—Dr. Najat Maalla M’jid, Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General on Violence against Children
The world was not on track to end violence against children before the arrival of COVID-19. It is apparent now that the pandemic threatens to reverse the limited gains made for children. The pandemic is harming children worldwide, affecting the poor and vulnerable children the most. In the words of Mr. António Guterres, UN Secretary-General, “what began as a health crisis risks evolving into a broader child-rights crisis.” And it has.
The mitigation measures taken in response to the COVID-19 pandemic have increased the risk of violence both at home and online. The pandemic is disrupting provision of already limited child protection services everywhere and leaving significant negative effects on children’s mental health and well-being. The immense socio-economic impact of the pandemic is exacerbating child poverty and vulnerability to many forms of violence, including child marriage, child labor, trafficking, recruitment in armed or violent extremist groups, and sexual exploitation and abuse.
Even though the world was in a different place when the Panama Declaration on Ending Violence against Children was adopted by the participants of the Fifth Forum of the Global Network of Religions for Children (GNRC) in 2017, the 10 Commitments co-created with children are relevant today more than ever. We know religious leaders and faith-based communities command extraordinary moral authority, they foster dialogue, help to bridge differences, and influence thinking and behaviour change even during the pandemic.
We also recognize the tremendous resilience and leadership of children as we are seeing an increase worldwide in children’s engagement: children, deriving from their innate sense of responsibility creativity, and solidarity, are taking an active role in helping each other and their families in the time of pandemic. They are creating awareness, supporting each other, documenting their experiences, helping their communities, and suggesting solutions.
At the same time, far-reaching consequences of the COVID-19 crisis call for children and all dimensions of their rights to be prioritised in the pandemic response and recovery planning. We must ensure that child protection services are identified as essential and life-saving – along with physical health, mental health, education, and justice services – and built on a solid and sustainable social protection system that are considered as investment.
To do so, strong multi-sectoral mobilization of governments, the international community, civil society, faith-based organizations, and private sector must be steered in this direction. In the Nelson Mandela Lecture in July 2020, the Secretary-General said, “It is clear that countries must make an effort to invest more … for a new generation of social protection policies that can address the dramatic situation of those that are in more poor and more vulnerable conditions.” This must become the principle of a New Social Contract in the post pandemic world, where children and young people live with dignity, enjoy prospects and opportunities and are safe from violence.
The World Day of Prayer and Action for Children, celebrated annually on Universal Children’s Day on 20 November, provides an occasion for gathering and mobilization of wider partnerships to bring tangible, positive impact on children’s lives and communities around them in the building back better period.
We need to mobilize all stakeholders in order to keep the promise of the 2030 Agenda to end violence against children, leaving no one – no child – behind. The strong commitment to dignity, equality and responsibility of religious communities and faith-based organizations such as Arigatou International and its partners will help influencing thinking and behaviour across nations, religions and faiths to help building back better and to ensure children are involved as an active part in this process.