We, the representatives of the organizations listed below, have come together calling for schools to reopen and to prioritize children’s mental health, emotional, and spiritual well-being. We present this statement on the World Day of Prayer and Action for Children*, commemorated annually on the anniversary of the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child by the UN General Assembly on November 20, 1989, which is also observed as World Children’s Day. We call for urgent action by leaders worldwide, including political leaders, faith communities from all religious traditions, policymakers, and others concerned about children’s well-being during the global COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.
We recognize that the COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound impact on the lives of children and young people, cutting them off from healthcare and education, and affecting their mental health. According to UNESCO, as of mid-October 2021, around the world there were 58.7 milion affected students. COVID-19 pandemic has magnified the existing economic disparities and also shown how inequalities violate the rights of many children. While some children have access to online education, millions of students, their parents and teachers, are digitally illiterate and lack access to digital devices and internet connections and are thus deprived of online education.
Dr. Najat Maalla M’jid, the Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary General on Violence against Children, recently stated that “despite the increased availability of online resources, it is estimated that at least one in three of the world’s schoolchildren – 463 million – were unable to access remote learning”. Even for those boys and girls with access to remote learning during school closures, evidence shows increased violence occurring in the home with many children finding it difficult to continue their studies.
School closures not only result in children falling behind in their learning, they are cut off from essential school-based services such as immunization, school feeding, and mental health and psychosocial support. They are cut off from their teachers who, in addition to teaching, are often the first to recognize signs of abuse in their students and to arrange interventions to help protect them. School closures add to stress and increase the risk of depression and anxiety due to the loss of peer interaction and daily routines. Even before the pandemic, there was a lack of investment in mental health services and now the demand is even greater. Moreover, children and youth consulted are raising their voices on specific issues particularly climate change, ending racism and gender discrimination and calling for adults to build a better future as the world recovers from the pandemic.
To adequately respond to the global education crisis caused by the impact of COVID-19 on schools and learning, we must come together — governments, civil society, multilateral organizations, the private sector, teachers, faith communities and others — to address the immense challenges faced by the younger generations. These challenges include the loss of family members or friends to the COVID-19 pandemic; economic instability and hardship; the impact of isolation and confinement on their physical and mental health; and, increased violence in the home. We are also concerned about the lack of awareness, understanding, and prevailing stigma and judgment concerning the mental health of children and young people and the need for enhancing support to parents and caregivers and therefore recommend a series of actions.
CALL TO ACTION TO FAITH COMMUNITIES
We call on all persons of faith and goodwill and faith communities to take urgent action so that schools and educators are prepared to create learning environments that are sensitive to the social, emotional, and the spiritual needs and concerns identified by children and youth, while also responding to the changing realities and uncertainties of the COVID-19 pandemic. We identify the following key priorities for recovery in schools:
1. Targeted programs to bring all children and youth back to school, where they can access tailored services and support to meet their needs related to learning, physical and mental health, and psychosocial well-being;
- Effective remedial lessons or teaching to help students catch up on lost learning;
- Support for teachers to address learning losses and incorporate digital technology into their teaching and address the inequalities in children’s access to such technology; and,
- Learning about climate change and existing solutions in school curricula as called for by children and youth.
CALL TO ACTION TO GOVERNMENTS AND INTERNATIONAL ORGANIZATIONS
We call upon governments and international organizations to take all possible measures so children return to school and in a learning environment that meets their needs. We ask them to:
- Establish a supportive and inclusive learning environment for children which addresses their mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being, while supporting their cognitive readiness, as well as supporting them in civic engagement and collaboration in climate-solutions;
- Involve children and young people in decisions affecting their education and to ensure children’s rights and best interests are at the heart of COVID-19 responses;
- Address the disparities between children’s access to learning and to provide special support for migrant children’s education;
- Promote access to school supplies which are climate-responsible and eco-certified.
- Include violence prevention and response measures, and remove violence-related barriers to return to school post COVID-19, in all school reopening plans.
On this World Day of Prayer and Action for Children 2021, we pledge to do our part by inspiring and empowering children, galvanizing religious leaders and faith communities, teachers, parents, civil society organizations, international organizations, technology companies, governments, and many others to take urgent action so that children’s right to education remains at the heart of all COVID-19 response. We commit to strengthening grassroots initiatives to promote all children’s return to school and to take action to prioritize the mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being of all children.
This Statement is hereby presented on November 19, 2021 by the following organizations:
- Alliance for the Protection of Children
- Arigatou International
- Bahá’í International Community
- ChildFund Alliance
- Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
- Global Network of Religions for Children
- Global Partnership to End Violence Against Children
- Harvard University’s Human Flourishing Program
- International Network of Engaged Buddhists (INEB)
- Interfaith Alliance for Safer Communities
- International Society for the Prevention of Child Abuse & Neglect (ISPCAN)
- Joint Learning Initiative of Faith and Local Communities
- The International Dialogue Centre (KAICIID)
- New York Board of Rabbis
- International Conference of Rabbis
- Religions for Peace
- Shanti Ashram
- The African Youth and Children’s Network for Human Rights (YCNR)
- United Religions Initiative
- World Council of Churches
- World Vision International
We invite others to join us by adding your organization’s name below.