Brussels adopts agenda to improve children’s rights

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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.

European Commission Vice-President Antonio Tajani highlighted the need to fight the sexual exploitation of children linked to tourism. "Sexual exploitation is a crime, a gross violation of human dignity and of children's physical and mental integrity. It is an area where we need joint strategies and international cooperation, awareness-raising and firm action," he added

"I would ultimately like the UNCRC to be integrated into the legal framework of the EU – similar to what has been achieved with the UN Convention on the rights of people with disabilities – but we seem to be a long way from that goal. Also the overriding emphasis on child protection misses the two other very important groups of rights set out in the UNCRC: provision and protection," said Maria Herczog, president of Eurochild and a member of the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child. 

"The Agenda contains important elements", said Jana Hainsworth, secretary-general of Eurochild, "but it misses the chance to set an overarching vision for how the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child can be effectively implemented across EU policies in a consistent way".

The Treaty of Lisbon requires the EU to promote the protection of the rights of the child. The rights of the child also form part of the fundamental rights that the EU is committed to respecting under Article 24 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union. In addition, all 27 EU countries have ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The 'Europe 2020' strategy and the Commission's Action Plan to implement the Stockholm Programme set out a vision for the 21st century of a Europe in which the children of today will get a better education and have access to the services and resources that they need to grow up as well as solid protection of their rights.

In 2006, a landmark European Commission communication triggered the development of an EU strategy on children's rights, leading to the organisation of European Fora on the Rights of the Child

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