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Child Rights and Family Values

The leading religious traditions all place value on children and families. They affirm the right of every child to food, health, shelter, education, and the support of parents and communities. Given the depth of these commitments, it is not surprising that faith communities are prominent in the struggle for child rights around the world.

On closer examination, however, religious traditions are at times divided internally and from one another on issues related to the rights of and responsibilities toward children and the dynamic interplay between parents and states in ensuring their protection and care. Some members of faith communities emphasize the rights of parents over children. Others place more emphasis on child autonomy and participation. This divergence often contributes to polarized policy debates that pit child rights against “family values.” We see this in U.S. politics, for example, and at the UN.

For religious communities, alone and together, to have more of an impact on children’s rights and well-being in the long run, religious leaders on both sides of the issue need to enter into dialogue, identify and acknowledge their differences, and see what shared approaches might be possible. Over time, such a process of shared reflection on religious traditions and their resources in light of current global challenges could yield surprising and positive results.

Over the course of the 2023-2024 academic year, this working group of practitioners and scholars will seek to model and promote a culture of encounter and productive interreligious dialogue around child rights. The working group is part of the Culture of Encounter Project and convened by the Collaborative on Global Children's Issues at Georgetown University.

Although the overwhelming majority of the world's population participates in religious communities, faith-based organizations and interfaith networks have had only a very modest impact on the global agenda. 

The structure of the international system continues to favor states, nationalism drowns out religious and other voices from global civil society, and divides within and across religious communities also hobble interfaith impact. How might interfaith networks collaborate more effectively around two transnational challenges that resonate across religious traditions—the care and protection of children and displaced persons? The project will bring together religious leaders and practitioners across traditions to explore this question through online dialogues, convenings in Washington, DC, and white papers framing the issues for a global audience.

This project is part of the Culture of Encounter Project at Georgetown University, which builds on a central idea of Pope Francis’ set out most fully in his 2020 encyclical Fratelli Tutti—that to advance the common good we have to find new ways to work together, acknowledging our deep differences while pursuing shared projects. While the word “dialogue” implies the possibility of rational agreement, “encounter” incorporates the idea of inevitable tension—its Latin root, contra, means “against” or “opposite.” In a world divided along political, ideological, religious, racial, and other lines, we need to find new ways to bridge divides and identify and pursue common interests. Building a culture of encounter means engaging in difficult dialogue and joint action with those who are different—and sometimes even disagreeable. 

The importance of encounter for interfaith collaboration is clear. The world’s religious traditions are different from one another and have often been at odds historically. Faith communities are typically internally divided along political lines as well. In order to seek common ground on specific issues and have a significant impact on policy—to go beyond facile affirmations of shared values of peace and justice—engagement within and across religious communities requires an open and productive encounter among different perspectives.

Leaders of faith communities often find it difficult to address their differences in a constructive manner—both internally and externally. They may tend to uphold the importance of the internal unity and ethical absolutes, perpetuating entrenched conflicts that reinforce rather than help to move beyond the polarization we see in the political sphere. The rights of children and displaced persons provide two examples of this dynamic.



May 8, 2024

Religion and Child Rights in the United States video

Duration: 1 hour 29 minutes

March 21, 2024

Whose Story to Tell? Writing About, For, and Alongside Children on the Move video

Duration: 58 minutes

December 14, 2023

Is Our Conscience Revolted? video

Duration: 1 hour 34 minutes