Photo: Susan Warner/Save the Children
January 6 is a day we should not soon forget. The violence and insurrection that unfolded in our nation’s capital was shocking. In reflecting on the horrific breach at the United States Capitol, I can’t help but think of the countless children across America and around the world who were watching, undoubtedly filled with confusion, questions and fear.
This event joins far too many unconscionable acts of violence and unrest that our children have watched and experienced in recent weeks, months and years, from civil wars in Yemen and Syria to the separation of children from their families at the U.S. southern border.
Save the Children protects millions of children all over the world who are affected by disaster, war and conflict. One of the critical elements of our responses is a wonderful invention, called a Child Friendly Space, where children can be children again – a safe place to express themselves, play, learn, sing and begin to cope, amid chaos. We create Child Friendly Spaces in the middle of refugee camps and areas hit by natural disasters. And time and again, these spaces prove to have a huge impact on children’s resilience, mental wellbeing and ability to overcome trauma. Wherever I visit our work, Child Friendly Spaces are an oasis of normalcy. And they are a joyful reminder of our shared humanity.
Watching violence in our nation’s capital 14 days ago or thinking about children being torn away from their parents at the U.S. southern border, I certainly wish America was a Child Friendly Space.
We mark this Inauguration Day, a day of transition in leadership, with the knowledge that the President of the United States can and must play a critical role in making the world a better place for children here at home and around the world. And just as President Biden has taken the oath of our nation’s highest office today, Save the Children is making an oath to the world’s children – as the stakes for children have never been higher or more pressing, especially given the global COVID pandemic. Our oath is to ensure every child has a healthy start in life, the opportunity to learn and protection from harm.
In the U.S., COVID-19 has meant major school disruptions and a sharp rise in child hunger, as 1 in 4 kids are now estimated to be experiencing food insecurity. Globally, 200 million children continue to remain out of school – adding to the nearly 260 million kids who were out of school before the pandemic – and COVID-related malnutrition is projected to kill 168,000 children under the age of 5 by 2022.
Beyond these startling numbers, children like 6-year-old Kayleigh in rural South Carolina are seeing their lives dramatically changed due to COVID-19. The pandemic’s impact on businesses and the economy has made it difficult for Kayleigh’s parents to provide for her, so she’s moved in with her aunt and uncle. Before the move, Kayleigh also struggled in the classroom, and like so many kids across America, her school has since experienced closures due to COVID. Her aunt says “making sure Kayleigh’s getting the education she needs to be successful” has been one of her biggest challenges.
We must work harder, and do better, to make sure children like Kayleigh get the opportunities they need to be successful in school and life.
The unrest and rhetoric around election results are a tremendous reminder that words matter – words can incite violence, insurrection and intolerance. As a parent, I try to teach my children the power of words and that actions have consequences. However imperfect some of my parental interventions are, my main intention is to anchor a sense of individual and collective accountability.
As a global humanitarian organization committed to the world’s children for more than 100 years, Save the Children strives to anchor accountability in the work we do – not only for ourselves, but for governments and leaders around the world. We continue to hold them accountable for upholding the values that keep our children healthy, educated and safe.
During this critical time for kids, Save the Children is urgently calling on the new Biden Administration and members of Congress in both parties to come together with us around a shared oath to prioritize kids at home and across the world.
In America, this promise means intentionally investing in high-quality early education and the child care industry – and ensuring the most at-risk children’s bellies remain full to learn. Lawmakers also need to develop and act on plans to humanely protect families seeking help on the U.S. southern border, and address systemic racism and inequities that hold Black, Hispanic and Indigenous children back generation after generation.
Globally, President Biden and his cabinet have an opportunity to renew U.S. global leadership and partnership – leadership that, over the last two decades, has contributed to reducing poverty, increasing access to quality learning, improving health for women and children, fighting epidemics, and saving lives during humanitarian crises. America can and should be a champion of gender equality and girls’ rights. It can return to showing leadership for refugees and ensure the protection of children affected by disaster and conflict.
Today is a new opportunity for America’s leaders to join us in taking an oath for the world’s children, providing them the best we have to give: words and, above all, actions of integrity, humility and kindness that build the futures they deserve.
Our children, including Kayleigh, are watching and counting on us.