For children, the COVID-19 pandemic is more about the impact of containment measures than a health issue, as such. Confinement may put children at risk for domestic violence and affect their rights to education, care and protection. Churches around the globe are well-positioned to protect and champion child rights further.
In a podcast moderated by Frederique Seidel, senior advisor on child rights at the World Council of Churches (WCC), Cornelius Williams, associate director and global chief of child protection for UNICEF’s programme division, shared his concerns about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic together with Rev. Patricia Bisnauth, Presbyterian Church in Guyana and chief executive officer of the Caribbean Family Planning Affiliation.
Williams describes the impact on children’s rights as a ”crisis within a crisis, where containment measures pose a serious threat to basic rights, such as education, care, protection, decent living standards and even the right to play with other kids.”
Williams is particularly concerned about the increased risk of domestic violence and sexual abuse for children from dysfunctional families.
”Home confinement due to the pandemic may entail a number of risks which in turn leads to emotional instability among exposed children. Church leaders can help by fostering dialogues in their congregations about positive parenting to support children in their mental growth. Religious leaders must be vigilant and look out for vulnerable families,” Williams explained.
Bisnauth explained how devastating the pandemic has been in the Caribbean, where sexual abuse and other forms of violence against children have escalated this year.
”Churches can make a difference in protecting children, but we have work to do in terms of enabling ourselves to bring about healing,” she said.
She referred to the example of Jesus, whom she explains ”always treated the vulnerable with love and compassion,” which in her mind ”should be the core of our pastoral work and our Christian mission.”
The WCC and UNICEF have cooperated on child rights through a global partnership for five years. Seidel encourages WCC member churches and partners to take advantage of the tools and resources available to prevent violence against children and help them advance their rights.
"Podcast shares how faith communities can boost mental health among youth" - WCC news release (27 August 2020)
"Coping with the Coronavirus" - WCC COVID-19 landing page