Children’s Rights in the EU – A Call for Action
Save the Children
Further information from:-
Save the Children
Rue Montoyer 39
Tel 00 32 2 512 7851
E mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Save the Children is an international non Governmental organisation working to promote the rights of the child world
wide. At EU level we have been working for a number of years in co-operation with Save the Children organisations
in the European region, with other NGOs in the Euronet network and with the separated children in Europe network to
ensure that the rights of the child are included in all appropriate areas of EU policy, legislation and action
Save the Children believes that –
Children‟s rights must be included in the EU Treaty
Children‟s rights must be mainstreamed into EU asylum policy
Children‟s rights must be mainstreamed in the enlargement process
Children‟s rights must be included in all relevant areas of EU policy
The European Union and its relevance to children
Children make up 20% of the EU population yet their rights as established in the Convention on the Rights of the Child
are currently almost invisible in EU legislation, and programmes. Children will be more affected by decisions with long-
term implications being taken now than any other population group. Children also deserve recognition as active
citizens of Europe today.
The European Union has recently started to put children on its agenda. Ministers working on children‟s policy met for
the first time on 20 November 2000 under the French Presidency, this was followed up by an inter Ministerial meeting
under the Belgian Presidency and an expert meeting under the Spanish Presidency. Secondly, the EU Charter of
Fundamental Rights adopted in December 2000 includes a specific article (24) referring to children‟s rights. In July
2001 the European Parliament adopted a resolution on children. All these institutional commitments recognise for the
first time that EU policy and legislation impacts on children.
Children are European citizens too: Children in the EU Treaty
However children‟s current legal status in the EU Treaty is unclear and in practice their needs are considered in an ad
hoc way in EU legislation. Children‟s interests are taken into account to a limited extent in the EU Treaty in Article 29
– “offences against children” where action is intergovernmental. However, children‟s interests are affected by a
number of EU policy areas, but the EU‟s overall competence in relation to children‟s issues is restricted and lacks
coherence. The predominant focus within the Treaties on the „citizen-as-worker‟ means that children interests are
excluded from consideration across the majority of policy areas – even though aspects of EU legislation and policy
can have unintended but highly damaging consequences for children. In EU law children are seen too often as only
“victims” or “dependents” or “barriers to work” which is in contradiction with their status in the Convention on the
Rights of the Child.
Why is a legal base important for children?
To achieve a Europe which is close to its youngest citizens – children, legal recognition in the Treaty is necessary
The current legal status of the child in the EU Treaty is unclear and in practice children are only considered in
an ad hoc manner in EU legislation.
Animals have been given rights before children in the current EU Treaty
Children‟s rights are set out in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UN CRC), ratified by all EU
member states. However the EU which passes legislation with direct or indirect bearing on children has no
obligation to respect the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
EU legislation may affect children in a negative way, since there is no need to assess the child impact of EU
policies. This may also result in unnecessary expensive Court of Justice Cases and can result in time
wasting debates in the EU institutions.
Children are a special category of people who have specific needs different from adults and who do not have
the ability to protect themselves.
The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child is the fullest contemporary international expression of an holistic view
of the child below the age of 18. Therefore the UN CRC should be taken as a basis for EU policies affecting children
and the “best interests” of the child need to be taken into consideration.
What about subsidiarity?
Save the Children recognises the fact that the principal competence for policy and legislation on children‟s issues is
the responsibility of the member states‟ Governments. However, many issues affecting children are neither uniquely
national or transnational, for example, legal consequences for children when their parents separate and choose to live
in different countries of the EU and the standardisation of products and services (TV, internet, media), greater cross
border dissemination of child pornography and child trafficking. Therefore in cases where the EU passes legislation,
policy and programmes, children‟s rights must be taken into account. This should enable European legislators to
ensure that the best interests of the child is taken into account in all European policy, law and programming. Children
are affected differently from adults by European legislation and it is important that all EU policy and legislative
proposals take their needs into consideration.
Save the Children recommends that :-
A new article should be inserted in the EU Treaties so that the Community can contribute to the promotion
and protection of the rights and needs of children. This article should be based on the UN Convention on the
Rights of the Child.
