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A G20 imperative: Focus on our children

by Graça Machel | The Elders
Saturday, 29 June 2019 18:00 GMT

Internally displaced Afghan girl carries a child near their shelter at a refugee camp on the outskirts of Kabul, Afghanistan June 20, 2019. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

There should be no higher priority for the world’s decision makers than special attention to the needs and care of refugee children

Graça Machel is a member of “The Elders”, Mozambican politician, and social and human rights activist. She is the widow of South African President Nelson Mandela and the widow of the first President of Mozambique Samora Machel. 

Robust discussions among a rich network of religious and secular participants at the G20 Interfaith Forum in Tokyo earlier this month returned again and again to a common theme: act for children. The Osaka Summit of the leaders of the powerful G20 countries on June 28th and 29th 2019 are well-positioned to take up this charge and place the well-being of children at the heart of decision-making.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe stressed in a message to the G20 that Japan, host of this year’s G20, “is determined to lead global economic growth by promoting free trade and innovation, achieving both economic growth and reduction of disparities, and contributing to the development agenda and other global issues with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) at its core,” to “to realize and promote a free and open, inclusive and sustainable, ‘human-centered future society.’”

The G20 Osaka’s future-looking orientation agenda, however, risks missing an important element that is central to achieving its goals: giving meaningful priority to protecting and nurturing children. What could be more vital?

Over one billion children worldwide face situations of abuse, violence and trafficking, often tragically perpetuated by trusted adults and in places that are supposed to be safest for children. The global direct and indirect costs of violence against children represent 8 percent of global GDP, equivalent to $7 trillion. The call is thus not only moral, but an economic one. Investment in youth is a direct contribution to the world’s future.

This year marks the 30th Anniversary of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Progress on many fronts is impressive, but with critical gaps. News reports of children languishing in refugee camps and detention centers, and dying from preventable diseases and malnutrition are a constant reminder. The internet and easy access to the unsupervised use of electronic devices make children particularly vulnerable to abuse and manipulation in this digital age. These challenges are not yet being met with the attention and resources required for their resolution.

Protecting the freedom, dignity, and rights of all children and facilitating their empowerment is a challenge that demands integrated strategies of poverty relief, anti-trafficking efforts, and a sharp focus on education. I must add that there should be no higher priority for the world’s decision makers than special attention to the needs and care of refugee children.

Religious communities play a critical role in morally, spiritually, and practically supporting and shaping families and other caregivers in child upbringing, as described in a recent report on prevention, elimination and perpetration of violence against children. On both local and international levels, faith and interfaith groups can make significant practical and advocacy contributions to the protection of children globally. 

The influential role of interfaith actors can be enhanced through working in concert with civil society, private sector, governments and G20 leadership to advance the rights of children globally.

Governments and G20 leadership should advocate for and advance the rights of children locally and globally. Many countries and communities have long focused to provide shelter and education for children, and should be included and encouraged in seeking more ways to provide social, financial and emotional support and protection to those who are most vulnerable to abuse and hardest to reach.

Every item on the G20 agenda, and every target of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, hangs in the balance should we not prioritize investment in the health, education and well-being of our children. The central and overarching promise of the Convention on the Rights of the Child is one of ensuring that every child can truly develop physically, morally, and spiritually in an environment of freedom and dignity. Politicians at the highest levels, faith leaders and civil society leaders, and engaged citizens and children themselves must work together to meet this challenge.