The EU explores future actions to strengthen the rights of the child
Article 3 of the Treaty on the European Union provides that the Union must promote protection of the rights of the child as one of its main objectives, a commitment on which the Commission is now trying to deliver
The European Commission has published the new EU Agenda for the Rights of the Child. This document is the Commission’s response to a stakeholders’ consultation carried out in 2010 and will guide EU actions in this area for the coming years.
Main actions foreseen
The core of the strategy is in the remodelling of the judicial system in the light of children’s needs. The concept of ‘minor-friendly justice’ emerges from the idea of providing minors with information in a way appropriate to their maturity in criminal proceedings and of devoting special attention to them within the proposals on procedural rights for victims; as well as on guarantees to suspected or accused vulnerable persons in the same context. Improvements to the training of judges and other subjects who work with minors is also foreseen. The Commission intends to improve the dissemination of information on the rights guaranteed at the EU level on maintenance, mediation, parental responsibility and family law disputes generally. EU legislation concerning the recognition and enforcement of decisions on parental responsibility will also be revised.
The situation of vulnerable minors is taken into due account, with the announcement of initiatives on minors’ poverty, non-accompanied minors, Roma and disabled children.
As for information technologies, the document refers to the opportunities offered by the revision of Directive 95/46/EC on the protection of individuals with regard to the processing of personal data and on the free movement of such data and by the Safer Internet Programme. Support for self-regulation by mobile phone and game consoles producers and by Internet and content providers will also be expanded.
Concerning external actions, EU funding will be provided for projects on the fight against child labour in third-countries.
Finally, the Commission wants to raise awareness and promote active citizenship among children, by means of a strengthening of the EU access points to the relevant information.
More ambition required
The Agenda is a good step forward and it will contribute to facilitating progress in this area. However one cannot help being somewhat perplexed by parts of the text. Parents and family are mentioned almost exclusively in the negative context of family litigation. The priority role of guidance which mothers and fathers share with respect to their children, and their unique position in respect of the protection of the child’s best interests, calls for greater attention. The Commission seems to prefer the interpretation according to which children and their rights can be seen as separate from their family and parents. The rights of a child to a harmonious upbringing and growth, the protection of his/her psychological integrity and the development of his/her personality, are also dependent on the family, the stable environment where such needs find unparalleled contributions in the loving care of the mother and the father.
The absence of a positive approach to the role of the family and the separation of children’s rights from this ambit leads to a less satisfactory framework: family-friendly policies can contribute to an enhancement of children’s rights, by creating the conditions for their more effective protection, but no reference is made to a possible supporting role on the part of the EU; the delay in the revision of the Directive on family reunification is also a cause of concern, for when family unity is denied or hindered no child can exercise effectively his/her rights.
The Commission plans to take special account of the child’s best interests when monitoring the conformity of the EU proposals with the Charter of Fundamental Rights. This pledge is to be welcomed provided that its Article 24 is duly interpreted in accordance with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, a text whose direction is dictated by its Preamble: the child, by reason of his/her physical and mental immaturity, needs special safeguards and care (including appropriate legal protection, before as well as after birth), while the family is the fundamental group of society and the natural environment for his/her growth and well-being. This is linked with the first right a child has: the right to be born. In this regard, in the context of external actions, the Commission could have at least made mention of the fight against sex-selective abortion. The added-value of the Agenda will also be measured and assessed on the basis of these elements, which hopefully will inform the relevant policies and actions in future years.