Today marks a historic day for the rights of the millions of children growing up in poverty in the EU, as the EU launches an unprecedented revolutionary framework to tackle child poverty and social exclusion, write Anita Bay Bundergaard and Jana Hainsworth.
Anita Bay Bundergaard is the director and EU representative of Save the Children, Europe; Jana Hainsworth is the secretary-general of Eurochild.
The long-awaited European Child Guarantee aims at breaking the cycle of poverty and social exclusion by ensuring free and effective access to the most basic rights, for children in need, such as education, nutrition and healthcare.
The framework is expected to be adopted by the Council of the EU today (14 June), and it comes at a time when it is much and urgently needed.
Before the COVID-19 crisis, there were already 18 million children growing up at risk of poverty or social exclusion in the EU. That is approximately 1 in 4 children in one of the world’s richest region. The devastating impact of the pandemic on children and their families across the EU will only have made these numbers worse.
The outbreak has exacerbated pre-existing vulnerabilities and inequalities, putting huge pressure on health and social services. Families are struggling to make ends meet, and children are among the first to suffer.
For millions of children, growing up in poverty in the EU means they do not eat a warm, nutritious meal every day, or that they live in cramped conditions. It means these children cannot fully participate in school-life due to hidden or extra costs, such as school trips or school meals, and they can’t join sports or other activities like their peers.
Millions of children do not even receive the healthcare they need. The Child Guarantee represents a historic opportunity to tackle this critical situation and ensure all children live in a reality that respects their fundamental rights and allow them to thrive.
EU action in the field has never felt stronger. When adopted, the Child Guarantee Council Recommendation will send a strong and crucial message to all national policy-makers: the rights of the EU’s youngest generation should be prioritised, and that no child should grow up in poverty.
While celebrating the conclusion of this historical political process, we should also acknowledge that the next and most crucial step is the effective implementation of the Council Recommendation.
By the end of March 2022, the 27 EU countries will need to submit their National Child Guarantee Action Plans. These plans will cover the period until 2030 and will set out the policies and measures to break the cycle of disadvantage and ensure that children in need have the same opportunities to access essential services as their peers.
The use of EU funds and national budgets must also be outlined in the Action Plans, with a timeline of activities. We are committed to ensure that national and local civil society organisations will play a vital role in the drafting, implementation and monitoring of these Action Plans.
The ambition however does not stop there. As reflected in the Council Recommendation, children should be also among the stakeholders to be consulted on the design of the Action Plans.
EU member states should therefore develop the appropriate mechanisms to ensure the meaningful participation of children in need, in the design, monitoring and evaluation of these Plans.
By consulting over 10,000 children on the development of the EU strategy on the rights of the child, the European Commission has shown that this not only possible, but essential if we wish to develop effective policies.
EU member states must now turn words into actions.
Eurochild, Save the Children and the EU Alliance for Investing in Children have been at the side of the European Commission, the European Parliament and the Council of the EU to shape the Child Guarantee since the very beginning.
Our members and partners at national level are now eager to work with all stakeholders, decision-makers and most importantly children and their families to bring the Child Guarantee to life.
Children are not passive recipients of support, but agents of change in their own right. We want this initiative to trigger reforms that enable every child to thrive and to reach their full potential.