"A paradigm shift in favour of children is long overdue" - Annual report of SRSG Maalla M'jid to UN General Assembly
New York, 7 October 2021 – The severe impact of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic on children, the mainstreaming of child protection issues within the United Nations system, progress towards realizing the vision of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development to build a just, inclusive and peaceful environment that keeps all children safe from all forms of violence, while building back better and concrete recommendations emphasizing the critical need for greater investment in integrated services for children are central messages in the 2021 Annual report of SRSG Maalla M'jid to the 76th Session of the United Nations General Assembly.
The report accentuates the continued, long-term impact of the pandemic on children that are more severe than predicted. The pandemic and its mitigation measures heightened the risks of children being exposed to various forms of violence and exacerbated the existing inequalities, exposing children who were already more marginalized and vulnerable to violence before the pandemic to ever greater risks.
In response to the challenges posed by the pandemic, the report enumerates promising practices and progress at national and regional and global levels to tackle violence against children. The Special Representative emphasizes the support provided to Member States in preparing voluntary national reviews and in mobilizing the United Nations system at country level to help ensure the availability of relevant technical support to the process.
In the reporting period, the Special Representative met with 38 Member States that were presenting voluntary national reviews at the high-level political forum, at an early stage of their process, encouraging them to use the forum to raise awareness of how violence hinders progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals and the steps needed for effective prevention. She also stressed that children themselves are key actors in national development and suggested ways to support their active engagement in the voluntary national review process.
Furthermore, the SRSG’s report highlights the Special Representative’s engagement with Members States at other levels sharing good and innovative practices and lessons learned in the prevention of and response to violence against children to accelerate the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for sustainable development. The Special Representative also gives specific examples of her work promoting and strengthing collaboration within the United Nations system on ending violence against children.
Children are often exposed to more than one form of violence and in more than one setting. The complexity of issues affecting their lives requires a multistakeholder approach. The Special Representative notes in her report that “the collaboration of many different actors is critical in efforts to prevent and respond to violence against children” and has continued to use her mandate as a bridge-builder and catalyst for change to establish and strengthen partnerships and alliances.
The Special Representative acknowledges the critical role of civil society and faith-based organizations in providing essential services for child protection during the pandemic and has strengthened partnerships with these organizations and regional intergovernmental organizations to promote an integrated and child-sensitive approach.
Children have an ever-greater online presence, and the report underscores that “the protection of children online remains a priority for the Special Representative.” The Office of the Special Representative has been working with the information and communications technology sector to explore and develop safe participation platforms for children and online means to prevent, respond to, and report violence.
The annual report gives special attention to the importance of ending the immigration detention of children highlighting how the socioeconomic impact of the pandemic on children will push many more into precarious living conditions and further shape their decision to migrate.
In this context, the Special Representative continued to strengthen collaboration with partners at the global, regional and national levels, including during her policy dialogues with the 38 countries that presented voluntary national reviews in 2021; United Nations country teams; the United Nations Network on Migration and its working group on alternatives to detention; the Initiative for Child Rights in the Global Compacts; the NGO Panel for the Global Study on Children Deprived of Liberty; the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants; regional organizations and national human rights institutions to emphasize the urgent need to end the immigration detention of children, stressing that “coordinated, efficient and cost-effective action is particularly important in “building back better” after the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The Special Representative recognizes the need to involve children and young people as part of the solutions to the violence and actors of positive change. The report indicates that “children are already part of the solution and increased their engagement during the pandemic to support their peers and communities in order to prevent, respond to and report violence against children.” It also highlights the critical role of peer networks in violence prevention and protection, and in mental health support.
Child participation experiences a rapid shift from offline to online engagement, which has informed the SRSG’s strategy to better understand how children use online means to enhance their own protection.
The report concludes with the SRSG’s commitment to accelerate progress towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals while ensuring states integrate the efforts to end violence against children into every national development agenda and treat spending on children’s well-being as a key investment for an inclusive and sustainable recovery plan.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated that a paradigm shift in favour of children is long overdue – a shift that treats spending on integrated social services and social protection measures for children and their caregivers as investments that are vital for an inclusive, resilient, and sustainable post-pandemic recovery.”