The Commission has adopted on March 24 the first comprehensive EU Strategy on the Rights of the Child, as well as a proposal for a Council Recommendation establishing a European Child Guarantee, to promote equal opportunities for children at risk of poverty or social exclusion.
In preparation of both initiatives, the Commission, in association with leading global child rights organisations, collected the views of over 10,000 children.
The new European Child Guarantee
In 2019, almost 18 million children in the EU (22.2% of the child population) lived in households at risk of poverty or social exclusion. This leads to an intergenerational cycle of disadvantage, with profound and long‐term effects on children. The European Child Guarantee aims to break this cycle and promote equal opportunities by guaranteeing access to a set of key services for children in need (under 18 year olds at risk of poverty or social exclusion).
Under the European Child Guarantee, it is recommended to Member States to provide free and effective accessfor children in need to:
- early childhood education and care – for example, avoid segregated classes;
- education and school-based activities – for example, adequate equipment for distance learning, and school trips;
- at least one healthy meal each school day; and
- healthcare – for example, facilitating access to medical examinations and health screening programmes.
These services should be free of charge and readily available to children in need.
The Commission also recommends that Member States provide children in need with effective access to healthynutrition and adequate housing: For example, children should receive healthy meals also outside of school days, and homeless children and their families should have access to adequate accommodation.
When identifying children in need and designing their national measures, Member States should take into account the specific needs of children from disadvantaged backgrounds, such as those experiencing homelessness, disabilities, those with precarious family situations, a migrant background, a minority racial or ethnic background or those in alternative care.
EU funding to support these actions is available under the European Social Fund Plus (ESF+), which finances projects that promote social inclusion, fight poverty and invest in people, as well as the European Regional Development Fund, InvestEU, and the Recovery and Resilience Facility.
EU Strategy: six thematic areas & proposed action
- Children as agents of change in democratic life: The Commission is proposing a range of actions – from producing child-friendly legal texts to holding consultations with children in the context of the Conference on the Future of Europe and the implementation of the Climate Pact and Green Deal. Member States should also enable the participation of children in civic and democratic life.
- The right of children to realise their full potential no matter their social background: The Commission is seeking to establish a European Child Guarantee to combat child poverty and social exclusion. The Commission will also for example, address children’s mental health and help support healthy and sustainable food in EU schools. The Commission will strive for better EU-wide early education and care standards and build inclusive, quality education.
- The right of children to be free from violence: The Commission will propose legislation to combat gender-based and domestic violence and table recommendations to prevent harmful practices against women and girls. Member States are invited to build integrated child protection systems and improve their functioning, as well as to strengthen response to violence in schools, and to adopt national legislation to put an end to corporal punishment in all settings.
- The right of children to child-friendly justice, as victims, witnesses, suspects, accused of having committed a crime, or party to any legal proceeding. The Commission will, for example, contribute to specialised judicial training and work with the Council of Europe to implement the 2010 Guidelines on Child Friendly Justice, Member States are invited to support training for example, and to develop robust alternatives to judicial action such as alternatives to detention or mediation in civil cases.
- The right of children to safely navigate the digital environment and harness its opportunities: The Commission will update the European Strategy for a Better Internet for Childrenand the proposed Digital Services Act aims to provide a safe online experience. The Commission is calling on Member States to effectively implement the rules on protection of children contained in the revised Audiovisual Media Services Directive and to support the development of children’s basic digital skills. The Commission also urges ICT companies to address harmful behaviour online and remove illegal content.
- The rights of children across the globe: Children’s rights are universal and the EU reinforces its commitment to protect, promote and fulfil these rights globally and in the multilateral sphere. This will be achieved for example by allocating 10% of humanitarian aid funding for education in emergencies and protracted crises. The Commission will prepare a Youth Action Plan by 2022 to promote youth and child participation globally, and to strengthen child protection capacities within EU Delegations. The Commission also maintains a zero tolerance policy on child labour.
The implementation of the EU Strategy will be monitored at EU and national levels, and 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.
The Commission calls on Member States to swiftly adopt the proposal for the Council Recommendation establishing a European Child Guarantee. Within six months after its adoption, governments are encouraged to submit to the Commission national action plans on how to implement it. The Commission will monitor progress through the European Semester and issue, where necessary, country-specific recommendations.
As underlined by more than 10,000 children in their contribution to the preparation of today’s package, children in and outside of the EU continue to suffer from socio-economic exclusion and discrimination because of their origin, status, gender or sexual orientation – or that of their parents. Children’s voices are not always heard and their views not always taken on board in matters that concern them. These challenges have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The Commission is responding with an overarching Strategy for the next four years that aims to build on all EU action to protect and promote children’s rights, with clear actions for improvement. It should also support Member States in making the best use of EU funds.
President von der Leyen announced the European Child Guarantee in her Political Guidelines for 2019-2024. The European Child Guarantee complements the second pillar of the Strategy on the Rights of the Child. It is also a key deliverable of the European Pillar of Social Rights Action Plan, adopted on 4 March 2021, and answers directly to Principle 11 of the Pillar: Childcare and support to children. The Action Plan proposes a target for the EU to reduce by at least 15 million the number of people at risk of poverty or social exclusion by 2030, including at least 5 million children.