Item 13. Rights of the Child
[The words shown in square brackets […] were not spoken]
It is with grave disquiet that the International Humanist and Ethical Union notes the continuing abuse of the rights of children in the name of religion, and the fact that governments are not doing enough to ensure children receive the special protection that they are entitled to.
Religion is indeed a factor in the continued practice of child marriages in the Indian subcontinent and in Africa,
in the consecration in Nepal of children as young as four to become virgin goddesses called Kumaris,
We also note the scandalous mishandling of allegations of paedophilia in the Roman Catholic Church in the United States and the United Kingdom, and the delayed and inadequate responses from the Vatican which have been most disappointing to the Human Rights community.
However, there is one particular case of child abuse that I wish to draw to the attention of the Commission. We are appalled by the widely reported allegations of systematic sexual molestation of minors against the highly successful and influential Indian god man Satya Sai Baba. These allegations led UNESCO in 2000 to withdraw from a proposed joint event with the Institute for Satya Sai Education [see UNESCO Media advisory below]. Despite the matter being raised in the UK Parliament [early day motion 886 by MP Tony Coleman], and despite the issuing by the US State Department of a Travel advisory in 2001 [see US State Department Travel Advisory below], these disturbing allegations have not received the appropriate attention of the Government of India – which is a signatory to the Convention on the Rights of the Child and is obliged by its Article 34 to act.
We are hopeful that international attention, scrutiny and pressure will lead to a full scale investigation into the activities of this so-called god man, and ensure the protection of all children who come into contact with him.
We urge the Commission to call on the state parties that have achieved so much in advancing the rights and interests of children, to tackle the religious abuse of children in the same way that they address other abuses.
[CONVENTION ON THE RIGHTS OF THE CHILD Article 34
States Parties undertake to protect the child from all forms of sexual exploitation and sexual abuse. For these purposes, States Parties shall in particular take all appropriate national, bilateral and multilateral measures to prevent:
(a) The inducement or coercion of a child to engage in any unlawful sexual activity; (b) The exploitative use of children in prostitution or other unlawful sexual practices; (c) The exploitative use of children in pornographic performances and materials.
UNESCO FINAL MEDIA ADVISORY FROM PARIS
UNESCO WITHDRAWS FROM CONFERENCE
Paris, September 15 – UNESCO has decided it will no longer sponsor nor take part in a conference it had been due to co-organize with the Institute of Sathya Sai Education (ISSE, Thailand) and The Flinders University Institute of International Education (Australia), in Puttaparthi, India, from September 25 to 29. The decision means UNESCO is no longer associated in any way – through sponsorship, organization or participation of any kind – with the conference on Strengthening Values Education: Innovative Approaches to Teacher Education for Peace and International Understanding.
UNESCO’s withdrawal was prompted by several factors. Certain decisions were taken by the ISSE without consultation, such as plans to hold some of the sessions at the Ashram of the Sathya Sai movement in Puttaparthi, and the inclusion of some speakers in the conference programme without their previous consent. Furthermore, the Organization is deeply concerned about widely-reported allegations of sexual abuse involving youths and children that have been levelled at the leader of the movement in question, Sathya Sai Baba. Whilst it is not for UNESCO to pronounce itself in this regard, the Organization restates its firm moral and practical commitment to combating the sexual exploitation of children, in application of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which requires States to protect children from all forms of sexual exploitation and violence. US STATE DEPARTMENT TRAVEL ADVISORY
(US State Department’s India – Consular Information Sheet, November 23, 2001 – http://travel.state.gov/india.html – (under Andhra Pradesh) which warns: “U.S. citizens traveling to or residing in Andhra Pradesh should also be aware that there have been media and other reports of inappropriate sexual behavior by a prominent local religious leader. Most of the reports indicate that the subjects of these approaches have been young male devotees, including a number of U.S. citizens. Although these reports are unconfirmed, U.S. citizens should be aware of this information)
Sai Baba and sexual abuse of children no. 886
That this House, mindful of the many accounts and witness statements of the sexual abuse of the male children of devotees by the Indian guru, Sai Baba, calls upon the Foreign Secretary to use the Travel Advice for India page of the Foreign Office Website to issue guidance to British families intending to visit the Ashram of Sai Baba about the possible danger to their male children of individual audiences with the guru.
UK Parliament, 26.02.02 House of Commons]
Statement by Main Representative: Roy Brown, Wednesday 7th April 2004, UN Commission on Human Rights: 60th session. (15 March – 23 April 2004)
'Abuse of Children in the name of Religion', Humanists International, Board of Directors, 2004