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Questions and Answers: Comprehensive Strategy on the Rights of the Child and European Child Guarantee

Met dank overgenomen van Europese Commissie (EC), gepubliceerd op woensdag 24 maart 2021.

Why does the EU need a Strategy on the rights of the child?

This Strategy's overarching ambition is to help build the best possible life for children in the European Union and across the globe. Almost 19% of the EU population are children, and almost 30% of the global population. Children have specific rights and these need to be respected, promoted and fulfilled by everyone, including governments and the EU institutions.

Real progress has been made in the last decades but these rights are not yet a reality for every child, everywhere. The new Strategy on the Rights of the Child is about stepping up the protection, promotion and fulfilment of the rights of the child with a comprehensive policy framework and action plan for all of the EU's existing and future work in support of children and their rights.

What does the Strategy propose to do on child participation?

Children were directly involved in the preparation of this Strategy. More than 60 children co-designed and participated in the 2020 Forum on the rights of the child, more than 200 participated in focus groups that were part of the research on child participation in EU political and democratic life, funded by the Commission. Over 10,000 children participated in a consultation on the strategy and the European Child Guarantee.

The Strategy proposes to continue conducting child-specific consultations for future initiatives with an impact on children, as well as developing accessible, digitally inclusive and child-friendly versions of key EU instruments.

Child participation is supported with EU funding from the Rights, Equality and Citizenship programme and this will continue under the Citizenship, Equality, Rights and Values programme.

The Commission will establish an EU Children's Participation Platform to give children space to become a part of the decision-making processes at EU level: for example, children will be actively involved in the implementation of the Climate Pact and the Green Deal.

The Strategy also promotes the Council of Europe's child participation self-assessment tool to be used by Member States to improve existing, or create new child participation mechanisms at local, regional and national levels.

Does the Strategy take into account the impact of COVID-19 on children?

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on children is well documented, by the Commission's Joint Research Centre, the EU Fundamental Rights Agency and civil society organisations. Inequalities between various countries, regions, groups, family situations, etc. have been exacerbated by the pandemic with a direct impact on children's lives. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, and especially during lockdowns, many children have also suffered increased domestic violence (as victims and/or witnesses) and have been exposed to a heightened risk of online abuse and exploitation.

The Commission has listened to what children thought about the COVID-19 pandemic and emergency measures taken by governments (during the 2020 Forum on the rights of the child, and during consultations with children on this Strategy and the European Child Guarantee).

The Strategy aims to strengthen child participation in decision-making processes at the EU, national, regional and local levels. It proposes an initiative to support the development and strengthening of integrated child protection systems. This will encourage all relevant authorities and services to work better together in a child-centred system.

The Commission will also propose a Council recommendation on online and distance learning in primary and secondary education, and will support Member States in prioritising children in national mental health strategies. The Strategy reaffirms support for the EU co-funded Safer Internet Centres and calls on Members States to support child helplines and hotlines in developing safe online avenues for communication.

How does the Strategy address the specific needs of children in migration?

Children must be treated equally, regardless of their origin, their family situation or the legal status of their parents. The Strategy reinforces existing policy initiative (such as the Action Plan on Integration and Inclusion, and the Asylum and Migration Pact) and proposes actions that will ensure that children in migration enjoy the same rights as non-migrant children, with equal access to services.

At the same time, children in migration have specific needs, which are addressed by the 2017 Communication on the protection of children in migration. This Communication is still valid today and the actions proposed are still being implemented and monitored. For example, the Commission supports Member States in strengthening guardianship systems, with the assistance of the European Guardianship Network, to build professional capacity or to develop effective and viable alternatives to detention of children during migration procedures. The new Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund will support implementation of these actions.

Does the Strategy apply also to children outside of the EU?

Yes. The Strategy encompasses all EU action for children, both inside and outside the EU and includes a thematic section on the global dimension, which summarises EU external action for child rights. This includes political dialogues with partner countries, development and cooperation programmes, as well as humanitarian aid.

The Strategy was also informed by the views of children who live outside of the EU.

With this Strategy, the EU wants to position itself as a global player in the protection and promotion of child rights - and to contribute to fulfilling the rights of every child, everywhere.

Does the Strategy address the issue of child sexual abuse?

Yes. One of the six thematic priority areas of the Strategy is the fight against all forms of violence against children. Child sexual abuse is one of the worst forms of violence that a child can suffer, and therefore falls under a specific strategy on a more effective fight against child sexual abuse adopted in 2020. The 2020 strategy against child sexual abuse contains a set of actions and initiatives for the EU to take in the years to come focusing on better coordination between stakeholders at EU-level to prevent, investigate and prosecute child sexual abuse both online and offline, and to provide comprehensive support and assistance to victims. Some of these key initiatives are also referenced and reinforced by the EU Strategy on the rights of the child, underlining the crucial importance for the EU to improve its work in this area.

