- Ministers, politicians and religious leaders from almost 50 Muslim states were gathered for two days in the Moroccan capital at the first Islamic childhood conference. The resulting "Rabat Declaration" puts special emphasis on female genital mutilation and other harmful practices discriminating girls, underlining it is against Islam.
Female genital mutilation (FGM), which is also called female circumcision, is most widespread in sub-Saharan Muslim cultures, but Muslim scholars for decades have emphasised that there is no Islamic basis for the very harmful practice, which causes many deaths among young girls each year.
The growing number of anti-FGM activists today found solid support among the most important decision-makers in the united Islamic world, united in Rabat. The first Islamic Conference of Ministers in Charge of Childhood - organised by the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) and the Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (ISESCO) - today issued a strong-worded declaration condemning FGM.
The Rabat Declaration called upon all Muslim states to "take the necessary measures to eliminate all forms of discrimination against girls and all harmful traditional or customary practices, such as child marriage and female genital mutilation." The protection of children "from all forms of exploitation, abuse, torture and violence" was high on the Ministers' agenda.
The Declaration urged all Muslim countries where FGM is practiced to act strongly against the non-Islamic tradition. Governments were asked to "enact and implement proper legislations and formulate, where appropriate, national plans, programmes and strategies protecting girls," the Declaration said in reference to the FGM practice.
The other issue specially mentioned by the Ministers' declaration was the case of "honour" killings of girls, a practice that is more common in Asia than in Africa. The conference urged Muslim states to take "appropriate legislative and administrative measures and devise suitable programmes" to fight crimes against women and girls committed in the name of honour.
Further issues high on the agenda in Rabat were the fight against poverty, preventable diseases and armed conflicts - issues that to a great degree victimise children in too many Muslim countries. "Necessary resources" needed to be allocated to the health system in the OIC countries, to enlarge access to social services, to secure good nutrition and to provide medical care to children, the Declaration said.
Delegates had been reminded that an estimated 4.3 million children under five die each year from preventable disease and malnutrition in Islamic countries, while about 6 million children under five suffer from malnutrition in the form of stunted growth, about 23 percent of the total population have no access to safe drinking water, and 45 percent lack adequate sanitation.
The progressive Declaration has already been welcomed by observers to the conference. The UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) found the OIC's call for an end to female genital mutilation an important step to fight the harmful practice.
The Rabat Declaration "addresses head-on all of the major challenges confronting children in OIC countries and does so in a way that calls for action to be supported by ever greater Islamic solidarity," UNICEF Deputy Director Rima Salah told the closing session yesterday. The conference had been characterised by "frank and open discussions," UNICEF held.
The declaration will be submitted to the next meeting of OIC Foreign Ministers and the next Islamic Summit, for adoption and support. With the support of the countries' ministers in charge of childhood, observers expect the Summit to pass the resolution by a large majority.
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