Publication Date
January 1, 2012

"Long before there was a UNICEF, faith communities were among the greatest advocates for the world’s neediest children, providing guidance, aid and comfort to millions of disadvantaged families. In fact, the Convention on the Rights of the Child - the most widely accepted human rights treaty in the world - reflects deeply-held values embedded within religious traditions that uphold the inherent dignity of every child and the centrality of the family in building strong communities." Anthony Lake, UNICEF Executive Director

This guide is primarily intended to be a reference document for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) staff and partners (including other child rights organisations) on building effective partnerships with religious communities - in particular, religious leaders, networks, and local faith communities. UNICEF developed this guide jointly with input from its regional office and faith-based organisations.

The guide describes the protection of child rights as reflected in values shared with the world’s major religious traditions, the potential benefits that religious actors bring to partnerships, the influence on children’s development and socialisation of spirituality and religion, and their potential to reinforce protective influences and promote resilience. It also points to harmful practices that are condoned by some religions or in the name of some religions and expresses the concerns that some religious groups have about partnering with secular organisations. Concerns include whether or not the language of rights might contradict core beliefs, forcing religious communities to compromise on their values.

The contents include the following:

  • Section 2 provides an understanding of how and why religious communities can positively contribute to the promotion of child rights.
  • Section 3 presents concrete examples of collaborative work in the main areas of UNICEF programming and advocacy. [Examples include:
    1. Child protection, for instance religious media, especially religious radio and television networks, can disseminate messages and campaign on violence against children, and teachings can be presented at worship services.
    2. Education - examples of early childhood interventions are given below.
    3. Health, for instance, providing health care services, providing opinion changing interactions on immunisation, such as polio, incorporating messages on health into worship services, festivals, and childhood religious rites, including the relationship between faith and good health attitudes and practices.
    4. HIV and AIDS , for instance, committing to actively address HIV and AIDS care and prevention, as well as, for example, HIV stigma, preventing mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) through self and child early diagnosis, and training, educating, and supporting caregivers.
    5. Infant and child nutrition, for instance, encouraging feeding practices, such as exclusive breastfeeding, through religious media networks.
    6. Water, sanitation and hygiene, for instance, using rituals involving water and religious media to emphasise clean water and good sanitation practices.]
    7. Cross-cutting issues - in describing what religious partnerships can do on cross-cutting issues, the guide lists, for example, what religious communities can do to promote early childhood development (ECD):
      •  "Provide or support early education for children that includes elements promoting healthy physical and emotional development, as well as gender equity, especially for poor or marginalized children who may not have other opportunities for such exposure.
      •  Include peace education and teachings of mutual respect in early childhood education programmes.
      • Bring important early childhood development information into the family setting, stressing families’ obligation to provide for their young children, offering information on how to do this and supporting them when they face difficulties.
      • Include references to scripture, special prayers and discussion of the elements important in early childhood development in worship services, study sessions and particularly at special events such as the celebration of childhood rites of passage.
      • Develop peer education groups for women’s and men’s associations to share information about early childhood development, and support members whose children are not accessing appropriate services through, for example, referral and financial assistance."

    Partnership examples include: a parenting booklet in Jordan, "Imam’s Guide to Early Childhood Development"; a partnership with the Aga Khan Foundation for ECD through the Madrasa ECD Programme in Kenya, Uganda, and Zanzibar; and the piloting of an Islam-responsive early childhood curriculum in 17 pilot pre-schools in conflict-affected areas in the Philippines. Other cross-cutting issues discussed in the guide are: partnering in emergencies; partnering for gender equality in working with religious communities; and partnering for child participation.  

  • Section 4 addresses the challenges presented by the misuse of religion.
  • Section 5 outlines strategies for effectively engaging with religious communities. Core elements of a framework for effective engagement with religious communities, elaborated in the guide, are:
    1. "Understand values, structures and leadership
    2. Focus on shared values and a rights-based approach
    3. Ensure impartiality
    4. Identify strategic entry points
    5. Integrate partnerships into programming
    6. Build on convening and technical strengths
    7. Ensure adequate competencies"

    [For example, female genital mutilation/cutting is practiced in Egypt for cultural and religious reasons. "Evaluations carried out by UNICEF and the UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre have illustrated how community-level abandonment of female genital mutilation/cutting has been rapidly and effectively accomplished through a combination of community dialogue processes that examine the role of the practice in the socio-cultural context and foster consensus against it and affirmation from religious leaders that there is no religious basis for the practices, thus supporting abandonment."]

  • Section 6 briefly discusses some approaches to planning, monitoring and evaluation of partnership programming.
  • The annexes highlight key actors and resources with their URLs for further exploration. A separate working paper will provide brief overviews of the major religious traditions for further reference."

Within UNICEF, Civil Society Partnerships (CSP) "serves as UNICEF’s focal point on work with religious communities. CSP develops technical guidance and provides support within headquarters and to country and regional offices working with religious communities. A main goal of CSP is to facilitate sharing of expertise and experiences among country and regional offices as well as links to relevant global and regional external organizations and initiatives."

Click here to access this document in Arabic, English, French, and Spanish.


UNICEF website, December 4 2013, and email from Caterina Tino on December 10 2013. Image credit: © UNICEF/NYHQ2006-1500/Giacomo Pirozzi