May 23-25, 2005
SECRETARY GENERAL’S STUDY ON VIOLENCE AGAINST CHILDREN
REGIONAL CONSULTATION: WEST AND CENTRAL AFRICA
Shaykh Hassan Cisse
Founder and President
African American Islamic Institute (AAII)
After thanking Allah and praising Prophet Muhammad (SAW), I wish to express my appreciation for the opportunity to represent the moral imperative that the religious perspective contributes toward ending violence against children.
Religion has always been central to people’s lives in Africa. All ethnic groups in Africa have a way of acknowledging the Creator and Sustainer of the universe. Islam, Christianity, Protestantism and Traditional religions play a pivotal role in African society and, therefore, must play a pivotal role in the fight to end violence against children.
Christianity recognizes the child as a person and holds that both children and adults are equal in the Kingdom of God. Jesus(AS) taught that unless a person becomes humble like a child, he or she will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven. When children were brought to him so he could pray for them, the Disciples wanted to prevent their approach to him, but Jesus (AS) told them to leave the children alone, because the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to those who are like children. Surely, the Protestant view of children is consistent with that of Jesus (AS) in the Bible.
In Traditional African religions, children are cherished and are seen as a source of joy, not only to the immediate family, but to the entire community.
In Islam, children, both male and female, are treasured and are to be protected and cared for, fed, clothed, housed, educated and loved. Children are a trust given to their parents by Allah, and they are responsible for this trust on the Day of Judgment. The Muslim father is required to support his children and the Muslim mother is required to care for them. Both parents are responsible for the development of excellent character by instilling Islamic moral and ethical principles in their children.
Prophet Muhammad(SAW) loved children and set a shining example of how they are to be treated and protected. Even when the children of Taif were set loose to throw stones at him (SAW), he forgave them and declined to have them punished. When he (SAW) said, “Fear Allah and treat your children fairly (with equal justice)”, he made the treatment of children part of being conscious of one’s duty to Allah. And, significantly, Islam put an end to the barbaric practice of burying girl babies alive.
Sadly, abhorrently, in today’s world children are subjected to numerous forms of violence: violence in the home or family; violence in schools and educational settings; violence in orphanages and other institutional settings; violence in work situations; violence in the streets, to include encounters with law enforcement; the violence of child prostitution and the trafficking of children for sexual exploitation, child pornography and the violence of using children as combatants in armed conflicts.
Clearly, unequivocally, Islam stands firmly against prostitution, pornography, sexual exploitation of children, mistreatment of orphans and the use of children in armed conflicts. The Prophet(SAW) said, “Treat your children fairly.”, and repeated it three times to emphasize its importance.
Let us look at Islam’s position on some of the types of violence that are being perpetrated against children: Regarding another form of violence against children that is found in the faces of Africa’s orphaned generation….the millions of children who have lost one or both parents due to AIDS and are then left due to stigma or circumstance to survive on their own, Islam teaches that Muslims should use their own money and property to help orphans, homeless and poor children until they are old enough to support themselves. Under Islam, mistreatment of orphans is undoubtedly one of the gravest sins. Allah says in the Book: Nay, you do not treat the orphan honorably and generously. 89:17 and again, As for the orphan, do not oppress him (rather pay him the due of kindness and loving care. 93:9. The Prophet(SAW) said, “The best house is the one where orphans are cared for and treated most honorably and kindly.”
Regarding prostitution, the Prophet said, “Force not your maids to prostitution (when they desire chastity).” With regard to child labor, Islam does not teach that a child should work to provide food for his or her parents or siblings. Rather, Islam gives children the right to be cared for, properly brought up and educated.
Despite the efforts of the Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary General for Children and Armed Conflict, and the ratification by 31 African states of the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, children continue to be used in armed conflicts in West Africa and the Great Lakes Region. Under Islam, children are not to be harmed during war time, no less used as soldiers in armed conflicts.
To be fair, we must acknowledge that despite the unequivocal teaching of Islam that children are to be cherished, cared for and protected, economic hardship can result in practices that are harmful to children. One such reality is the practice of some, not all, Qur’anic teachers of sending their students out to beg each day. While this practice is totally unacceptable, the circumstance that produces it is real and warrants examination and proactive resolution.
Poor parents leave their children in Qur’anic schools, unable to provide for their support. The Qur’anic teacher is left solely responsible for feeding, clothing, housing and educating these children, without any support whatsoever from any source. I submit to you today, that the most effective way to end this practice is by including Qur’anic schools in the World Food Programme protocol that supports the creation of canteens to supply school children with breakfast and lunch. At the present time, this support is available in Senegal for example, only to the public schools that teach French and secular studies. Qur’anic schools are excluded from the protocol. This exclusion constitutes a kind of discrimination against children because of their religion. Provision of breakfast and lunch to these children would single handedly significantly reduce and ultimately eradicate the practice of begging by Qur’anic students. Precedence for this kind of approach to addressing the economic aspect of a practice that is deemed harmful to children can be found in the example of the fight against Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). In recognition that the end of this harmful practice would result in economic hardship for the women who perform the excisions, funds were made available to provide these women with an alternative source of income to permit them to stop practicing FGM. Similarly, the provision of food for these children, combined with the training of students in marketable skills that will make them eligible for employment, will significantly reduce and ultimately eradicate the practice of beggary.
In closing, religion can be a powerful force for good and against evil in the world. It is incumbent upon the religious community to assume a leadership role in operationalizing the moral imperative inherent in all religions for the care and protection of children. In Africa, the evils of violence against children, in whatever horrible form they manifest, must be fought against by every responsible societal entity and certainly by the religious traditions that define and inform African society. May Allah bless and protect the children and bless all of our efforts to end violence against them. Thank you.