Monday, September 15, 2014

Cambodia’s religious leaders promote positive parenting to end violence against children

By Molika Meas

A religious broadcast on the radio led to a complete change in the parenting style of grocery seller, Thorn Veasna*. The 48 year old, with his wife, regularly listens to the ‘Seeking Happiness Through Buddhist Spiritual Advice Progamme’, a daily show hosted by Buddhist monks.

In late 2013, one of the radio shows was about positive parenting. Noting that according to Buddhist principles violence against other people is a sin, the programme emphasised the importance of raising children with love through encouragement, listening and explanation, rather than through beating, yelling and blaming. To Veasna it was a revelation that violence was not an effective form of discipline. He and his wife used to beat their children with a branch from a tree to exert their authority. “I thought that when raising children we must be strict with them, otherwise they will not listen or respect to us,” said Veasna. The radio show messages convinced them otherwise. “When we use violence with them, they are scared and afraid of us. But when we treat them with love and care, there is much more happiness,” said Veasna who no longer hits his children.

©UNICEF Cambodia/2014/Molika Meas
Thorn Vaesna at home with his wife

Buddhist monks in Cambodia started to include messages on positive parenting into their preaching after attending a workshop organised in November 2013 by UNICEF, Save the Children, Investing in Children and their Societies and the Cambodian Ministry of Cult and Religion, with financial support from the German International Cooperation Agency (GIZ). The workshop was one of the activities for Cambodia’s in the Day of Prayer and Action for Children, a global initiative created in 2008 to mobilize faith-based organizations and groups to work together for the wellbeing of children around the world.

Over 100 religious leaders of Buddhist, Christian and Muslim faiths, and provincial leaders participated in the workshop where they learned how to promote positive parenting and non-violent child discipline by embracing and interpreting the principles of their various faiths. They learned about positive role modelling as an effective parenting tool to promote positive values and non-violent behaviour, and how to demonstrate to parents the importance of raising their children with love using non-violent forms of discipline.

A forthcoming study by UNICEF on Violence against Children in Cambodia reveals that many Cambodian children are exposed to various forms of violence, often perpetrated by the people children love and trust, in places where they ought to feel safe. Usually it is in the context of the home that challenging violence against children is most difficult. Here, violence is deeply rooted in social norms and traditions. Parents find it difficult to change their behaviour if the norms and behaviours in their community condone it and remain unchanged.

Well-respected in their communities and with the ability to influence individual behaviours and social norms, religious leaders were identified by UNICEF as strategic partners in Cambodia to help end violence against children. Religious leaders can also be advocates for children, with the ability to promote each child as an individual with rights and dignity.

Deputy Director at the provincial department of the Ministry of Cult and Religion in Kampong Cham, Chea Sareth attended the national workshop. Learning about the impact that violence can have on a child’s development made a deep impression on him. As a result he decided to organise his own training for Buddhist leaders in his province, to share what he had learned and to discuss how monks can translate the workshop’s main messages into action at the sub-national level.

36 year old monk, Son Satha took part in the session organised by Chea Sareth. After that, he started preaching about non-violent discipline in everyday parenting on his own radio channel, and during home visits and traditional ceremonies at the pagoda, where community members gather to listen to the monks and receive blessings. He says that his religion has helped him understand why non-violent parenting is important. Said Son Satha, “Buddha’s advice to parents is to support children to become generous, compassionate and responsible.”

©UNICEF Cambodia/2014/Molika Meas
Son Satha, preaching about non-violent discipline in his own radio channel

*Name changed to protect identity.

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