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Faith Perspectives on Children’s Rights

On November 20th, 2013, the Intercultural Dialogue Institute held an Interfaith Luncheon and Panel on the “Faith Perspectives on Children’s Rights” to increase awareness of the Universal Children’s Day and National Children’s Day. The Institute invited 3 speakers, Reverend Susan Climo, Imam Ayman Al-Taher and Rabbi Ed Elkin to provide their insights on the rights of children stemming from their own particular religious tradition.

To start off the talk, David Rivard , CEO of Toronto’s Children Aid Society began with his opening remarks. He summarized the rights of the child, placing focus on their ability to believe and explore their religions, while respecting the rights and beliefs of others. Rivard also spoke about the various Children’s Aid centers within Toronto, emphasizing that each institute supported the various religious traditions of children shown by helping them attend religious celebrations, and reflecting religious diversity through their own organized events. He ended his opening remarks by stating that society must encourage a respectful environment, that one’s faith is a significant part of one’s identity and that every child has the freedom and right to express their religious beliefs.

First, Reverend Susan Climo, the ordained pastor of The Church of the Holy Spirit came forward to present her view on the role of children through the framework of a Christian. She divided her speech into three parts – describing children and their roles within scripture, theologian interpretations and finally the current trends concerning children. She made specific reference to the Gospel of Matthew in the Bible, pointing of the humble and exalted view of children, however then contrasted it with controversial statements found within other parts of the bible pertaining to child discipline. Reverend Climo then followed through with presenting various theological views concerning the role of children and their inherently good or bad nature, making reference to Augustine, Calvin and other historical scholars. She ended her talk with the current trends, speaking about the Church’s effort to fully recognize and involve children in the life and organizations of the church.

Imam Ayman Al-Taher, then came forward to talk about the Islamic view concerning children, presenting it in a psycho-social perspective. He talked about how children were often viewed as an asset in the Islamic tradition, and provided examples using Abraham and his plea to God for his wife to bear him a son, emphasizing the importance of having children. He then spoke of the rights of children beginning from the early stages of their life, and commented about how abortion is forbidden within the Islamic tradition since it is seen as killing an innocent soul. Al-Taher then continued and spoke of the importance of community in a child’s life, stating that community is central in aiding a child in maintaining their spiritual identity. He finished his talk by making reference back of Rivard’s remark of religious diversity and stated that diversity is not about changing a culture, but enhancing it so that society is able to enjoy what other traditions offer.

Finally, the last speaker, Rabbi Ed Elkin, as his title suggests, spoke from the Jewish perspective. He began by clearly stating that there was no such word as ‘rights’ in the Jewish tradition, instead there are commandments, responsibilities and duties. Elkin emphasized the notion that every person was born in the image of God, and should treat each other as such. He then made reference to the book of Deuteronomy, stating that orphans were placed in a special category of special concern but were still invited to the celebration of the festival. Despite their vulnerable status, Rabbi Elkin stated that they were allowed to come because the Jewish recognized that they were all slaves in Egypt and therefore learned from their suffering and oppression on what kind of person they need to be. He then brings up the interesting case of Sabbath where the only time you would be allowed to violate the Sabbath would be to save a life of a baby. He explained the egalitarian approach of the observance, stating that the assessment of human life is all the same – a king is not more special than a child. Finally, he presented a story from the Talmud about a man who planted a Carob tree that would only bear fruit in 70 years. Through this story, Rabbi Elkin illustrated that the tree was not for the man’s sake, but it was for his children, and like the man, we must not focus on ourselves, but on how we can give children a better future.

In essence, the luncheon showed the similar viewpoints concerning the role and rights of children, and echoing David Rivard’s statements, suggests that no matter what perspective or religious tradition a person may be from, everyone shares a sense of spirituality and must provide help through compassion and love, while encouraging the uniqueness of a child.