Panama Declaration commits faith communities across the world to action on ending violence against children
New York, 18 May 2017 - I am delighted to add my support to the Panama Declaration on Ending Violence against Children adopted by over five hundred faith leaders from 70 countries at the 5th Forum of the Global Network of Religions for Children (GNRC).
At the 5th GNRC Forum, faith leaders joined representatives of governments, the United Nations and international and grassroots organizations to make a solemn commitment to greater effort and cooperation in the cause of ending violence against children. During three days of intense discussion, participants from all faith traditions increased their understanding of the scale and impact of violence against children, identified ways religious leaders can help tackle it, and committed their communities to concrete actions to prevent and reduce it.
In a keynote speech to the Forum, I welcomed the willingness of faith leaders to use their special role in society to help bring violence against children to an end, and stressed that no religious teaching or tradition justifies any form of violence against children. It is encouraging that this crucial message is echoed in the Panama Declaration, which reaffirms the universal ethical imperative to protect children from harm. As faith communities will make a decisive contribution to reaching the SDGs, the opportunity provided by the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda to end all forms of violence against children was also a key message in my remarks at the Forum. I am pleased to see that the Panama Declaration strategically embraces SDG targets 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 the economic exploitation of children, as a framework for follow-up action.
Faith leaders have a unique role in society based on their moral authority, and the practice of compassion, solidarity and justice prescribed by their religious texts. The Panama Declaration contains 10 key commitments that will help raise awareness within faith communities of the scale and impact of violence against children and support action to bring it to an end. The firm rejection in the Panama Declaration of the use of religion to legitimise, justify and even perpetuate violence against children, and the commitment to make religious places safe for all children is a major breakthrough and deeply heartening. Along with its pledges to generate greater social and political will for legislation, policies, and increased funding of programmes for children’s protection, and to challenge structures and practices that perpetuate violence against children, the Panama Declaration is a key document that all religious leaders can follow.
The Forum was notable for including children from faith communities around the world who had joined a Pre-Forum Children’s meeting. The young participants discussed each of the key issues on the forum agenda, identified their own priorities and suggestions for action. Throughout the 5th GNRC Forum sessions, they expressed their views and concerns through powerful and moving interventions. In their final presentation on the last day, the young participants made clear the urgency of ending violence against children: they are watching us and demand action. We must respond to this call, now!