Written by Kristina Grosek,
20 November is an important date for children’s rights – the day on which the United Nations (UN) General Assembly adopted two cornerstone documents regarding children, the Declaration of the Rights of the Child in 1959, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) in 1989.
20 November is also the day recognised as Universal Children’s Day and celebrated annually to promote understanding among children and their welfare worldwide. The UN General Assembly established the Universal Day in 1954, recommending all countries to observe it as the day of worldwide fraternity and understanding between children.
Universal Children’s Day is an opportunity to promote and celebrate children’s rights, but also to take a brief look at the regulatory framework put in place to ensure children’s wellbeing in Europe.
The CRC, adopted in 1989, and swiftly ratified by 196 countries, including all the EU Member States, represents a crucial international instrument stipulating civil, social, economic, and political standards for safeguarding children’s rights. It requires governments to ensure that the best interest of the child is their primary consideration in all actions concerning children. Although the EU is not a party to the Convention, and there is no legal obligation binding EU institutions to apply its provisions, the CRC nevertheless plays an important role in developing EU legislation on children’s rights.
At EU level, protecting children’s rights became legally enforceable through two instruments: the Treaty on European Union (TEU) and the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union (Charter).
With the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty, protecting the rights of the child was officially recognised (Article 3 TEU) as one of the European Union’s goals, both internally and externally, and the Charter became legally binding. Article 24 of the Charter makes children independent holders of their rights and recognises the necessity for their protection.
Although concrete measures to protect children’s rights are in the hands of individual Member States, the EU provides the policy framework and an Agenda for the Rights of the Child with 11 specific actions contributing to children’s well-being and safety.
Recent EU action
Child poverty and social exclusion.
In 2013, the European Commission published the recommendation ‘Investing in children: breaking the cycle of disadvantage‘, calling on Member States to address child poverty, strengthen children’s rights and improve their wellbeing. In 2017, the Commission took stock of its implementation, and concluded that the recession that began with the financial crisis in 2008 has led to a marked deterioration in child poverty and well-being indicators in many EU Member States. The main policy challenges ahead will therefore include maintaining the focus on supporting parents, to ensure that they have access to decent paid work, child benefits and high quality services. Another focus must be on ensuring that particularly disadvantaged children (i.e., children with disabilities, children in alternative care, children with a migration background and Roma children) also benefit equally from the investments in children’s futures. These measures to improve children’s rights are included as priorities in the Commission’s proposal for the European Pillar of Social Rights. Violence against children.
Violence against children can take numerous forms (physical, sexual or emotional abuse, or neglect) and the EU has addressed different forms of violence in legislation (sexual abuse and exploitation, human trafficking, protection in criminal proceedings) and initiatives (better internet for children) and has supported its eradication through EU funding.
Children in migration and armed conflict.
In its communication of April 2017, the Commission outlines the urgent action to be taken to ensure a comprehensive approach to the protection of children in migration. The communication follows up on the European Agenda on Migration and Action Plan on Unaccompanied Minors (2010-2014). The 11th European Forum on the rights of the child held on 6-7 November 2017 focused on children deprived of their liberty and alternatives to detention.
Children make up one third of migrant arrivals since 2015, according to the latest FRA study. As various Member States are attempting to make returns of unsuccessful asylum applicants and irregular migrants more efficient, the use of detention, including detaining children, is likely to increase. Although there are no comparable and complete data on the number of children detained for immigration related purposes, reports state that, on 1 September 2016, 821 children were detained in 21 Member States, while no data were available for the remaining 7 Member States.
The European Parliament, as a co-legislator, plays a crucial role in the adoption of legislation concerning protection of children’s rights. It has also voiced its concerns and called for action on numerous occasions on issues including child poverty, detention for children, ending child marriage, education of children in emergency situations and online sexual abuse. Parliament has also strongly emphasised the need to protect child migrants and unaccompanied minors. Although Parliament does not have a committee dedicated entirely to children’s rights, it has formed a cross-party and cross-national Intergroup of Members of Parliament aiming to promote children’s rights. More than 100 members have pledged to become child rights champions in the Parliament through signing the Child Rights Manifesto.
To mark Universal Children’s Day this year, the European Parliament is hosting a high level event – The Europe we want – on 20 November 2017, at which Members of the European Parliament will listen and respond to children’s questions regarding their vision of Europe.
Recent EPRS publications on children’s rights
EPRS at a glance (2017) United Nations Universal Children’s Day and the protection of children’s rights by the EU, Joanna Apap
EPRS study (2017) Combating sexual abuse of children Directive 2011/93/EU, Amandine Scherrer, Wouter van Ballegooij
EPRS briefing (2016) Arbitrary detention of women and children for immigration purposes, Joanna Apap
EPRS briefing (2016) Vulnerability of unaccompanied and separated child migrants, Joanna Apap
EPRS keysource (2016) Unaccompanied children in the EU, Anna Dimitrova Stull, Irene Penas Dendariena and Ulla Jurviste
EPRS keysource (2016) Child-friendly justice in the EU, Anna Dimitrova Stull, Irene Penas Dendariena and Ulla Jurviste
EPRS briefing (2016) Child poverty in the European Union: The crisis and its aftermath, Marie Lecerf
EPRS study (2014) Violence towards children in the EU : current situation, Anna Dimitrova Stull