Children’s Rights in the Asylum and Immigration process
The needs and rights of the 100, 000 separated (or unaccompanied) children seeking asylum within EU asylum policy
are generally little understood or acknowledged. As the EU harmonises legislation in the area of asylum and
immigration policy it is vital that the best interests of the child are systematically incorporated into legislation which will
subsequently be implemented by the member states. Separated children are children under 18 who are outside their
country of origin and separated from both parents or their legal and customary caregiver. Some children are totally
alone, while others, may be living with extended family members. Separated children may be seeking asylum
because of fear of persecution or due to armed conflict or disturbances in their own country or they may be victims of
trafficking or other forms of sexual exploitation. International protection is necessary because these children and
young people have left their home community and country and travelled into or across Europe. Protection through
internationally agreed standards and under international law is therefore essential.
Separated children are highly vulnerable and are more susceptible to illness and injury than adults and lack physical
protection and psychological and emotional support they need. They can be overwhelmed by the practicalities of
fleeing their homes. In the period following their arrival they are often faced with complex asylum processes that they
don‟t understand, they may lack support of a guardian or adviser. They may have insufficient access to appropriate
food, education, health and social care and in some cases may experience racial harassment or attack. Children are
also victims of trafficking and these children are usually not protected by the asylum system.
The EU should use the process of harmonisation of asylum and immigration policies to ensure that asylum and
immigration policies and practices reflect specific considerations pertaining to children and take into account the
"best interests of the child" as a primary consideration.
In developing common standards on asylum procedures, the EU should ensure that the safeguards identified in
the EU 1997 resolution on unaccompanied minors are strengthened, where these are incorporated into
Separated children who are victims of trafficking should not be criminalised. Neither should they be deported
back to their home countries where they are likely to be at risk of further victimisation. Support, protection and
rehabilitation should be offered to child victims including those who make testify against their traffickers and other
persons who exploit them.
For children‟s best interests to be adequately protected there is a clear need for all children under 18 to be
assisted by a guardian or adviser at all stages of the asylum process and in relation to durable solutions.
Detention of separated children relating to their immigration status violates the Convention on the Rights of the
Child. In any legislation at EU and national level a clear statement preventing the use of detention for all
separated children should be included.
Separated children should be provided with a chance to be heard at all stages of the asylum process, and this
principle should be integrated into all appropriate EU and national legislation.
Separated children should be returned only if this is in their best interests. Formal schemes of return should be
developed in European states
Separated children seeking asylum in one EU member state who have family relatives in another EU country
should receive appropriate assistance so that family reunification can take place as soon as possible.
Children’s Rights in the Accession process
The enlargement of the EU is presently one of the most important challenges within the Union. Respect for human
rights is one of the conditions for membership, laid down in the Copenhagen Criteria in 1993, and in the acquis
communautaire. The European Commission has acknowledged that the rights of the child are one integral element of
human rights, and thus form a component of the criteria for membership. As such they must be given more attention
in the enlargement process.
In addition, all member-states of the EU and all accession countries have ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of
the Child (CRC) and thus taken on obligations under international law to implement fully the CRC. This requires
resources but above all it requires a strong commitment to practical actions from politicians and civil society.
The transition to a market-oriented economy in Central and Eastern European States has had a serious impact on
these societies and especially on children. In the Central and Eastern European candidate countries many children
live in unacceptable conditions, and for some children the situation has worsened over the last few years.
Save the Children calls upon all those involved in the accession process to ensure full consideration for the
rights of the child in the negotiations, including systematic coverage of children‟s issues in the forthcoming
Regular Report for 2002 by the European Commission. This should include follow-up on child rights issues
identified in previous Regular Reports by the Commission.
The Commission and Council of Ministers are strongly encouraged to increase the allocation of resources to
improve the conditions of life of children in accession countries, in collaboration with governments, local
authorities and NGOs.
The allocation of EU resources and its impact on children‟s rights should be rigorously monitored, including
by independent bodies.
Governments of candidate countries and member-states and specialised bodies within them should
collaborate closely, before and after accession, to improve for example government structures, legislation,
and strategies for implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Children and young people themselves should be encouraged and given necessary support to become
actively involved in the accession process.
There is a need to improve the well-being of children and their families. The candidate countries should
develop strategies, including, for example, social assistance to families, to prevent child abandonment and to
reduce the number of children in state care, including children with disabilities. Efforts must be made to
reduce the numbers of children living and/or working on the street. Wherever it is in their best interests
children should be reunited with their families. Dissemination of best practices is needed to speed up de-
institutionalisation and to promote and prepare for children‟s full and active re-integration into society,
respecting the dignity of the child.
