How do experts criticise the reduction of children’s rights because of the coronavirus scandal?

School child wearing face mask during corona virus and flu outbreak. Boy and girl going back to school after covid-19 quarantine and lockdown. Group of kids in masks for coronavirus prevention.

According to the tenor of a public meeting of the Children’s Commission of the German Bundestag (Kiko), the Corona crisis was accompanied by a massive impairment of the rights of children and adolescents. On Wednesday, September 9, 2020, “A whole cycle of discussions” on the topic has now begun, said Chairman Norbert Müller (Die Linke). “How to do it better”, on this point the children’s commission wants to make recommendations at the end of his time as chairman in February 2021. The current meeting serves as a first overview for the debates in the coming weeks.

Karlchen Adler changes hands

kw37 pa kinderkommission corona bild wechsel
Matthias Seestern-Pauly and Norbert Müller with Bundestag mascot Karlchen Adler

Bundestag mascot, Karlchen Adler, a stuffed animal like all children like, was able to capture the attention of the room for a minute at the beginning of the session, when it changed hands from the previous chairman, Matthias Seestern-Pauly (FDP), to the current chairman, Norbert Müller (Die Linke), for the official photo. The change in the chairmanship of the Children’s Commission took place during the parliamentary summer recess on 1 August.

Restrictions on children’s rights, such as those made to combat the COVID pandemic worldwide, “must be proportionate”, stressed Claudia Kittel, Head of the Monitoring Body for the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child at the German Institute for Human Rights. If policy-makers do not yet have a sufficient knowledge base, they are required to constantly review the proportionality of the measures taken.

Kittel criticized that “children’s rights had played no role at all at the beginning of the pandemic. Children were apparently not relevant to the system. The responsible Minister for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth was not part of the crisis team of the Federal Government”.

Do not ignore the voices of children and young people

Kittel said that in her report to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, she would write that Germany had not succeeded in guaranteeing children’s participation rights under international law. Groups discriminated against by poverty or origin also needed special support, as the pandemic had the potential to dramatically widen the gap between the disadvantaged and the privileged.

The human rights activist advocated for the establishment of new, “strong child rights institutions” that could advise those affected and enforce the convention. “We lack structures.” First, however, “the structures we have”, from the Federal Youth Council to Youth Welfare Committees to Children’s Parliaments, “must be supported in not being overheard”.

Children treated like objects

Childhood scientist Prof. Dr. Michael Klundt from the Department of Applied Human Sciences at the Magdeburg-Stendal University of Applied Sciences presented his findings on the treatment of children and adolescents during the pandemic in Germany. Children’s rights had been largely ignored. The federal and state governments had not fulfilled their obligation to protect and care for 13 million children, but had “treated children like objects”. This in itself was a “serious form of endangering the welfare of children”.

At the beginning, the protection of the best interests of the child was even made into a “protection against children”, when they were presented as the only “super-spreaders” of the virus, Klundt complained. Serious violations of international law exist in many states that take part of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Disadvantaged will be even more disadvantaged

1.5 billion children worldwide are affected by educational exclusion, 500 million do not receive substitute education, and 350 million are deprived of school meals. In contrast, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, according to which “the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration in all actions concerning children”, should be the guiding principle for policy.

“The Covid 19 pandemic has increased social polarization,” Klundt noted. Families have come under pressure. The contact ban particularly affects the poor, the homeless and refugees, and opportunities for participation are diminishing. “The privileged have been able to extend their lead, while the already disadvantaged are being put at an even greater disadvantage.” He also observed a “social regression”, a “retraditionalisation”, as the restriction of children’s rights largely also meant a restriction of mothers’ rights and pushed women into outdated roles.

Hold children’s summit with all stakeholders

Fortunately, there is now a “high consensus that something went wrong. Now we have to be deal with it.” At a “children’s summit” with all the stakeholders, all the key issues would have to be elicited, the mistakes that were hopefully not intentional would have to be corrected, and measures would have to be taken to restore children’s rights and, above all, to eradicate poverty.

Klundt advocated involving children and young people more in tackling the viral crisis, rather than simply closing their playgrounds. “Children and young people are the first experts on their lives. They, above all, need to be heard” when it comes to learning from the experience and “what we should pay special attention to” when something like this happens again.” (ll/10.09.2020)

List of invited experts

Claudia Kittel, Head of the Monitoring Body for the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, German Institute for Human Rights

Prof. Dr. Michael Klundt, Department of Applied Human Sciences, Magdeburg-Stendal University of Applied Sciences