25 years ago the UN adopted the Convention on the rights of the child (CRC) representing the first international instrument which envisages minimum protection standards for children and brings together children’s rights which are envisaged in other international instruments. It outlines four core principles: non-discrimination, best interests of the child, the right to life survival and development, and respect for the views of the children. This is the most ratified convention ever, except Somalia and the United States.
One of the most important achievements of this instrument is viewing children as human beings who are bearers of rights. It envisages the prohibition of every form of discrimination, whether is direct or deriving from the social class, type of activity, opinions or beliefs of the parents. According to the Convention children must be listened by adults when taking decisions which may affect them. This is one of the more complex matters since if the child is seen only as a vulnerable being, then there is a strong tendency of deciding what is best for her/him without taking into account what the child actually may want. The right to express an opinion should be guaranteed, of course, taking into account the maturity of the child and the Convention is clear on this point.
The CRC also acknowledges the right to registration and to a name. Without an identity all the other rights cannot be enjoyed. There are too many children who still do not enjoy this very basic right because they live too far from places where they can be registered and there are no infrastructures or means of transport available to reach those areas. In many parts of the world people do not even know their age because they do not possess a birth certificate or any other mean to demonstrate when they were born.
Other rights envisaged by the CRC are the right to education, especially primary education which must be free and compulsory for all, the right to be protected from exploitation, violence, sexual abuse or exploitation and also the right not take part to hostilities at least before the age of 15.
There have been some achievements of the Convention. UNICEF analysis shows that infant mortality has been reduced by almost half since 1989, school enrollment has increased and child labour of children aged 5-17 has decreased by one third since 2000.
Many issues still need to be tackled because child labour in developing countries still concerns one child out of four and one child in three does not have a legal identity because they are not registered at birth. In those areas more than one women out of five was a mother before she turned 18.
The 26th of November European Parliament held a debate on a resolution regarding the rights of the children. High Representative Ms. Mogherini promised to work, together with Mr. Jourova, for the ratification of the CRC by the EU in order to turn it into a legal obligation for the EU but she pointed out that this Convention is already indirectly binding since all the Member States (MS) have ratified it. Ms. Mogherini also committed herself to prioritise children’s rights in all the EU’s external actions from human rights dialogues, to trade agreements, accession process and the European Neighbourhood Policy and in relation with the ACP states. She declared that children’s rights are a priority in 86 delegations EU in the world and 116 delegations have prioritised gender related issues which are interlinked with children’s rights.
It is certainly a welcomed commitment since in many areas of the world children are still enrolled as soldiers and often used as human shields, they do not have access to food and water, to basic health services, to elementary education and child labour is still a widespread phenomenon. They are subjected to violence and sexual abuse. In developing countries, according to UNICEF report, violent discipline is the rule rather than exception.
One sensitive area is girls’ protection and empowerment. Girls are going to be the mothers of tomorrow and their rights go hand in hand with children’s rights, especially when dealing with access to education and to health care services. Educated women are more aware of the necessity to send their children to school and they also have more skills to protect their children’s health. Furthermore, educated girls are at lower risk of contracting early marriages. Improving the situation of girls all over the world helps improving the situation of children.
Several MEPs have raised some important issues, such as the necessity for European States to do their homework before putting pressure on the third countries to respect the CRC. No MS has implemented all the provisions of the Convention and also in Europe there are violations of children’s rights such as forced labour, sexual abuse and violence, discrimination, poverty, limited or no access to health services, education and even to food. We can see that also Europe is struggling with the same problems faced by developing countries, although at a smaller scale.
Ms. Anna Hedh called for a Commissioner for children’s rights and there were also requests for the creation of children’s Ombudsman. Ms. Jean Lambert asked to bring the investment in children in the Investment Package of the Commission. She also stressed the issue of inequalities within and between countries. She talked about situation in London, which is the richest area but has the highest rate of children poverty in UK. Data available are not positive, since 20% of the children in EU live in poverty.
Ms. Chinnci and Ms. Nathalie Griesbeck pointed out the situation of non-accompanied migrant minors who are detained without having committed any offence. “No child should be deprived of liberty in an arbitrary was but it happens” said Ms. Griesbeck. Ms. Chinnici called for an alternative to detention for these children and she remembered also children living in prisons with their mothers who have committed some kind of offence.
Another pressing problem is protecting children on the internet. This is a double edged instrument which allows children to communicate with people on the other side of the Globe and it represents an efficient tool for education but it also may be used to harm children. Mr. Deprez stressed that in cyberspace virtuality and anonymity make difficult to understand when you deal with a minor. He called for specialised mechanisms to protect children such as codification on the status of minors on the internet. He also asked for a more active collaboration with the internet providers in order to identify the users of accounts who are children. This would allow to prosecute adults who take advantage on children in the cyberspace whether harassing them or by trying to involve them in criminal activities.
This discussion was followed by a resolution, adopted on 27 November, which envisages all the issues discussed in the plenary and calls for more efforts by the Commission and MS in order to implement and improve existing instruments and develop new ones for the protection of children. At Art. 7 of the resolution the EP:
“Calls on the Commission to ensure increased coordination within its different services with a view to effectively mainstreaming children’s rights in all EU legislative proposals, policies and financial decisions and monitoring their full compliance with the EU acquis on children and with obligations under the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child; calls on the Commission to ensure that the mandate and resources of the children’s rights coordinator adequately reflect the EU’s commitment to systematically and effectively mainstreaming children’s rights;”.
The resolution calls also upon MS to respect the principle of best interest of the child in all legislation, in decisions taken by government representatives at all levels and in all court decisions. MS should also invest more in public services for children and they should implement Directive 2011/36/EU on preventing and combating trafficking in human beings because the young girls and boys are often the victims of trafficking.
So how can the EU say to others how to treat their children if we have all these problems internally? One answer could be that they do worse than us and this could work but it is not only about that. It is about working together and spreading best practices and standards. This is the reason why we have the CRC. Continuing to act internally and also in our external relations is the only way of working. Every improvement in one place represents an input to improvement also in other parts of the world. The very idea of losing credibility if we do not deliver on the issues we ask the others to tackle is a positive input to go ahead with our work in the field of human rights.
As for the rights of children, there have always been abuse, hunger, violence and injustice. Our desire to eradicate all evils in few years is understandable but naïve. What we can do, what the EU and single MS can do and must do, is to continue working for better results.
(Ana Daniela Sanda)
To know more:
– European Parliament resolution of 27 November 2014 on the 25th anniversary of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (2014/2919(RSP))http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sides
– Convention on the rights of the child http://www.ohchr.org/en/professionalinterest/pages/crc.aspx
– UNICEF Analysis: Is the world a better place for children? http://www.unicef.org/publications/index_76027.html
– UNICEF Report “The State of the World’s Children. Reimagine the future” http://www.unicef.it/Allegati/SOWC_2015_Summary.pdf
– OSCE Special Representative marks 25 years of UN Convention on children’s rights, urges more protection efforts http://www.osce.org/secretariat/127214