Bringing all children to the centre of EU policies

Professionals sat around desks at the EU Child Rights Forum

News and comment from the 14th European Forum on the rights of the child in Brussels

The 14th European Forum on the rights of the child took place between the 27th and the 29th September 2022 in Brussels. Hope and Homes for Children was among the few organisations invited to attend in person. The forum covered topics crucial for our work such as  

  • child participation  
  • children in armed conflict 

and addressed important EU policies, including  

  • the Child Rights Strategy,  
  • the European Youth Action Plan  
  • the forthcoming Initiative on Integrated Child Protection Systems. 

Increasing accountability to children 

The primary objective of the Forum was bringing children to the centre of the EU policies, as declared by Dubravka Šuica, Vice-President for Democracy and Demography at the European Commission.  

Indeed, there were many children, more than adults, present in person at the Albert Borschette Conference Centre. They contributed to all the sessions and workshops. Other children joined online from their homes. It was both heart-warming and, at times, heart-breaking to listen to their accounts of their life, for example when Kyran from South Sudan shared, on the screen, that:  

in South Sudan we experience starvation. Most of the time I go to school without lunch and breakfast.” 

EU Children’s Participation Platform 

The EU Children’s Participation Platform, designed to ensure children are better involved in decision-making, was launched at the Forum. The platform has been established in partnership with the European Parliament and child rights’ organisations, and is intended to be a hub for existing child participation mechanisms at all levels in the EU. It will include an online platform where children, between 5 and 18 years old, can share their opinion with decision-makers on specific EU policies and initiatives. It’s hoped that the platform will contribute to an exchange of practices and experiences on child participation across the EU.  

“We will learn a lot from you. You can count on our support.”  

Commissioner Šuica to the young participants 

David Lega, MEP and Co-Chair of the Intergroup on children’s rights, called the launch of the platform “a historical event”.  He stressed that:  

“Many children’s rights are violated worldwide, including their participatory rights. Children already have a voice. But the authorities have to listen to it.” 

“It is now time to give children a voice, not only today. It is necessary to ensure equitable access to child  participation,” Didier Reynders, Commissioner for Justice, European Commission said. 

The establishment of the Platform is a long awaited and much needed initiative. Now, when this mechanism for making children’s voices heard is here, what comes next is to ensure that all children have access to it and are listened to, including the most vulnerable groups such as children with mental health issues and other disabilities, children in institutions and alternative care settings, refugee children, and children of prisoners, amongst others. 

Despite the declared commitment by the EU leadership, implementation continues to be an issue. “The problem is the implementation on daily basis – there is still lack of political will. Children are not on the top of governments’ political agenda and budgets. Day-to-day implementation should start at national level,” explained Benoît Van Keirsbilck, Member of the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child. 

“Monitoring mechanisms should be secured and civil society should be involved,” said Jeroen Uytterschaut, Representative & Executive Director of World Vision EU and Co-chair of the Children’s Rights Action Group (CRAG), of which Hope and Homes for Children is also a member.  

Children in armed conflicts globally 

Ten-year-old Timothy saw his parents being shot in a car, ten metres away from him. This is one example of how children in Ukraine are being impacted by the war on daily basis, shared Daria Herasymchuk, Adviser and Commissioner of the President of Ukraine for the Rights of Children. Another example is that her daughter now sleeps in bed with her, as she has a cochlear aid and cannot hear the sirens when removing it at night.  

The horrific number of 395 children being killed speaks for itself. 

And then there is the reality of the children who have gone to other countries where they study in a language they don’t understand. Children with disabilities find it particularly hard to adapt as their normal routines have been taken away. 

Daria Herasymchuk addressed citizens of all European countries – both children and adults – with a request to help Ukrainian children by  

  • sharing their culture, but also asking them about the culture they come from  
  • providing special support to children with disabilities.  

She also highlighted the importance of integrating attendance of Ukrainian online schools in the routine of Ukrainian displaced children.  

Ulyana Tokareva, Deputy Minister for Social Policy of Ukraine, introduced another key issue for our work – legislation for orphans and children who don’t have parental care.  

“We have moved 7,000 children and 4,500 come from various institutions. We need to find what we can to place them with families but then we also need to know where they are so that they can return to Ukraine once the enemy is stopped,” she said.  

Towards effective child protection systems  

To effectively protect children, it is necessary to have an interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary approach, explained Ally Dunhill, Head of Advocacy at Eurochild and Co-chair of the Child Rights Action Group. She further listed some of the characteristics of an integrated and empowering child protection system:  

  1. It must place children in the centre of the process.  
  2. All children should have access to integrated child protection systems.  
  3. Each system must have a way of reporting for children who experience violence.  
  4. Stronger EU coordination and shorter response times is needed  
  5. EU-wide research and evidence of good practices,  
  6. child friendly justice  
  7. a platform where child-friendly professionals can exchange.  

But most of all, we need children to be a priority

The key role of the guardians when it comes to unaccompanied children and the necessity of ensuring the sustainability of the guardianship system in Europe were also addressed.  

“To effectively protect children, it is necessary to ensure the coordination between institutions”  

Marie-Cécile Rouillon, the EC Child Rights Coordinator.

Ms Rouillon further stressed that it was crucial to create a new mechanism for guidance for every stage of criminal proceedings, to ensure support for children, prevent re-victimisation and to give specific attention to the cross-border dimension. Finally, she highlighted that specific attention should be given to children with mental health issues and children in institutions. 

The 14th  European Forum on the rights of the child was an opportunity to take a step back and assess where we are at in areas of essential significance for children’s lives.  It was also a chance to acknowledge that these lives, sadly, don’t matter equally everywhere. It also raised a silent question: “What next?”.  Although this question was not answered at this forum, we hope the response will mean that we all witness actions, at both EU and national level, that prove that all children matter everywhere.  

Irina Papancheva, Head of EU Advocacy at Hope and Homes for Children