The children’s State of the European Union

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV.COM Ltd.

Children, the most vulnerable to poverty, should be prioritised as Europe looks more to the future. [Joe Goldberg/Flickr]

President Juncker will address the European Parliament tomorrow (14 September) on the State of the Union, and then the informal meeting in Bratislava will discuss Europe’s future. Jana Hainsworth urges EU leaders to think about how Europe can best serve its children.

Jana Hainsworth is secretary general of Eurochild.

Children are disproportionately more likely to experience poverty, be excluded from society or forcibly flee their home country. Their childhood experiences have a profound impact on their choices and chances as adults. Will children be equipped to cope in an increasingly complex and interdependent world? We take a look at the State of the Union from a child’s perspective.

Children who grow up in poverty are less likely to do well in school, to have healthy lifestyles, be active citizens or succeed in life. Yet one in every four children is at risk of poverty in the EU, and the gap between rich and poor is growing.

Sometimes children are taken into care for the wrong reasons. Because they are poor. Because they are discriminated against. Too often they end up in institutional care where children lack support and suffer from low self-esteem. An estimated 500,000 children in the EU are stuck in institutions when they could be growing up in a family environment.

Nearly half of all global refugees are children. Refugee and migrant children in Europe continue to face danger even after fleeing conflict or hardship. They travel to Europe as refugees, but they lack home, safety, clean clothes and books.

Unfamiliar with the language and culture, they are forced to abandon all comforts and often survive without their families. No child in Europe should be facing such situations; we have the resources to help, and so we should.

What will be the future of these children? And do we want such experiences determining the future of Europe? Thankfully, it is from these children that we also see a ray of hope.

A declaration, drafted by children from across Europe over the summer, holds the children’s solutions for creating a strong and hopeful society. They believe that investing in children is crucial and promise to engage themselves in the democratic processes to hold leaders to account.

These are the requests drafted by the children:

  • Greater participation of children in decisions that affect their lives;
  • Greater accountability and transparency of public spending on children;
  • Greater involvement of children in training on children’s rights;
  • And a greater show of solidarity through protection of refugees.

As Europe questions itself and ponders on fixing the democratic deficit, I believe we can heed their words for much-needed inspiration and in their own words, “try as hard as possible to make growing up the happiest period of people’s lives.”

To all public or elected officials in Europe, to professionals, and to anyone else who influences the lives of children, either directly or indirectly, I invite you to read the children’s declaration.

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