Children are not only the most innocent, but also the most vulnerable members of society. This was the concern of the June 27, 2020, e-conference on the intervention of faith-based organisations in Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Children, to combat negative impacts due to Covid-19 pandemic. It was jointly organised by Interreligious Council of Uganda and World Vision Uganda and hosted by NTV.
A well-researched concept paper revealed that the plight of children, arising from the COVID-19 pandemic was overwhelming. Its harmful effects were most damaging for children in poor communities.
Due to the lockdown imposed by government to curb the spread of the virus, parents can hardly access health care services for their children; raising cases of deaths. Schools, which provide a vital protection role as well as education, are likely to remain closed for a sustained period. The prolonged confinement to small homes is leading to an increasingly stressful environment, and exposing children, especially girls, to increased risk of domestic abuse.
Poverty and food insecurity increase the number of begging or “street-vending” children, thereby also exposing them to insecurity and health hazards, including coronavirus. Sexual violence against children, incest, commercial sexual exploitation and marrying off under-age children, in exchange for dowry, are on the rise. This escalates incidences of abortions and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).
The conference observed, however, that Covid-19 pandemic may not be the primary cause of these lamentations, but a signal concerning unfulfilled promises on the subject of parenting, by all stakeholders. Today’s society encourages children’s liberty as opposed to parenting.
Many parents have relegated their inalienable duty to the media, government, faith-institutions & schools, day-care centres and nannies. This engenders hard-heartedness, resentfulness, drug abuse, smoking, corruption, immorality, horror movies, homicide and pornography among children.
Many children lack spiritual/moral upbringing. They are increasingly being exposed to witchcraft or a utilitarian religion (seeking wealth and success, without the cross involved) than to a nurturing of a personal relationship with God and with neighbour.
The Holy Scriptures reveal that having created humans in His own image and likeness, God cares for all, especially children (Genesis 1:28). At the time of Jesus’ ministry, children were voiceless. But He acknowledged their prominence: “Let the children come to me, do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these” (Mark 10:13-16). A severe punishment awaits those who underrate, abandon, mistreat and scandalise children (Mark 9:42).
The fourth Commandment of God, Luke 2:22-52 and Ephesians 6:2-3, among other scriptures, charge parents with the primary responsibility of children-bearing. But, going by the old adage, “It takes a village to raise a child”, such an enormous duty involves the intervention of the rest of society, including faith-based organisations.
The “new normal” ushered in by the COVID-19 pandemic challenges religious leaders to intensify supportive role to parenting. More grassroots outreach with spiritual and social services should be made. Through the Good Samaritan ministry, faith-based institutions should intensify on provision of essential needs, such as food, to the neediest children.
Using the available means of communication, religious leaders should more pro-actively teach parents and children on human rights and obligations. They should work with security organs and local leaders in handling issues like domestic violence, as well as offer counselling services to parents and children. Where possible, toll free telephone lines should be made readily and widely available.
Religious leaders should assure Government of their readiness to abide by the Covid-19 prevention protocols to enable worshipers experience the real embrace of God and directly receive messages that lead to protection of children (see Exodus 7:16).