Phub Dem  | Paro

At the two-day meeting on South Asia Religious Leaders’ Platform for Children in Paro yesterday, 45 religious leaders of various faiths from the region committed to working with United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) to protect and promote children’s rights.

They recognised the importance of their contributions in supporting and promoting the rights of the children in their countries.

Right to health care, access to education, clean and safe environment, and protection from exploitation, among others, are included in Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Regional director for UNICEF South Asia, Jean Gough, said that the religious leaders were often highly influential in their communities and could foster dialogue and contribute to behavioural change.  They could also help ensure support for the most vulnerable groups, including children.“The leaders’ voices on child rights are important,” she said.

She added that some of the current priorities for Bhutan were promotion of adolescent health, nutrition and hygiene practices in the communities and monastic institutions.

Basic English literacy, she said, was essential in improving the quality of education in monastic institutions and nunneries besides the Child Protection Programme Strategy Action Plan.

Laytshog Lopon Sangay Dorji of the Zhung Dratshang said that the responsibility of religious communities for the well-being of children extended beyond the walls of the monasteries.

He said that although Bhutan opened up late, the country was among the first to sign and ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child. “We still have a long way to go before every child has their rights realised. But it is uplifting nonetheless to hear how religious leaders commit to accelerating actions in this new decade.”

The participants will discuss challenges in implementing the Convention of the Rights of the Child in South Asia. They will also look at how their contributions will help ensure that every child enjoys basic rights.

The meeting is being hosted with support from UNICEF Regional Office for South Asia and UNICEF Bhutan.