Listen to the voice of the children and respond to their needs – Religious Leaders


Joint Op-ed by:

Rev. Mahawela Rathanapala Thera, Member of Supreme Sangha Council, Malwatta Temple

Rev. Sheikh M Arkam Nooramith, General Secretary, All Ceylon Jamiyyathul Ulama

Rev. E. J. T. Noel Fernando, Clergy Person, Anglican Church, Diocese of Colombo

Rev. Swami Gunatitananda, Resident Swami, Chinmaya Mission

We just returned from a workshop in Kathmandu organised by UNICEF, which brought together religious leaders from different faiths from across South Asia. From Sri Lanka, our delegation consisted of all our faiths: Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, and Islam.

The theme of the workshop was ‘Faith and Positive Change for Children, Families and Communities’. The timing and theme of the workshop couldn’t have been more relevant to Sri Lanka, given the economic and political crisis that is affecting our people, with the burden disproportionally falling on children and vulnerable families.

Across all faith traditions, children are considered as precious gifts to mankind. They represent a blessing to the family and the community. They represent the future.  Religion teaches us that adults are to be the guardians of the children in our midst. This means that adults have a role to protect and care for children and to support them not only to survive, but to grow to their full potential.

Our country is currently facing an unprecedented economic and political crisis. Fathers and mothers are spending hours and hours in queues for fuel, gas and other basics of life. Prices of essential commodities are rising daily. This has triggered protests, which unfortunately in some cases have degenerated into violence. In all these, children, the precious gifts from the Lord are the most affected. A threat to children is a threat on the very foundation of mankind. This should concern every believer—Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, and Moslem.

Today, we make the joint appeal to all believers across our faiths to remember the role of the guardian for children that is placed on each of us. In every action you take at your appropriate level, prioritise the needs of children. Listen to them and consider their opinions.

Avoid violence against children and watch over them, like the good shepherd does for his flock. In these times of crisis, do not let negative emotions take control of you. This is the time, more than ever to exercise the tenets of your faith to be kind. Do not vent any frustration on anyone, including children. You will not only be breaking the law but drifting away from your faith.

In the midst of despair, the good always triumphs. During this current crisis we have all seen or heard of uncountable heart-warming gestures of kindness, unity, and love. This is what the holy-scriptures demands of us — to be each other’s keepers. These values are rooted in our cultures and cemented by faith. We pray that this demonstration of such core values serves to renew your faith and continue.

Extend love and emotional security to the children. It’s the duty of individuals, society, and the State to create the conducive environment for children. These include, providing them with the basic needs, including adequate nutrition, education, and a safe environment. The children of Sri Lanka are currently deprived of their rights. Many go to bed hungry, don’t go to school or access healthcare. Poverty in the households is biting hard on the children. The future of Sri Lanka is being threatened.

During the workshop in Kathmandu, as religious facilitators and faith-based entities, we emphasised the need to use the mind, faith and heart to bring out the best for children. If the heart and mind speak to each other, guided by genuine faith, it will lead to the best results for children.

Once again, we would like to remind all adults, society, and the State that faith without action is in vain. The children are crying for your action. We are calling on you to heed their voice.