If someone asks me what I value most, I say ‘children’. Children are our greatest asset, a treasure that we have the responsibility of protecting and cherishing. They are the future inheritors of our world. Although significant progress has been made in recent years on the protection of children’s rights in the EU, there is still much that needs to be done.
This is partly as a response to recent challenges, such as the increasing role of the internet in daily life. The European Parliament, which represents 500 million people - of which 20 percent are children - has repeatedly stated that children’s rights should be at the heart of EU policies.
“I strongly believe that we need to increase and strengthen the involvement of children and young people in the decisions that affect their lives”
It has called on EU Member States to ensure that the principle of the best interests of children is always fully respected in all legislation and in all decisions taken by government representatives. Children face ongoing violations of their rights worldwide, including in EU Member States. These violations include poverty, social exclusion, violence in all its forms as well as discrimination against girls, children born outside of wedlock, children with disabilities, migrant, asylum-seeking, stateless and refugee children.
Let us put a stop to this. We need to take action and not just limit ourselves to political statements. That is why Europe needs an ambitious and comprehensive children’s rights framework for the EU and its Member States - a strong instrument to tackle the many new challenges and opportunities that have emerged. Children’s rights need to be part of the highest political agenda of the EU and should be made an integral part of EU policies and practices in a holistic and comprehensive way with the new EU Strategy on Child Rights.
Children themselves should have the opportunity to play a meaningful role in the design of the Child Rights Strategy as well as in its implementation at national, regional and local levels. I strongly believe that we need to increase and strengthen the involvement of children and young people in the decisions that affect their lives.
In this regard, both the Commission and Member States should explore new ways and means in order to increase the participation of children in the decision-making process and create meaningful mechanisms for children’s participation in the work of European, national, regional and local parliamentary assemblies. The COVID-19 pandemic has turned the lives of children and their families upside down across the EU and has posed an unprecedented challenge to countries worldwide.
With the urgent need for social distancing, many children are now following classes online and have also begun to socialise more online. This means that children are, more than ever, consumers of digital media and content. However, the longer children spend online, the greater the online risk of encountering inappropriate content, commercial pressure.
There is also a strong impact on physical and mental health, which can all take their toll. Spending more time on different online platforms can also leave children vulnerable to online sexual exploitation and grooming, as predators look to exploit the COVID-19 pandemic. A lack of contact with friends may lead to heightened risk-taking, while the increased time spent online may expose children to potentially harmful content as well as a greater risk of cyberbullying.
“Spending more time on different online platforms can leave children vulnerable to online sexual exploitation and grooming, as predators look to exploit the COVID-19 pandemic”
The pandemic has therefore reinforced the clear need to further invest in the development of digital skills for all children and citizens. Moreover, increased digitalisation has widened the inequalities between children, where children from the poorest backgrounds are the least likely to have the tools to access online education.
If appropriate action is not taken, there is a risk of widening the gap between advantaged and disadvantaged children. That is why the strong protection of children in the digital environment and concrete measures to tackle disparities should be key elements of the new strategy.
We should unite in our efforts to ensure that the protection and promotion of children’s rights receive the attention they deserve, and that the new upcoming strategy will contribute to the improvement in the situation of children all across the European Union.