Globally, 250 million children under 5 years fail to reach their developmental potential, this is 43% of all children globally and 66% of children in sub-Saharan Africa. In contrast, 5.9 million children under five die of disease and poor health.
The Inter-Religious Council of Kenya in partnership with the Catholic Relief Service is implementing a project that seeks to support faith-based leaders to amplify their voice and systematically advocate for nurturing care in the same faith, interfaith, local, and national ECD networks.
Nurturing Care refers to conditions created by public policies, programs and services to ensure children under three survive and thrive. It was launched at the World Health Assembly in May 2018 and brought for the first-time attention to responsive care and opportunities for early learning. It provides a road map for action and mobilization of governments, civil society groups, academia, the United Nations, the private sector, parents and other caregivers to ensure that every child gets the best start in life
“The training on advocacy is aimed at orienting faith leaders to Early Childhood Development (ECD) and challenge them to be advocates and champions for children and families in their communities.”
Every religion emphasizes the sanctity, value, and total care of children from conception thus the need for Religious Leaders to be involved in advocating and championing for children under three. The Inter-Religious Council of Kenya held training for Religious Leaders on advocacy in Nairobi and cascaded this training to 7 other counties in Kenya.
“The training on advocacy is aimed at orienting faith leaders to Early Childhood Development (ECD) and challenge them to be advocates and champions for children and families in their communities.” – Irene Kizito, Deputy ED during the National training of Religious Leaders in Nairobi.
In the training where Linus Nthigai the Program Manager and lead trainer emphasized that the advocacy training also enhanced faith leader’s knowledge on the development of children from conception to 36 months, the challenges encountered, and how to leverage their position and influence to create an environment that promotes the positive health, development, and wellbeing of children and their families.
During the training on Strengthening Faith systems for ECD advocacy, clergy, women and the youth were taken through effective advocacy and their role. In groups, they discussed and presented the steps for effective advocacy with various stakeholders at the National and County level.
The IRCK developed guidelines for advocacy by Religious Leaders, which are scripturally referenced. Theologians from different faith – Muslim, Christian and Hindu – were involved in the development of the guidelines, which were launched at the National Advocacy training in Nairobi. These guidelines were disseminated in the county advocacy training.
The Guiding Principles for Nurturing Care are the child’s right to survive and thrive. The government and society are obliged to guarantee and protect children’s rights and support families to assume their responsibilities. No child should be left behind and thus governments must ensure interventions cover populations equitably and focus on marginalized groups. Families need information, resources and services.
Due to Religious Leaders, their position in society and their calling it is their obligation to advocate for children. They can influence change in national or community policies; written and unwritten for they significantly affect the well-being of people. Religious institutions are able to influence people’s lives positively and may have internal policies that also influence young people’s reproductive health.
Different institutions have different roles to play in advocating and championing the rights of children. For example, NGOs, the Private sector and CBOs can advocate for services for ECD e.g. health or education, child protection and rehabilitation services etc. They can be able to provide financial and technical support, carry out research on issues of importance to the implementation of policy and share findings with the Government and other stakeholders. They can be able to participate in strengthening quality assurance; enhancing the capacity of ECD and ECDE teachers in special needs education and complementing Government efforts in mobilizing resources.
Then what is it that Religious Leaders can do? They can be able to advocate for and champion children at the National and County Levels. They can be able to sensitize their congregants at the intra-faith level, they can be able to collaborate as interfaith and strengthen advocacy in the community.
The nurturing of children and positive parenting is a collective role for all of us and engagement of all sectors of society; at local, national, regional and global levels. Religious Leaders have a moral obligation to protect children.
By Mary N.