Rome, 17 November 2022
We, the undersigned, have come together as partners on the occasion of the World Day of Prayer and Action for Children 2022 to support this special gathering in the Holy City of Rome. We issue this Joint Statement as an expression of our solidarity and as a Call to Action to protect and promote the dignity and rights of all children on the move.
We are deeply concerned about the unprecedented number of refugees, migrants, and internally displaced children in the world. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimated that global displacement reached an all-time high of 100 million people in May 2022 — and UNICEF reported that at least 37 million were children. While many children moved with their families, others are unaccompanied, without the protection or care of parents or caregivers. The driving factors of this massive displacement are complex, including violent conflict, poverty, natural disasters, and climate change. Children’s lives are at risk on these journeys. Worldwide, they face threats in transit, at their destination, and upon return, including economic or sexual exploitation, abuse, neglect, and other forms of violence.
The COVID-19 pandemic has amplified the risks for children on the move, who typically have less access to essential health, education, social welfare, and child protection services. The risks and vulnerabilities vary by age and gender, with boys and girls facing different levels and types of violence, including trafficking, hazardous and exploitative child labor, and child marriage. UNICEF reports governments are facing challenges upholding the rights of children on the move and that immigration systems and border protection structures are often inadequately prepared to guarantee just and fair legal procedures protecting vulnerable children.
Respect for the human life and dignity of the child, as recognized in the 1989 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, is a fundamental principle found in all major religions. Religious teachings, in their distinctive ways, encompass and support the notion of children’s rights, as they emphasize the critical importance of treating children with the upmost respect, and giving full consideration to their needs and best interests.
We affirm that children always belong and should never become victims of statelessness. Children are the expressions of innocence and hope. Stateless children inherit a world they did not create but that rejects them. We have an obligation as a global family to make this world worthy of them.
We therefore call on all stakeholders to:
- Raise awareness about the factors driving forced displacement, including the continuing COVID-19 pandemic and ongoing armed conflicts, the climate crisis, imminent food crises and worsening poverty, while calling attention to the impact of displacement on children’s dignity and raising awareness of effective ways to ameliorate these driving factors.
- Promote local and global interfaith and multi-stakeholder collaboration for the prevention of violence against children affected by all crises, in particular the implementation of the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration and the Global Compact on Refugees.
- Identify, advocate for, and implement concrete actions to support and uphold children’s rights, their dignity and well-being, including in houses of worship.
- Protect children uprooted from their homes from exploitation and violence and reporting any violation of their rights in particular the 2017 Panama Declaration and Commitments on Ending Violence against Children.
- Help keep families together by supporting family reunification and protecting the rights of unaccompanied and separated children.
- Advocate for ending the detention of refugee or migrant children and promoting alternative means.
- Ensure access to essential services including health, nutrition, water, and sanitation, which are critical to children on the move.
- Gather age-disaggregated data and evidence on refugee, migrant and internally displaced children in local communities.
- Recognize the key role of faith actors as first responders in emergency and humanitarian crises and encourage and equip them to focus on protecting children’s dignity, spiritual development and best interests, when working with children and their families.
- Address the impact of displacement on the mental health and psychosocial well-being of children, particularly in the early years, and identify the ways faith communities can foster the spiritual development of children as well as their parents and caregivers in order to support resilience.
- Build on the action plans from the Faith Action for Children on the Move Forum, the From Faith to Action Conference and the Multi-religious Council of Leaders as key agents of multi-faith collaboration with UNHCR.
We further call on faith leaders and faith communities to:
- Provide counseling and pastoral services to children on the move and their families, including spiritual and psychosocial support.
- Protect the rights and dignity of all children on the move in houses of worship.
- Provide shelters in houses of worship for children on the move and their families.
- Support all children’s belonging—regardless of status, belief, religion, race or ethnicity.