In 2019, 22% of children in the EU were at risk of poverty or social exclusion. Now, with a COVID crisis that is threatening the health and well-being of children in Europe, this figure is bound to grow. Because of this, the European Commission has published the long-awaited EU Strategy on the rights of the child, which sets out principles, objectives, actions, and funding mechanisms for the protection and promotion of the rights of the child. LLLP has participated in extensive consultations in the past months and years, and its advocacy efforts have contributed to shaping this proposal for a Council recommendation.
A very comprehensive document, the Commission’s Communication identifies six thematic areas to address:
- ‘Children as agents of change in democratic life’. This includes – among other measures – the creation of an EU Children’s Participation Platform, of a participatory space in the European Climate Pact.
- ‘The right of children to realise their full potential no matter their social background’. A key area, it established the European Child Guarantee, under which actins in member States will be funded. This section also highlights the need for universal quality early-childhood education and care.
- ‘The right of children to be free from violence’, which includes a series of measures against gender-based violence.
- ‘The right of children to child-friendly justice’, with suggested actions to lighten the impact of justice on children.
- ‘The right of children to safely navigate the digital environment and harness its opportunities’, which will – among other things – suggest an updated Better Internet for Kids Strategy in 2022
- ‘The rights of children across the globe’, through which the Commission will seek to alleviate conditions linked to child labour beyond Europe.
Under the European Child Guarantee, EU Member States are recommended to provide free and effective access for children in need of:
- early childhood education and care
- education and school-based activities
- at least one healthy meal each school day
Early-childhood education and care, as well as school education, play an important role in the Strategy and in the suggested Child Guarantee. Children with disabilities, children from disadvantaged groups, children with a migrant background and Roma children are particularly addressed throughout the strategy, testifying of a commitment towards the inclusion of disadvantaged groups. However, it is not clear how much of a tailored approach to learners’ needs will inform the actions: a learner-centred approach is proven to facilitate inclusion, participation, and to decrease the rate of early-leavers, which – today – still stagnates at around 10%.
The participation of children in decision-making processes is a positive development that meets LLLP’s expectations in terms of more open, democratic and humanistic education systems. At the same time, it must be mentioned that the revision of the Barcelona targets on the development of childcare facilities constitutes a laudable initiative: wide participation of education stakeholders, including parents, would be beneficial to a truly inclusive dialogue.
Regretfully, though, the Strategy does not address lifelong learning as an enabling factor, and it does not mention the useful complementarity of other kinds of community hubs as a means for disadvantaged children to benefit from such services. It remains to be seen how Member States will address the need to guarantee universal access to basic services.
Indeed, while the Child Guarantee answers to pressuring needs, its implementation will be the initiative of Member States, and in particular to their Actions Plans. To this extent, it is good news that the Commission will report back on progress at the annual EU Forum on the Rights of the Child: an evaluation of the strategy will be conducted at the end of 2024, with the participation of children – and hopefully of organised civil society.
When it comes to funding, it is noteworthy to mention that “Member States that have a rate of child at-risk-of-poverty or social exclusion higher than the EU average (in 2017-2019) will have to earmark 5% of the ESF+ for combating child poverty, while other Member States will be required to earmark an appropriate amount.” This earmark answers the call from civil society organisations, including that of the EU Alliance for Investing in Children of which LLLP is part.
Today, the Strategy for the Rights of the Child is a first step in the direction of universal access to early-childhood education and care. LLLP looks forward to further developments and to working with the European Commission on its implementation, including an EU Network for Children’s Rights.