Putting children's rights at the top of the EU agenda

There is an urgent need to strengthen children’s rights worldwide; the EU must take the lead in this by focusing on the rights of children in all policies, writes Bettina Vollath.
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By Bettina Vollath

Bettina Vollath (AT, S&D) is a signatory to the Parliament’s resolution on the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child

17 Feb 2021

More than 30 years ago, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child laid the foundation for seeing children worldwide as individuals with their own rights and needs. It has more than 50 articles covering the most important children’s rights, including ensuring that all children, worldwide, are protected from violence and exploitation and have the right to grow up safe and free from discrimination.

The 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child is a milestone, one which makes it all the more incomprehensible that some countries have yet to ratify it. The European Parliament adopted a resolution in November 2019 on the 30th anniversary of the Convention, once again calling on all countries to join it.

“Many children don’t get a chance in life. War, expulsion and violence, genital mutilation, forced labour and prostitution still determine the course of their lives”

In addition, the European Commission was invited to look into how the European Union itself can accede to the Convention. This would send an important signal, strengthening the importance of the Convention within Europe. All EU Member States are signatories of the Convention, but the EU itself is not.

The European Commission will present its plans for the Strategy on the Rights of the Child in the first quarter of 2021. The public consultation ended in December 2020. We have already submitted an oral question to the Commission in the Home Affairs Committee, which is currently being dealt with.

As early as November 2019, the European Parliament adopted a resolution by the Human Rights Committee, which sets out comprehensive EU strategy is needed, bringing together all existing and future EU actions in this domain, as well as providing policy responses to the challenges posed to children by climate change, the use of new technologies and Artificial Intelligence.

The current initiative by 15 children and young people - who are trying to sue for their children’s rights at the United Nations and want to see more being done to tackle the climate crisis - also shows that the issue of climate change is one of the most pressing. Their complaint is directed at Argentina, Brazil, France, Turkey and Germany.

This is a strong sign, which at the same time illustrates a significant weakness in the enforcement procedures. The prerequisite for a complaint to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child is not only that the States have adopted the Convention but they must also have signed the Third Additional Protocol to the Convention. This allows them to accept complaints on the violation of children’s rights in the first place.

Apart from the fact that only a few countries have signed this Protocol, the strict provisions, such as the exhaustion of all national appeals, are serious changes to the Additional Protocols. These should be simplified as a matter of urgency, to make it possible to enforce children’s rights. Even if the judgments of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child are not legally binding, it is difficult to simply ignore the rights of children. Many children don’t get a chance in life.

“We can only demand that children’s rights be respected elsewhere in the world if they are fully granted within Europe. And there is still a long way to go”

War, expulsion and violence, genital mutilation, forced labour and prostitution still determine the course of their lives. There is therefore an urgent need to strengthen children’s rights across the world. In addition, there is an urgent need for the European Commissionas well as European Union Member States to ensure that binding standards in the field of human rights and environmental due diligence are finally applied in trade negotiations and agreements, so that child labour can be brought to an end worldwide.

I would like to see a Europe that is leading as a shining example in the implementation of children’s rights. After all, we can’t demand children’s rights be respected elsewhere in the world if they are not fully granted within Europe.

And there is still a long way to go. In the EU, for example, 28 million children live in poor families. One in four children are at acute risk of poverty - in the richest continent in the world. Currently, the social burden of the Coronavirus crisis is increasing and this, unfortunately, mainly affects children. At the same time, even the most basic rights have lost validity in the refugee camps on the edge of Europe. The onus is therefore on the European Commission to deal with all children using a holistic approach.

Focusing on children’s rights in all policies – including asylum and migration policy and foreign and economic policy - must be made a priority to ensure that children’s rights are respected all over the world and that no child is left behind.

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