General Debate of the 59th Session of the
Commission for Social Development
New York, 16 February 2021
The Holy See is pleased to participate in this 59th Session of the Commission for Social Development dedicated to the theme, “Socially just transition towards sustainable development: the role of digital technologies on social development and well-being of all.”
COVID-19, the family and education
The importance of this topic has been brought into greater relief by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has illustrated how connected the world is and how interconnected we are as human beings. This is certainly true of the family, which is a model of inclusion and fosters integral human development. In the family, children learn that they are not independent or alone, but part of a community in which they learn responsibility for others. Efforts to address the effects of the pandemic and recovery measures should recognize that many families are struggling under the burden of the pandemic and therefore need special, targeted support in order to ensure the role of the family as the “fundamental group unit of society.”
Education is another field in which our interconnectedness has been illustrated, including through the role of digital technologies in promoting the social development of all. Policymakers have worked hard to find effective and inclusive solutions to the large-scale closure of schools in response to the pandemic. Teachers, parents, policymakers, children, and youth have had to adjust to remote schooling as well as to new health protocols for in-person classes. Even if we have seen that there is no substitute for in-person learning and healthy human interaction, the importance of computer literacy and digital skills has never been clearer. It has also brought to light, as Pope Francis has noted, “a marked disparity in educational and technological opportunities,” that has led to many children and adolescents “fall[ing] behind in the natural process of schooling.” Inclusive quality education is an essential tool for bridging inequalities, particularly for poor and disadvantaged children and youth. Our efforts must address this gap and ensure inclusive and equitable quality education.
Poverty, development and work
As noted in the Secretary-General’s report on the priority theme, the global health crisis has bothhighlighted and heightened existing inequalities. It has also set back efforts to achieve sustainable development and especially to eradicate poverty. Many are experiencing isolation, distress, and financial hardship. In the age of COVID-19, the internet has become an even more essential means of encounter through which people connect, learn, and work.
For a number of reasons, however, about half of the world’s population still does not use the internet, in developing countries, rural areas, and other underserved communities. In areas with low population density, the cost of building internet infrastructure is often prohibitive given the relatively few users. Even where access is available, other challenges exist, such as inconsistent electricity. Others simply cannot afford it. Resolving these issues will require collaboration among policymakers, internet providers, and those affected.
Digital technologies also impact the labor market. They contribute to job creation, facilitate work by those who either need to remain at home or who are unable to work outside the home, and foster work-family balance. On the other hand, technological progress leads to job losses, such as when automation replaces employees, sometimes affecting entire communities. These effects must be accounted for and steps taken to prevent the persistent increase in unemployment that reduces economic mobility and increases poverty. The economy should not serve itself or the wealth of the few, but the human person and the common good of society.
Migrants and refugees
Migrants and refugees are among those who have been affected most by the multidimensional and interrelated effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many have experienced prolonged separation from their families, economic hardship, exclusion and discrimination. Many have not received adequate social protection and support to weather these challenges.
Digital technologies can be harnessed to provide migrants and refugees with assistance and support. Ensuring internet access can significantly contribute to maintaining connections with family and friends abroad, identifying job opportunities, and starting or continuing education. For migrants, new digital financial services can help reduce the transaction cost of remittances, a key source of income for millions of families. Reversing the decline in migrant remittances is essential both to reducing the economic hardship that has affected so many families and communities of migrant workers around the world as well as to increasing household spending on education and health care in countries of origin. Another way technology can assist migrants and refugees is through secure, digital identification, to better facilitate their protection and integration while also maintaining their privacy. In this way, technology can help shine a light on those who are often invisible and voiceless.
The dark side of our new digital world
Technology is not neutral. Indeed, “technological progress has brought with it enormous benefits, yet the dark side of our new digital world cannot be underestimated.” It was with good reason that the Secretary-General identified it as one of four looming threats facing the global community. Among its most serious aspects is the spread of new forms of criminal activity, or of older forms now conducted with new and extremely powerful tools. Terrorist recruitment, human trafficking and production and distribution of sexual abuse material, including child pornography, are well-known examples of criminal activity aided by and advanced through the digital reality. To combat these effectively is a necessary and pressing task. “Being critical in this regard is not about demonizing the internet,” Pope Francis recently stated, “but is rather an incentive to greater discernment and responsibility for contents both sent and received.” While we consider the role of digital technologies on social development, we must likewise be aware of the dangers and of our common responsibility to ensure the sound ethical direction of these technologies and their use as true instruments at the service of the common good.
Pope Francis champions a “culture of encounter,” which means a culture of meeting others, seeing points of contact, building bridges, and planning for the future in a way that includes everyone. In the current context, digital technologies offer an important means of “building bridges,” creating an opportunity for “more equality and social inclusion” and to “rediscover the needs of [our] brothers and sisters” who are often left behind. The work of this Commission is important in bridging the digital divide within and among countries to ensure that everyone benefits from them and that the world is not only more interconnected but,above all, more fraternal.
 Universal Declaration of Human Rights art. 16(3), A/811.
 Pope Francis, Video Message on the Occasion of the Meeting Organized by the Congregation for Catholic Education, “Global Compact on Education. Together to Look Beyond” (15 October 2020).
 Cf. E/CN.5/2021/3.
 Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Message to the participants in the annual meeting of the Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice, 15 May 2018.
Mr. Antonio Guterres, Remarks to the General Assembly on the Secretary-General's priorities for 2020, 22 January 2020
 Pope Francis, Message for the 2021 World Communications Day.
 Pope Francis, Fratelli Tutti, n. 216.
 Pope Francis, Fratelli Tutti, n. 31.