UNICEF engages faith leaders to spread message against child marriage, other issues

Kolkata, Sep 15 (PTI) The UNICEF has engaged religious leaders belonging to six faiths to spread messages to address pressing social issues such as child nutrition, teenage marriage and pregnancy, and child trafficking among their followers in West Bengal.

Faith leaders belonging to Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, Sikhism, Buddhism and Jainism have extended support to the programme, an official of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said on Thursday.

More than 2,500 such leaders have been oriented by UNICEF through a collaboration with Amanat Foundation Trust and facilitated by the West Bengal government to spread key messages from their respective places of worship – temple, mosque, church, gurdwara and monastery.

West Bengal has been lagging behind in some areas like child marriage, teenage pregnancy and anaemia among adolescent boys and girls. Religion can help us in a big way achieve awareness against fighting these issues, UNICEF West Bengal chief Mohammad Mohiuddin said.

The UNICEF is trying to take the help of various religious platforms to build awareness among the people and make progress in those areas where the state is lagging behind, he said at a media advocacy programme here.

Faith leaders enjoy considerable influence among the followers who repose a lot of trust in them. Besides, their extensive network offers them access to a large section of people, including the most deprived ones, and they play a critical role in spreading correct information and messages in their respective communities,” Mohiuddin said.

The programme has been rolled out in all 23 districts of the state.

More than two lakh people have already been reached out through social media, tableau and other modes of community engagement. Faith leaders are working in coordination with other platforms like panchayats, Self Help Groups, folk artists and media to approach the community, according to UNICEF.

Mohiuddin said that the need to engage the faith leaders was felt during the Covid-19 pandemic to give assurances and appeal to the people to adhere to the government stipulated protocols.

To help spread technically correct messages on children’s wellbeing, a handbook on ‘Faith for Life’ is being developed where messages supported by texts from scriptures will be published.

Nearly half of the state’s population will be reached through community engagement and multiple media platforms, Mohiuddin said.