WWe closed our schools and day care centers for several months. We allow children to return to their educational institutions weekly. We made them wear masks and keep their distance. Sports, cultural and entertainment events have been cancelled. Only very late and very gradually, in part under the exclusionary “2G regulations,” were we able to enable children and young people to participate in society again. Even today, children under the age of 12 are denied visitation rights in many hospitals – a random example is the organization of visitors at the Franziskus Hospital in Bielefeld.
Since the summer of 2020, we have read in several studies how the health and psychology of children and young people has suffered greatly from our measures of corona. So we know a marked increase in diseases such as obesity, eating disorders, depression, disorders of social behavior and development, as well as physical violence, especially sexual violence. However, relevant political bodies have denied a link between measures of MERS-CoV and mental disorders in children and adolescents. We are now in Corona’s third year, the end of summer vacation is imminent. The teachers’ union is calling for a legal basis for mask requirements in schools. STIKO recommends vaccinating healthy children between the ages of 5 and 12, which – as experience has taught us – is a first step towards “2G regulations”, which also apply to this age group. We believe: there must be a change of direction.
The best interests of the child take precedence
It is worth remembering the most important links in any functioning society: children are the future of society, for all of us. In the future, children and youth will control the fortunes of our world. They may do things differently than we do. We will support them with our experiences, and at the same time we will learn from them. Children and youth are at risk. They depend on us for their development. We have to speak on their behalf because they often cannot do it themselves. This concern and responsibility affects all of us, not just parents of their children. All generations are equally recognized in our society, all people deserve protection. Even more so for children: Article 3 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child obligates us to “take the best interests of the child as a priority” in all measures that affect children.
Children and young people have shown solidarity above all else during the course of the pandemic. In this age group, infection with MERS-CoV usually causes very mild cycles of illness. Acute courses and deaths without prior disease are very rare. So the many restrictions that children and young people had to endure were aimed largely at protecting others – the old and the sick.
Affected health and psychological
In principle, it is true that we must accept limitations on freedom in order to protect others. However, all measures must be measured on the basis of the principle of proportionality and therefore are appropriate, necessary and appropriate to achieve a legitimate purpose. Article 3 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child obligates us to choose measures that harm children only as a last resort. It is doubtful that this will be the case for all actions taken against children and young people during the pandemic, even if there is a high degree of uncertainty, especially at the beginning, about the course of the pandemic and its effectiveness. Of the countermeasures taken into account.
It seems that looking back is less important to us than looking to the future. The epidemic still needs to be met in Germany with measures – especially from next fall. It is important not to repeat the mistakes made. With all the burdens that young people have had to bear in the last two and a half years, that includes one thing in particular.: Measures (without exception!) should not target this group of people. Schools are not engines of an epidemic. Meanwhile, interventions in the freedom of children and young people to contain the pandemic are having a particularly large impact on their physical and mental development and health. And this is now confirmed by the report of the expert committee in accordance with paragraph 9 of Article 5 of the Law on Protection from Infection, according to which children have been significantly and negatively affected by our Corona protection measures and more than all other members of society in their health and spirit. In our view, it is therefore unacceptable to pursue this immediately.
Classrooms are cooled
On the contrary: a panel of experts set up by the federal government declared that a meaningful evaluation of the effectiveness of those measures targeting children and young people, not least because of a lack of data, is not feasible. In addition to closing schools, this also applies to the wearing of masks in class and the constant testing of children and young people without cause. There is a lack of meaningful data from Germany to assess the effectiveness of, for example, the restriction of recreational activities, school closures, classroom rotation and other access restrictions in public life.
More than two years into the pandemic, the state has been able to do just that. Since this has not happened, the corresponding measures cannot simply be taken again when the situation in intensive care units worsens again in the fall, also due to the lack of staff that have been there for years. There is a great deal of uncertainty about the actual effectiveness of such measures to justify them for a longer period of time for those who do not expose themselves to significant health risks from Corona, but are particularly vulnerable to the measures given their living situation. So our appeal is: Free children and youth (finally) from the politics of pandemic measures.
In the past two and a half years, we have made it too easy for ourselves by applying large numbers of coronavirus preventive measures with a high level of intervention to the weakest in our society, without sufficiently empirically verifying their effectiveness in combating the coronavirus. an epidemic without adequately recognizing the extreme suffering we evoke. Failure to adequately listen to children’s voices leads to a dangerous trend: today we can see that measures to avoid energy shortages as a result of reduced Russian gas supplies suddenly begin to affect children: classrooms are being cooled, hot water in schools and gyms has been turned off – for a while Long before adults have to restrain themselves.
Much can’t be undone
We must put an end to the tendency to prematurely shift our responsibilities to younger people. Epidemic protection measures in children should not play a role in the fall unless a more serious viral variant appears (for which there is currently no evidence). And that’s not all: mainly because of the low risks that Covid-19 poses to them, children and young people have made great “special sacrifices” for our society in recent years. Today, these “special sacrifices” can clearly be measured in the many negative consequences for the physical and mental health of our children as well as in the massive educational deficit.
Much can no longer be undone. However, we owe it to our children and youth to try to reform this genre. Just as we pay compensation to restaurants and others affected in their economic activities as a result of our measures to protect against Corona, so must compensation for the disabilities that have occurred for children and young people.
So we not only owe it to the younger generations that we will provide them with our measures next fall. We also owe them compensation for what they have suffered: offers to make up for the deficiencies in development and education. In addition to creativity, sufficient funds must be invested for this; In particular, education systems must be provided with adequate financial resources. As a society we have to remember and respect our children’s rights again in the right way. If we look at the epidemic in a few years, the bitter impression should not remain that an entire generation has been irreversibly prevented from starting its own life. And we just looked the other way.
Mr. Dr. Dr. Frauke Rostalski is Head of Criminal Law, Criminal Procedure Law, Legal Philosophy and Comparative Law at the University of Cologne and is a member of the German Ethics Board.
Mr. Dr. Nicole Reis teaches public administrative law as well as labor and civil service law at the University of Police and Administration in North Rhine-Westphalia.