“All of us know what has gone wrong and all of us know what needs to be done to end violence against children, but the question is do we have the courage to do something about it?”
With these words, Dr. Krishnaraj Vanavarayar, Chairman of Bharativa Vidva Bhavan, launched the National Roundtable Discussion on Nurturing Values and Spirituality in Early Childhood for the Prevention of Violence that took place on 11 – 12 April 2019 in Coimbatore, India.
The two-day roundtable gathered 140 religious leaders, representatives from faith-based and civil society organizations, academia, pediatricians, educators, young people and experts on children’s issues, to discuss the importance of early childhood, the impact of violence on children’s development, how to nurture values and spirituality in the family, schools, religious communities and society at large, and discuss ways to challenge social and cultural norms that condone violence in early childhood.
This unique event was organized by Shanti Ashram, in collaboration with several local partners, including Arigatou International and World Vision India. This meeting is part of a series of national roundtable discussions organized by the International Consortium on Nurturing Values and Spirituality in Early Childhood within the framework of a project funded by the INSPIRE Fund that aims to mobilize religious communities to reflect on and prompt joint action with different stakeholders to challenge social and cultural norms that condone and justify violence in early childhood, provide support to parents and caregivers, as well as foster quality education and life skills, while creating safe spaces to nurturer ethical values and spirituality.
“It is important and essential to prevent early childhood violence, by lovingly correcting children and treating them with respect”, said Archbishop Felix Machado, Bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Vasai during his intervention. He reasoned, “If children know that they are cared for, then corrections become easier”.
After different presentations and panel discussions, all participants were asked to engage in small group dialogues, where they reflected on issues such as corporal punishment, and gender biases normalized in society, as well as how to foster values in schools to develop interfaith learning.
Participants shared that some of the challenges families and caregivers face to nurture values and spirituality in the early years is the lack of knowledge of positive parenting and alternatives to violent discipline. They also underlined the importance of fostering learning about values and interfaith dialogue and understanding in schools, by creating spaces to celebrate diversity, pray for one another and learn from the different religious beliefs.
A country-specific advocacy booklet with scientific evidence on the impact of violence in early childhood, theological reflections, and good practices will be produced as a result of the roundtable and will serve to bring this dialogue to the communities and INSPIRE joint action.
We thank our partners, collaborators, and participants for a very fruitful and enriching meeting. It is our hope that these discussions may foster more engagement among religious leaders and organizations in India for the well-being and affirmation of children’s dignity all over the country.