|GAMBIAN KIDS/PHOTO/STEVE WHEELER|
From January to October 2012, officials at Gambia’s Department of Social Welfare at the Ministry of Health have recorded close to 500 cases on domestic violence including violence against children and mothers as well as paternity and custody cases.
The records were made available to journalists at a press briefing on “A World Day of Prayer and Action for Children 2012” on Tuesday Nov. 20. As part of activities for the Day, the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) and the Gambia’s Department of Social Welfare, in partnership with the Gambia Supreme Islamic Council (SIC), the Gambia Christian Council and the Child Protection Alliance (CPA), will be holding “a panel discussion on Gambia TV and a synchronised nationwide prayer at mosques and churches across the country.”
Ending this year, the three-year global theme: “Stop Violence Against Children” has been localised as “Let Stop Violence and Sexual Abuse Against Children Now.”
“Let us start with prayers and action for the welfare of our dear children,” urges Fanta Bai Secka, Director Department of Social Welfare. “The involvement of religious and faith-based organisations is essential in promoting and improving children’s issues because all religions have texts about children’s wellbeing, their upbringing as well as protection.”
Since many religious organisations work in communities and with people, Secka said they have easier access to vulnerable children in the most deprived communities; hence they can create awareness and demand for essential services that government and other duty bearers provide for children.
As opinion leaders and social mobilisers with unparallel ability to translate sacred scriptures into everyday, understandable messages to the public especially on issues related to children’s rights, religious leaders can change beliefs and behaviours of their followers.
Secka said the Gambia Government is committed to protecting children against violence and abuse as stated in the country’s constitution and the ratification of major international instruments relating to children. “The Gambia has an obligation to ensure the rights of children are respected, protected, promoted and fulfilled,” she stressed.
Violence against children takes many forms – from sexual abuse and exploitation, sex tourism, corporal punishment, to female genital mutilation, notes Ms. Aichatou Diawara Flambert, UNICEF Country Representative to Gambia.
“A world day of prayer and action for children is an opportunity for religious communities, the government, civil society orginations and other stakeholders in child protection to find the necessary will and courage to talk about the different kinds of violence against children that are taking place in communities, schools and households,” she said.
A world day of prayer and action for children, an initiative set in motion by the faith-based organisation, Arigatou International, was adopted by UNICEF in 2009, during the 20th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).
It is a concept in line with the CRC and the MDGs, and most importantly, it is guided by religious principles and traditions. It seeks to bring together people of religion and goodwill from various religions to pray for and safeguard the integrity, rights and dignity of children. It also seeks to promote their survival, development, protection and wellbeing.
Written by Modou S. Joof