"Investing in children from their earliest years is essential to building enabling societies"– statement by SRSG Najat Maalla M’jid on Universal Children’s Day

New York, 20 November 2021 – On the occasion of the Universal Children’s Day, SRSG Najat Maalla M’jid calls on the urgent need to ensure children’s safe return to school in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a devastating disruption of education and has taken nearly 77 million children away from classrooms for the past 18 months. At least one in three schoolchildren had no access to remote learning. School closures have impacted every child, especially the most vulnerable ones, and led to reduced physical activity and poorer diets, increased levels of anxiety and self-harm, and exposure to domestic violence. 

The disparities in education among poorer and marginalized children have been further exacerbated by the limited availability of working parents to take the place of teachers and a lack of equipment and resources for remote learning. 

“Children’s confinement and solitude due to lockdowns and school closures, as well as the stress from the increased risk of violence at home and in the community and online, has had a negative impact on all aspects of their well-being – and especially their mental health.” stressed SRSG Najat Maalla M’jid, “school closures contributed to increased anxiety and isolation among children, along with sadness, frustration, stress, disruptive behavior, hyperactivity, and sleeping and eating disorders.”

The right to school is vital to every child’s development, safety, and well-being. Teachers and school staff are the frontlines for identifying challenges that children may be facing in their lives. Thus, it is essential to ensure that classroom-based learning is uninterrupted, and this vital protective shield restored as soon as possible by getting children back into school. Governments and societies need to prioritize support for children’s social, emotional, and spiritual well-being and ensure that children’s return to school is safe. 

“The Convention on the Rights of the Child enshrines the right to an education of good quality in safe and secure learning environments. The pandemic has severely tested the capacity of States, communities, and families to ensure children’s education,” highlighted SRSG Najat Maalla M’jid, “We should also remember that schools are more than places of academic learning; they are where children learn to socialize and where they find support.” 

“As the world builds back after the pandemic, integrated services for children including education, protection, health, mental health, and justice must be considered as essential services and supported with adequate resources. They must be linked to an inclusive social protection system that will protect the most vulnerable children and their caregivers, leaving no one behind,” said Dr. Maalla M’jid. “Investing in children from their earliest years is essential to building resilient, just, inclusive, safe, and enabling societies. And as we make good on our promise, in all that we do, it must be for and with children, leaving no one behind.”