The European Commission‟s Regular Reports have highlighted some issues of discrimination against
minority groups of children in candidate countries. Systematic attention should now be given to ensuring
respect for and protection of all children suffering discrimination, including for example, Roma children, ethnic
minority children, children with disabilities, children affected by HIV/Aids and stateless and non-citizen
All forms of violence against children, including corporal punishment within the family, should be explicitly
prohibited. Funds should be allocated for awareness-raising on the negative effects of violence against
children and public education to promote positive ways of child-rearing and education. Sexual exploitation
and trafficking of children must be combated effectively by collaborative actions across States and national
plans of action.
Assessing child impact of EU legislation and policies:
The European Commission should ensure that all proposed EU legislation and policies are fully compatible
with the principle of the best interests of the child as a primary consideration as expressed in the UN
Convention on the Rights of the Child.
All proposed EU legislation, policies and programmes should be subjected to a child impact analysis in order
to assess their potential implications for children and to avoid any negative impact.
Ensuring policy co-ordination:
The annual meeting of European Ministers for children, initiated under the French Presidency should be
followed up by an annual action plan with a review of the measures taken and regular meetings of Ministers .
A structured dialogue must take place between officials, NGOs and other EU institutions to prepare these
EU institutions should work more closely with children‟s NGOs, children-led organisations and children‟s
ombudspersons or commissioners.
Promoting children’s participation:
The EU and member states must involve children and young people in decision-making processes at all
levels through appropriate mechanisms, based on Article 12 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights
of the Child (UN CRC), and provide adequate resources for these initiatives.
It is important for Member States and EU institutions not only to endorse the principle that children have a right to
express their views in their own right as set out in Article 12 of the UN CRC (children‟s right to express views on all
matters concerning them) but to implement this fully. Positive attempts to involve children as active citizens in policy
and planning have already been made at national level and local level.
Combating child poverty:
Member States should give priority to implementing National Action Plans on combating poverty and social
exclusion in order to progress the objectives set in the Nice Summit with special emphasis on combating
Following the decision of the EU Council in Lisbon (March 2000) to halve child poverty by the year 2010 EU Member
States should prioritise the implementation of the National Action Plans on combating poverty and social exclusion.
Challenging discrimination against children
Within the EU institutional frameworks need to be created to address the discrimination against children,
rendering them more visible and recognising them as citizens of Europe
Many children experience discrimination as a consequence of their particular status, for example disabled children,
children from ethnic minorities, immigrant children, children living in poverty, refugee and asylum-seeking children.
A fair budget for children:
The European Parliament should extend the budgets which are currently targeted on youth to younger
children and increase resources available to children through general budget-lines and programmes.
The proportion of the EU‟s budget which is currently spent on children is minuscule in comparison with that spent on
other aspects of EU activity, and compares unfavourably with the amount spent on other social groups by the EU.
Children should be given budgetary priority by allocating adequate and fair resources in relation to spending on the
needs of other sections of the population. Targeting children at an early stage means investing in them and in
Developing action programmes benefiting children:
The EU institutions must ensure that children can fully benefit from existing EU action programmes including
those on youth, non-discrimination and social exclusion.
ANNEX 1: PROPOSALS FOR TREATY ARTICLES
Amendment to Common Provisions Article 6.2
The Union shall respect fundamental rights, as guaranteed by the European Convention for the Protection of
Human Rights and fundamental Freedom signed in Rome on 4 November 1950 and the UN Convention on the
Rights of the Child adopted on 20 November 1989 and as they result from the constitutional traditions from
the member states as general principles of community law. (amendment in italics) .
Amendments within Part One of the Treaty: Principles, e.g. after Article 13
The European Union shall take the best interests of the child into account in all actions under the provisions of the
Treaties as expressed in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
In all actions concerning children the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration and the rights of the
child shall be respected and ensured without discrimination of any kind. The child shall be assured the right to express
his/her views freely in all matters affecting the child, the views of the child being given due weight.
Title XI: Social Policy, Education, Vocational Training and Youth, Chapter 3
New Article after Article 149
The European Union shall contribute to the development of children and youth participation at a European
level and encourage cooperation between Member States and, if necessary, by supporting and
supplementing their action, while fully respecting the responsibility of the Member States for the content of
their children’s and youth participation.