Children are the true foundations for our future society. Therefore it is with them that Europe must (re)start if it is to give impulse to those systemic changes capable of achieving a fairer and more inclusive ‘European social dimension’.
And we must not forget that investing in the coming generations creates a virtuous circle, ensuring the integration of all young people fully into the social fabric means not only guaranteeing social cohesion, but also a healthy development for the economic structure at national and European level.
For this reason, as co-founder of the European Parliament’s Intergroup on Children’s rights, I believe that the Council’s recommendation of 14 June 2021, which approved the Child Guarantee, represents both a political success and an achievement for society as a whole.
“Today, at last, Europe is sending a strong and decisive signal on the issue of eliminating socioeconomic inequalities for children”
The idea of the European Child Guarantee was born in 2015, when, thanks to the Intergroup on Children’s rights, a written declaration on ‘Investing in Children’ was transmitted by the European Parliament to the European Commission. This called for the creation of macroeconomic policies designed to protect children and their families, which in turn was aimed at reducing child poverty and social exclusion among children.
The work of the intergroup has continued with the aim of giving ever greater visibility to the issue of social inclusion for all children. So much so that, in 2019 and 2021, two important parliamentary resolutions were approved which stressed the necessity and urgency of establishing the European Child Guarantee as a means of combatting poverty and guaranteeing access to basic services.
Today, at last, Europe is sending a strong and decisive signal on the issue of eliminating socioeconomic inequalities for children. This is vital, as this phenomenon has been made even worse by the current pandemic. Among other things, this has increased the number of families living in poverty and widened the gap in inequalities in our society, with, above all, serious consequences on the conditions of children.
Here, the Child Guarantee commits Member States to adopting their own action plan to be submitted to the Commission, aimed at implementing the recommendation and thus guaranteeing all children, particularly the most vulnerable (disabled, migrant or those born into difficult family environments), effective access to basic services such as early childhood care, education, health care, adequate nutrition and decent housing.
It will be up to the Commission to monitor the progress achieved by individual Member States, seven of which have been chosen as pilot countries for testing (in cooperation with UNICEF) intervention systems for combatting child poverty and social exclusion, so as to represent possible models for the other EU Member States to implement the Child Guarantee.
Among the pilot countries is my own country, Italy, which on 21 January of this year approved the National Plan for Childhood and Adolescence, in line with the objectives set by the European Guarantee, where the envisaged actions relate to three areas: education, equity and empowerment.
I believe these are precisely the guidelines that all European countries need to implement the Child Guarantee. In Europe, starting with education, we need not only to strengthen the co-responsibility between schools, students and families but also to address one of the great challenges of our time, namely the fight against educational poverty, most importantly digital poverty. This will help prepare new generations, including those in disadvantaged social conditions, for the new virtual civic dimension and the responsible and correct use of the web. This is vitally important; it is a font of enormous resources but, unfortunately, also of serious dangers.
“Placing equity and empowerment at the centre of the political agenda for the implementation of the Child Guarantee means ensuring that minors are protected from abuse and mistreatment”
This is not the only upside. Placing equity and empowerment at the centre of the political agenda for the implementation of the Child Guarantee means ensuring that minors are protected from abuse and mistreatment while at the same time providing for systemic actions to encourage children and adolescents to play a leading role in the decision-making processes of institutions. This, I believe, is the key element in a society that is truly engaged in carrying the needs of the youngest.
I hope these will be the principles that Member States endorse in coming years to maximise the value of the extraordinary financial instruments that Europe has put in place with the introduction of the Child Guarantee.
Given the hoped-for perspective of an ever-greater enhancement of the multilateral dialogue between European institutions, Member States and organisations committed to the protection of the youngest.
Only by these means we will truly be able to combat the social inequalities that hinder the growth and development of children. This way, we will know that the social inclusion of children - of all children - is no longer just a political objective but an imperative of social justice.