There are around 2.2 billion children in the world today, and their experiences of childhood are widely different and equally valid.
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) sets out the right of children to be involved in decisions that impact on them, yet often their voices are ignored.
For Universal Children’s Day, Islamic Relief asked 10 children from within its programmes “What makes you smile?”. The broad question gave them the option to share what was important to them, and many chose to share their love of sports and the arts.
Speaking in the film, for example, April*, from The Philippines, said: “What makes me smile is playing with jump ropes, rubber bands and Chinese Garter” [a traditional Filipino jumping game].
Article 31 of the UNCRC recognises the right of the child to rest and leisure, to engage in play and recreational activities, which is also highlighted in Islam. Article 13 of the OIC’s Covenant on the Rights of the Child states:
“The child is entitled to times for rest and play, and to exercise legitimate activities that are suitable to his/her age during his/her free time.
“The child is entitled to participate in cultural, artistic and social spheres.”
Other children spoke about the reality of their lives. Marwen*, speaking inside conflict-affected Syria, focused on his family having everything they needed to survive.
Leila Fasseaux, Islamic Relief’s child protection coordinator, said: “Many of us have powerful memories from our childhood. What happens to us in these formative years shapes our futures, our choices, our capacity to lead our lives.
According to Unicef, around 1 billion children worldwide live in poverty – that’s roughly every second child. A life in poverty can mean different things –families might be forced to marry their daughters early in order to reduce the number of mouths they have to feed, or children might have to drop out of school and do hard unskilled and poorly paid labour to help their families survive, but children are also incredibly resourceful and able to face adversity if they are listened to and given a supportive environment.”
Neelam Fida, child protection project manager at Islamic Relief, added: “Childhood experiences vary from community to community. Many factors influence how a child may recall their memories, such as cultural practices, safe environments to play, access to education and being protected from harm. However, many places where Islamic Relief has a presence, mechanisms to ensure child protection and the rights of children being met have fallen apart.
“We have developed a faith approach to empower hard-to-reach communities and families in addressing some of these challenges. It takes a huge amount of work to set up just one of these systems, but we do it because we believe that childhood is a precious stage in life that should be preserved. It is a stage when children should receive unconditional love, care, protection, strength and resilience for the future.”
Islamic Relief has also been training people it works with on the Islamic approach to child protection.
*Names have been changed for child protection reasons.