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The government of The Gambia through the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare, in partnership with UNICEF, the Supreme Islamic Council, the Gambia Christian Council and Child Protection Alliance, recently joined millions of people around the world to mark World Day for Prayer and Action for the Children.

The global theme for this year is: 'Stop violence against children', and the national theme is, 'Let us stop violence and sexual abuse against children now'. As part of the commemoration, the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare convened a press briefing at their conference hall in Banjul.

Speaking at the briefing, Fanta Bai Secka, the director of the Department of Social Welfare, said the World Day Prayer and Action for Children brings people together to pray and take action for the well being of children on Universal Children's Day, which is celebrated on the 20th November every year. "Universal Children's Day, established by the United Nation in 1954, also commemorates the 1989 adoption of the United Nation Convention on the rights of the child," she revealed.

Madam Secka opined that the involvement of religious and faith-based organisations is essential in promoting and improving children's rights, since all religions have texts about children's well-being, their upbringing as well as protection, among others. "Moreover, because many religious organisations work in communities and with people, they have easier access to vulnerable children in the most deprived communities where other stakeholders often do not reach," she stated. Furher delving into the valuable roles of religion and religious leaders, Seka noted that their philanthropic work towards children within communities also provides them the opportunity to create awareness and demand for essential services to the government and other duty bearers.

She described religious leaders as opinion leaders and social mobilisers who have unparalleled ability to translate their sacred scriptures into everyday, understandable message to the public and can do the same with issues relating to children's right. The fact that they are trusted, she added, allows them to change beliefs and behaviours of people.

According to her, The Gambia government, through the Department of Social Welfare, in collaboration with both national and international stakeholders is committed to protecting children against violence and abuse. "This is clearly stated in the national Constitution of 1997 and demonstrated in the country's ratification of major international legal instruments relating to children. The Gambia has an obligation to ensure the rights of children are respected, protected, promoted and fulfilled," The Social Welfare director affirmed.

She continued: "Lots of children are survivors or victims of violence especially domestic violence and sexual abuse. These violence cut across all social and ethnic groups and most children suffer in silence and they grow up to repeat the circle of violence".

Madam Secka finally calls on parents, family members and members of the community to take up their social responsibility to protect every child in the families and communities.

Aichatou Diawara Flambert, UNICEF country representative, indicated that the day marks a special day in the lives of children around the world, noting that different activities are being implemented and different groups are offering prayers in observance of the day. "In 2009, on the 20th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which is also Universal Children's Day, UNICEF adopted A World Day of Prayers and Action for Children, initiated in 2008 by the Arigatou International, a faith-based organisation," Flambert dsclosed.

She went on: "Children around the world need prayers and support. Out of the two billion children on the earth, many are faced with various forms of constraints, including poverty, preventable diseases and illness, nutritional problems, inaccessibility to basic education and violence among others". Violence against children, Flambert explained,, takes many forms; from sexual abuse and exploitation, sex tourism, corporal punishment and female genital mutilation among others.

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, she said, defines violence as all forms of physical or mental violence, injury and abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation, including sexual abuse. "The theme attempts to bring issues of violence against children to the forefront of social, cultural, religious and political platforms from dialogue," Flambert noted.

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