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X International Symposium on the Rights of the Child Children's Rights and Religious Beliefs: Autonomy, Education, Tradition

  FR /  EN  / DE

international Symposium
2 and 3 maY 2019

AUDITOIRE LOUIS-Jeantet
Route de Florissant 77, 1206 geneva, switzerland


with simultaneous translation in french - english - german


In Switzerland, the religious landscape is evolving. As elsewhere, the proportion of certain religious communities is diminishing (Roman Catholic, Evangelical Reformed), while others are increasing (Islamic communities, but also some Christian entities), as well as the number of religiously unaffiliated residents. Article 14 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (hereafter the CRC) requires that State Parties “shall respect the right of the child to freedom of thought, conscience and religion”. This article refers to but one of an array of rights that the CRC aims at applying holistically to all children.

Arguments

In Switzerland, the religious landscape is evolving. As elsewhere, the proportion of certain religious communities is diminishing (Roman Catholic, Evangelical Reformed), while others are increasing (Islamic communities, but also some Christian entities), as well as the number of religiously unaffiliated residents. Article 14 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (hereafter the CRC) requires that State Parties “shall respect the right of the child to freedom of thought, conscience and religion”. This article refers to but one of an array of rights that the CRC aims at applying holistically to all children.

At the same time, the CRC states that the rights and duties of parents (and legal guardians, when applicable) shall be respected “to provide direction to the child in the exercise of his or her right in a manner consistent with the evolving capacities of the child”. In the same vein, two International Covenants (on Civil and Political Rights, art. 18; on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, art. 13) recognize the liberty of parents “to ensure the religious and moral education of their children in conformity with their own convictions”. In Germany and in Austria, at 14 years old, a child may choose his/her religion autonomously, at 12 years old s/he may not be educated on religious matters against his/her wish. In Switzerland, parents ensure the religious education of their child until 16 years old. Other more restrictive European countries set the age of religious majority at 18.

The CRC recognizes that, from birth onwards, children enjoy all the rights set forth, of which the right to protection is extremely important. Regarding the right to participate, and therefore to choose, this right is achieved gradually until the child reaches full autonomy. Article 12 of the CRC provides that the views of the child must be given due weight in accordance with the age and maturity of the child. Hence, some tension may surface between religious education under parental guidance and the principle of the child’s right to self-determination. And this is without touching on the extreme situations, such as the radicalization of children and especially adolescents who assert and display their religious belief, and in some cases are willing to die for their conviction; even while their religious communities of origin are forcefully engaged in fighting the phenomenon of radicalization.

The public-school system, at once a locus of intersection and tension between the family environment and society, is a space that generates many of the debates relating to religious matters. The following examples, drawn from situations that occurred in Switzerland, illustrate the points of tension: requests for exemptions from swimming classes, for sexual education, or more generally for religious events; requests to adapt meals served at the school canteen according to religious norms; opposition to the display of religious symbols… At the same time, how does one not recognize the positive aspects of familial and communal guidance of different denominations, sometimes even unusual, in the wider normative context which promotes values, social norms, morality and ethical stances inspired by secular values?

Growing up in a religious environment, the child sometimes faces unusual religious activity, more or less tied to religious or social beliefs: dietary regimes, incessant prayer rituals, refusal of blood transfusions, early marriage, female genital mutilation. The common thread of these examples resides in the fact that parents decide based on their right to “govern”. In most cases, these actions are clearly illegal and thus severe violations of the child’s human rights. As for the others, they may significantly hinder the child’s harmonious development.

The dimension of the freedom of religion of the child, as a rights holder, is not yet sufficiently considered in national legislations. The religious rules often benevolently applied by parents, can not only limit the child’s participation and contribution during his/her compulsory education, but also generate very serious consequences to his/her health, physical and psychological integrity, to his/her right to expression, and to the right to have his/her best interests be served as a primary consideration.

This raises the following questions: How does one approach the issue of the child’s autonomy within the context of the State’s laity when s/he belongs to a religious community whose precepts favor the harmonious development of the child? Is religious education an obstacle to the principle of equal opportunity? How can the child’s self-determination be strengthened regarding his/her right to freedom of religion or belief? How does one prevent the radicalization of children and young people by counting on the support of his/her religious communities of origin? How easily reconcilable are the expectations of the secular State versus the autonomy of the child, benevolent religious education respectful of the child and his/her gradual capacity to make his/her own choices? What are the benefits for children’s rights of defining the responsibilities of faith actors?

The child’s freedom of religion has not drawn much examination in academic and professional circles. This international conference seeks to conduct an in-depth refection on this complex issue in the context of an evolving religious landscape, while recognizing the child’s right to exercise his/her rights autonomously in accordance to his/her age and degree of maturity.

Objectives

The scientific event delves into a debate on a topic that is not often examined. It addresses several objectives:
Examine the arguments on a subject that has not been analyzed in academic and professional circles.
Strengthen the dialogue and knowledge regarding the child’s freedom of religion
Promote awareness on children as rights-holders.
Highlight best practices regarding situations of tension between the parents’ right to guide the spiritual development of the child and his/her right of self-determination.
Build on experiences and lessons learned in engaging with children who are either victims of or vulnerable to incitement to violence in the name of religion (see Beirut Declaration and its 18 commitments on “Faith for Rights”, commitment XIII).

Participants

This conference welcomes the participation of politicians at national, cantonal and municipal levels, as well as all concerned and interested professionals such as lawyers and jurists, family and youth magistrates from all relevant jurisdictions (penal, civil, protection courts, etc.), civil servants in child protection services and other agencies working with children, family mediators, psychologists, doctors, social workers, sociologists, teachers and education specialists, representatives from the civil society, the media; and of course students, especially graduate and doctoral students.

Presentations will take place in French (F), German (D) or English (E) and benefit from simultaneous interpretation in the two other languages.

31 janvier 2019
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