The European Commission launched yesterday (15 February) a list of actions to improve children's well-being and make Europe's justice system more child-friendly, but NGOs complain the agenda lacks an overarching vision.
"Children's rights are fundamental rights," said Vice-President Viviane Reding, the EU's justice commissioner, presenting a list of 11 actions that the European Commission will take over the coming years as part of its efforts to implement the legally binding Charter of Fundamental Rights, included in the Lisbon Treaty.
In the future, all EU policies will be checked against a possible violation of children's rights.
The Commission is seeking to tackle the severe obstacles that children face, particularly when they are involved with justice systems. Vulnerable children, meanwhile, require special protection if they are growing up in poverty or are social excluded or disabled.
According to the commissioner, the European justice system treats children "well", but that is not enough. "We need a system that really cares," she said.
The EU actions under consideration take special account of children who are victims of crime or are suspected of crime, as well as those involved in cross-border custody battles in divorce cases.
Speaking to journalists, Reding explained that some EU members states are better than others at protecting children, and sharing best practice is key to improving children's rights across Europe.
The Commission's proposals, however, have not convinced civil society organisations like Eurochild, which since 2006 has been calling for a comprehensive strategy to promote and safeguard children's rights in the EU.
"The agenda unfortunately reflects the EU's very piecemeal approach to children's rights. It's a compilation of ongoing actions rather than a coherent vision," said Maria Herczog, president of Eurochild, adding that the Commission had failed to show how the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child could be effectively implemented across EU policies in a consistent way.
Eurochild, a network of over 90 children's rights organisations from across Europe, has called in recent months for stronger EU strategy and coordination through which children's rights would be integrated in all EU policies and programmes alongside the "fundamental rights check" and internal training proposed by the Commission.
According to the European umbrella organisation, the emphasis on protection ignores the fact that it is investment in prevention and children's empowerment that will have the longest term benefits for society. "At a time of enormous pressure on budgets, we believe this is short-sighted and sends the wrong signal," said the Eurochild president.