Religious leaders of all faiths in West Bengal will soon begin to guide parents and communities in proper childcare by quoting messages laid down in sacred religious books of Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, Jains and Sikhs.
They will be useing a handbook of scientific messages provided by experts from UNICEF and these messages are supplemented with corresponding religious texts and scriptures of these six religions. The scientific messages with religious texts are meant for the wellbeing of children in the areas of health, nutrition, education, child protection, water, sanitation and hygiene.
After releasing the handbooks in Kolkata on 25th September, Women and Child Development and Social Welfare minister Dr Shashi Panja said, “What the religious leaders interpret for us, we believe in. When they come forward to dispel misconceptions from the people, society benefits a lot.”
Hailing the religious leaders of the six faiths present at the programme as “messengers of God”, she said that the state government has been highly concerned about child marriage, child migration, family migration and girl trafficking happening and the religious leaders can help to stop it.
“In these handbooks, we are bringing in the religious thoughts and showing the right concept and interpretation to help the society,” she said about the booklets made by UNICEF and Amanat Foundation Trust under the aegis of state government.
West Bengal has a high incidence of child marriage and as per the NFHS survey nearly 41 per cent of the girls get married before turning 18. “We are urging the priests and moulvis who solemnise the marriages to encourage the society to get their daughters married after 18 years of age and boys after 21,” Dr Panja said.
Drawing from his experience, Quari Fazlur Rahman, Imam-e-Eidaian said that the incidence of polio came to zero in Murshidabad district after the intervention of religious leaders like him.
“Nearly 60 per cent of the polio affected children in Murshidabad were from Muslim families as they avoided immunisation. It came down to zero when they immunised their little ones after we started campaigning village after village in favour of immunisation,” he said.
Mohammad Mohiuddin, Chief of UNICEF in West Bengal said that these handbooks would be translated from English into Bengali, Hindi, Nepali and Urdu languages later. “In a recent meeting held in Colombo, Sri Lanka, UNICEF operating in other SAARC countries have decided to adopt these booklets for use among the faith leaders of these countries,” he said.
After getting positive results of using such booklets among the faith leaders in Nigeria, UNICEF embarked on preparing the booklets in West Bengal in 2020 rpt 2020. The handbooks will be distributed among the priests and religious leaders of these six faiths and also be available online for free for use during wedding ceremonies, religious gatherings, religious sermons and the like.
Sudeshna Roy, Chairperson, State Child Rights Commission spoke of finding faith leaders as partners in the advocacy of child rights. She cited how places of worship can also put up these messages for greater mobilization of faith followers.
Commending the initiative, Ahmed Hassan Imran, Chairperson, Minorities’ Commission said that the commission entrusted to look after the wellbeing of minorities, will find the handbook useful and urge religious leaders from all faiths to use it in the community.
Tamara Abu Sham, Social Behaviour Change Specialist of UNICEF, New Delhi said the handbook will be very useful to address harmful practices among children by using relevant messages. She appealed to faith leaders to use the different messages across the various issues.