Magharebia (Washington DC)

Mauritania: Islamic Conference Addresses Children's Rights

Nouakchott — Clerics and religious scholars are participating in a national initiative to protect Mauritanian children from perilous choices.

A unique national conference under way in Mauritania is focusing on children's rights in Islam.

The event is founded on the conviction that since young people are the building blocks of an effective society, they must be deterred from the path of violence and extremism.

"This can only be realised by laying down the 'fiqh of freedom,' by activating human rights in Islam and developing the content of its fiqh message to conform with individual liberties," said Forum of Islamic Thought secretary-general and Supreme Islamic Council member Sheikh Ould Zein Ould Imam Lamine.

Imams, clerics, faqihs, educators and human rights activists attended the initial two-day forum in Nouakchott, which wrapped up on November 1st. Other conferences continue across seven provinces in southern Mauritania.

Participants discussed contemporary issues, including slavery, child labour, early marriage and children's rights in Islam, as well as the contributions of faqihs and clerics to reform.

"The Forum of Islamic Thought understands that negative phenomena in Mauritanian society, such as child labour, the early marriage of girls, the deprivation of children from school and the abuse of their dignity, are still deeply-rooted in the mentality of residents of villages and rural areas," Ould Imam Lamine told Magharebia.

Such problems "deprive society of productive young people, who contribute to the building of its future".

"This stalls development efforts and may contribute to the deviation of young people," he added.

The forum produced the Nouakchott Declaration. The signatories agreed to "create fiqh of ijtihad that suits modern times, and involve scholars in the defence of human rights, and stress the need for them to combat issues that are harmful to children and society".

According to the United Nations Children's Fund, some 300,000 Mauritanians are under age 15.

"The most important problems facing children in Mauritania are early marriage, the school dropout rate and other issues that form the basis for their deviation," the UNICEF representative in Mauritania said.

Other speakers at the Nouakchott conference touched on areas of concern. Professor Mohamed Lamine Ould Elban talked about child labour, while Haddmin Ould Salek, the imam of El Atiq mosque, discussed about the negative impact of early marriage on the future of boys and girls.

For his part, Hamden Ould Tah, chief of Mauritania's Union of Religious Scholars, addressed the role of Islamic teachings in combating slavery.

The conference was also attended by government officials.

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