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Asian Tribune is published by E-LANKA MEDIA(PVT)Ltd. Vol. 20 No. 75

World's Children Have Progressed and Regressed - Interview with Reverend Keishi Miyamoto

By IPS U.N. Bureau Chief Thalif Deen

United Nations, 16 February, (IPS): - Most of the world's 2.2 billion children are languishing in extreme poverty, ignorance and exploitation, according to Reverend Keishi Miyamoto, who is described as the guiding spirit behind the Tokyo-based Global Network of Religions for Children (GNRC). Reverend Keishi Miyamoto of the Global Network of Religions for Children (Photo - GNRC)Reverend Keishi Miyamoto of the Global Network of Religions for Children (Photo - GNRC)

"In this era of global prosperity, and scientific and technological breakthroughs, this is inhuman and unacceptable," Miyamoto told IPS U.N. Bureau Chief Thalif Deen.

"At the same time, we must also recognize that great progress has been made for children in recent decades," said Miyamoto, who heads the Arigatou Foundation, which established GNRC in May 2000.

Based in Japan, the Foundation was the only religious non-governmental organization (NGO) granted the privilege of addressing the 2002 U.N. Special Session on Children.

Compared to earlier generations, Miyamoto pointed out, fewer children die, more children attend school, there is greater equality between boys and girls, and youngsters today enjoy many modern amenities -- access to computers, entertainment, etc. -- their parents could not even dream about.

Excerpts from the interview:

IPS: The state of the world's children continues to deteriorate as they battle poverty, war, sexual abuse, labour exploitation and HIV/AIDS. What are your thoughts on this? And what are the reasons for the increased victimization of children worldwide?

Reverend Keishi Miyamoto: The situation of children in the world today is quite mixed. There are great disparities. As for the main reasons for deterioration, UNICEF [the U.N. Children's Fund] and others tell us that that there are three major culprits: endemic poverty and inequality; spread of HIV/AIDS; and wars and conflicts -- all of which particularly plague Africa and Asia.

Compounding the difficulties are the negative aspects of globalization, such as sex tourism, pornography on the Internet, and exploitation of economic migrants.

I must add that there is a deeper underlying cause behind the material deprivation and exploitation of children. That relates to the erosion of moral and spiritual values in modern societies, which leads to the acceptance of violence, abuse, discrimination and violation of children's rights.

The GNRC seeks to invoke the best traditions and teachings from all the world's religions to ensure that all our societies give a high priority to ensuring the wellbeing of children as a sacred duty of human society.

IPS: Do you think the U.N., its affiliated agencies and international humanitarian organisations are making any significant advances in alleviating the sufferings of children? And if so, how? If not, why?

KM: We must give credit to the U.N. system and international humanitarian organisations for making a significant contribution to improving the situation of children in the world. The U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child -- the most universally ratified human rights treaty -- has set normative standards which guide the work of all member states and child rights activists.

The Millennium Development Goals [MDGs] -- formulated by the U.N. -- give high priority to the wellbeing of children. Besides setting norms and goals, U.N. agencies also provide practical support to member states to achieve such goals. For example, the World Health Organisation [WHO] and UNICEF led a worldwide effort to eradicate smallpox that killed an estimated five million people every year. Today, they are on the verge of eradicating polio, another dreaded disease that used to cripple millions of children.

The U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) helps improve basic education of children. The International Labour Organisation (ILO) is helping to eliminate the worst forms of child labour. The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) protects millions of refugee children. Humanitarian organizations like the Red Cross, and NGOs like Save the Children, Oxfam, CARE, World Vision, just to name a few, do much to protect children in times of natural disasters and man-made crises.

Without their vigilance and support, governments alone could not or would not make the kind of progress for children that we have seen in our lifetime.

However, compared to the actual needs of children, all these efforts by U.N. agencies, humanitarian organizations and NGOs are grossly inadequate. This is why there is compelling need for the world's religions to join hands for the global campaign to create a world where children can grow in their full human potential.

The vast majority of people on the earth are religious, and their religious traditions and communities have vast spiritual and material resources that can and should be focused on finding solutions for children's issues.

IPS: What roles should education, ethics and religion play in the rehabilitation of children? Are the world's major religions doing enough? Would inter-faith dialogue help?

KM: Education is key to changing human behaviour, and especially in inculcating in children respect for diversity, mutual understanding, tolerance, non-violence and peaceful resolution of conflicts. The main purpose of ethics education is precisely to inculcate such values in the hearts and minds of the younger generation. Religion can play a vital role in inculcating such values - - as the teachings of all the world's major religions emphasize peace, brotherhood, justice, solidarity and charity.

Unfortunately, throughout human history, many religious zealots have also invoked religion and certain superstitions to spread hatred, to incite and condone violence, and to perpetuate harmful traditional practices.

Inter-faith dialogue is key to better understanding and acceptance of the richness and diversity of the world's many faiths, traditions and value systems -- all of which can be harnessed to promote the wellbeing of children and humanity as a whole.

In the GNRC, we believe that the shared commitment of all the world's religions to protect and nurture the younger generation should be made a central theme of inter-faith dialogue as the basis for ‘unity in diversity’.

IPS: The GNRC is hosting a forum in Hiroshima in May. What are the major themes of this international conference, and what is the expected outcome?

KM: Every four years, the GNRC convenes a global forum with participants coming from all the world's major religious and spiritual traditions. The Third Forum of the GNRC in Hiroshima to be held May 24-26, 2008, will bring together leading international experts to address three main themes:

a) The Ethical Imperative to End Violence against Children: by promoting ethics education; mobilizing religious and spiritual communities; and engaging decision-makers and civil society to build a culture of peace and non-violence.

b) The Ethical Imperative to Ensure that No Child Lives in Poverty: by promoting ethics education; drawing on religious teachings and heritages to address poverty; and putting children first in all human development agendas.

c) The Ethical Imperative to Protect the Earth: by empowering children to protect our planet; and rallying faith communities to protect the environment.

The highlight of the Hiroshima forum will be the launch of the new worldwide ethics education initiative that I just mentioned, which is fully described in the manual provisionally entitled, ‘Learning to Live Together: An Intercultural and Interfaith Program for Ethics Education.’

The ethics education programme employs a new interfaith learning process to empower children and young people to develop a strong sense of ethics. It is designed to help the young to better understand and respect people from other cultures and religions and nurture a sense of global community and non-violent behaviours, and to empower children to become agents of social change.

In addition, more than 100 core members of the six GNRC world-region networks will meet at the Forum to share best practices and make plans for the next four years of regional, national and local GNRC programs. We expect the Forum to generate a renewed commitment among religious and spiritual people to take action for the realization of children's rights.

We also believe it will strengthen the GNRC's partnerships with UNICEF, UNESCO and other U.N. agencies, and help to promote shared values that increase hope for peace on earth and build a better future for children.

- Inter Press Service (IPS) News Agency -

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