Practically, this has inspired Judge Abu Zaid to ensure that the children involved in his cases are listened to: for example, by inviting them to private sessions where they can share their perspectives about their home life in order to influence the Judge’s final ruling.
Ms Loreto Jara, of the Baha’i community in Chile, spoke of the three intersecting roles of children, families, and education in supporting child participation. Ms Jara highlighted the importance Baha’i traditions place on respecting and listening to the thoughts, feelings and opinions of children, regardless of what stage of development. Baha’i texts emphasise the “rich mind” of children, and the need to provide holistic spiritual education to ensure that children can reach their full potential in contributing to society.
Dr Kezevino Aram, President of Shanti Ashram in India, reflected on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on child participation, and the nature of meaningful vs. tokenistic child participation.
“Child participation is more than just having a voice: it’s about being engaged, informed and having a real influence in the decisions that affect one’s life” Dr Kezevino Aram, Shanti Ashram
Dr Aram spoke of the inherent value of children, and of numerous values and practices within the Hindu tradition which support notions of child participation, civic contribution of children, individuality of the child, and partnership with children, such as:
- dharma (lived ethical values)
- atma jnana (self-knowledge)
- satsang (keeping company with the enlightened)
- sanmarga (sharing and discovering the virtuous path with children).
Rabbi Gustavo Kraselnik of Panama referred to the innate role of inter-generational dialogue in maintaining Jewish tradition over millennia, as teachings and traditions were transmitted from generation to generation.
“There is a dialogue where the children are the real protagonists…In essence, this ceremonial dinner is a meeting space between generations.” Rabbi Gustavo Kraselnik
Rabbi Kraselnik reflected particularly on the ritual of Passover as an example of this inter-generational dialogue. Jewish texts highlight the questioning role of children during the Passover meal, which in turn creates a dialogue of reflection.
Reverend Fred Nyabera of Kenya focussed on the Biblical characterisation of children as having inherent dignity and worth, having been created in the image of God. The Bible portrays children as full and active participants in community life.
Reverend Nyabera cited examples of Jesus inviting children to approach him when the disciples tried to turn them away, or of Jesus bringing a child to the centre of a crowd, teaching his followers that none of them will enter the Kingdom of Heaven unless they become like children. Reverend Nyabera reflected that an absence of children in public life is a key indicator of the poor health of a community and its society.
An open Question & Answer session allowed speakers to reflect on the need for a process of unlearning and relearning among adults to more effectively support child participation; on the need for respected individuals and leaders to champion the cause of child participation; on the importance of being deliberate and intentional in creating good child participation practices; on the potential impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on child participation; and on the dangers of “tokenistic” child participation activities.
Read the event summary in Spanish
Upcoming Seen but not Heard webinars on child participation:
- October 28th (9 AM ET): Register for Practical examples of child participation
- November 17th (8 AM ET): Multi-religious intergenerational dialogue on child participation