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20 July 2000

Religions Unite for Children
by Sara Speicher

The faces of children as the innocent victims of violence and tragedy appear daily before us on our television screens and in magazines and newspapers. Child soldiers and child prostitutes, victims of poverty, hunger and domestic abuse, orphans because of HIV/AIDS, children who are homeless on the streets or in refugee camps - as victims and now, more often, perpetrators of crime, children are prey to the worst forms of violence and abuse and are often deprived of the assistance and resources necessary to help them recover and grow into a healthy and fulfilling life.

Many international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have formed over the years to address children's issues. Now a new network has been launched with a vision of mobilizing millions of people all over the world around their common concern for children's welfare. The Global Network of Religions for Children (GNRC) aims to be "a child-focused network dedicated to the sharing of information and the building of action coalitions."

The GNRC is the dream of The Arigatou Foundation, a Buddhist peace organization based in Japan. It was launched at a first Forum held in Tokyo in May this year attended by 200 participants from all continents and seven different religions.

Keishi Miyamto, a Foundation representative, explains why the Network was formed: "During my 10 years' work with The Arigatou Foundation, I found that there were so many religious persons or organizations dedicated to activities for children and trying to improve the environment surrounding the children of the world. I also found that there was less communication and cooperation among these people or organizations because of the lack of places for information exchange and opinion-sharing. It seemed possible to me that the Arigatou Foundation of Myochikai could facilitate such religious cooperation through common activities to save children."

The World Council of Churches (WCC) was contacted in the early stages of the Network's development, and assisted in planning for the GNRC. Hans Ucko from the Council's Inter-religious Relations and Dialogue team, and Marta Palma, who coordinates its Global Ecumenical Children's Network, participated in the first GNRC Forum. Two children from the WCC-sponsored children's network also spoke at the Forum: Arnold Engel from Canada and Patricia Cruzado Munoz from Peru.

The WCC's work on children has focused on rights and empowerment. Since the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child was accepted by the UN General Assembly in 1989, the WCC has advocated for effective implementation of its recommendations. The Council has also sought to empower children and children's networks to allow for the active participation and leadership of children in activities affecting their welfare. As one member of the Global Ecumenical Children's Network has said, "Children need to be given the means to face the future."

In supporting the GNRC, Palma states, "It is important for Christians to cooperate with other religions not only because we share a common concern and vision but also because many children live in interfaith societies, or societies in which Christians are a minority."

A preliminary group report from the Forum noted that "At a time when the world in many regions is torn apart by differences in religion, the GNRC has brought all the major religious of the world on one platform, in harmony and goodwill, and with a resolve to work for the dignification of the life of the children of the world irrespective of nationality or religions."

The GNRC will focus on developing platforms to share information and develop common action at the grassroots level. Recommendations coming from the working groups of its first Forum, soon to be made public, will be the basis for the Network's next actions.

Reflecting on the WCC's role, Ucko noted that "The WCC has been and will continue to be involved... It is important for us as Christians to support this initially Buddhist initiative, which wants to bring religious people from all religions in common action for the dignity of children."

Sara Speicher is a member of the WCC's Public Information Team. The statement of the First Forum of the GNRC is available. More information is also available on the website of The Arigatou Foundation: and the English version:

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The World Council of Churches is a fellowship of churches, now 337, in more than 100 countries in all continents from virtually all Christian traditions. The Roman Catholic Church is not a member church but works cooperatively with the WCC. The highest governing body is the assembly, which meets approximately every seven years. The WCC was formally inaugurated in 1948 in Amsterdam, Netherlands. Its staff is headed by general secretary Konrad Raiser from the Evangelical Church in Germany.