What is the European Child Guarantee and why do we need it?

In 2019, 22.2% of all children in the EU - almost 18 million children - lived in households at risk of poverty or social exclusion. Compared to their better-off peers, they are less likely to perform well in school and to enjoy good health. They are also more likely not to find a decent job when they grow up, and to remain socially excluded as adults, too.

The Coronavirus crisis has exacerbated pre-existing inequalities. Families and individuals with a low or middle income are at a higher risk when unemployment increases, and they have fewer possibilities to work from home. This has had a direct impact on the wellbeing of children.

There is a strong connection between social exclusion of children and the lack of access to key services. Children living in poverty or who experience particular disadvantages are more likely to face barriers in accessing services, which are key for their wellbeing and the development of social, cognitive, and emotional skills.

We need to break this cycle of disadvantage and make sure that children in need have access to key services and no child is left behind.

The Commission proposal for a Council Recommendation establishing a European Child Guarantee aims to fight child poverty and social exclusion and promote equal opportunities. It gives concrete guidance to authorities in Member States on providing children in need with access to a set of key services, like education, healthcare, housing and healthy nutrition, on an equal footing with their peers.

How does the Child Guarantee relate to the EU Strategy on the Rights of the Child?

The EU Strategy on the Rights of the Child takes stock of the rights of children inside and outside the EU, and proposes a wide range of action over the next four years to support these rights and put them into practice.

The Commission proposal for a European Child Guarantee complements the Strategy and focuses on children in need. It guides Member States in their actions to prevent and combat social exclusion by guaranteeing the access of children in need to a set of key services.

How will the Child Guarantee concretely benefit children in need?

The Commission is calling on EU governments to tackle the structural problems of child poverty or social exclusion. National, regional and local authorities should guarantee for children in need effective and free access to:

  • early childhood education and care;
  • education and school-based activities as well as sport, leisure and cultural activities;
  • at least one healthy meal each school day; and
  • healthcare.

These services should be free of charge and readily available to children in need.

In addition, the Commission calls on Member States to offer children in need effective access (i.e. affordable and accessible access) to healthy nutrition, as well as adequate housing.

How does the Commission define who are ‘children in need'?

Children in need means persons under the age of 18 years who are at risk of poverty or social exclusion.

When Member States are designing measures to support children in need, they should take into account specific additional disadvantages of children:

  • who are homeless or experience severe housing deprivation;
  • with a disability;
  • with a migrant background;
  • with a minority racial or ethnic background (particularly Roma);
  • in alternative care, especially in institutional care; and/or
  • who live in precarious family situations.

What is the Commission doing to support the fight against child poverty?

In early March, the Commission presented the European Pillar of Social Rights Action Plan, setting out its ambition for a strong Social Europe. The Action Plan proposes a target to lift at least 15 million people out of poverty or social exclusion by 2030 in the EU, including at least 5 million children. The Child Guarantee is a concrete deliverable of the Action Plan, and one initiative of many to improve the lives of children in need.

The Action Plan lays out how the Commission and Member States will address several dimensions of poverty and social exclusion: they will act to support the income of people in need, help them to access the services and support their inclusion in the job market.

For instance, the Commission proposal on adequate minimum wages focuses on improving the income situation of people, including of parents. The Commission Recommendation for Effective Active Support to Employment (EASE) provides concrete guidance to gradually transition from emergency measures taken to preserve jobs in the current crisis to new measures needed for a job-rich recovery.

The Commission monitors the development of poverty and social exclusion of children in the context of the European Semester, the framework for coordinating social and economic policies across the EU. Where action from Member States is needed, the Commission issues country-specific recommendations.

What EU funds are available to support the measures proposed in the Child Guarantee?

Member States should dedicate adequate resources to fight child poverty and social exclusion. The Commission calls on Member States to make full use of support available at EU level, notably from the European Social Fund Plus (ESF+) and the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF).

All Member States have to allocate at least 25% of their ESF+ resources to social inclusion. Member States with a level of child poverty above the EU average should use at least 5% of their ESF+ resources to address this issue. All other Member States must allocate an appropriate amount of their ESF+ resources to targeted actions to combat child poverty and the Commission urges Member States to use this and other existing funding opportunities to further increase investments in the fight against child poverty.

Under the ERDF, Member States can draw on these resources for investments in social infrastructure, equipment and access to quality and mainstream services, as well as for cooperation projects in border regions. In addition, actions to implement the Child Guarantee, for instance investments in education and childcare, in healthcare, and in affordable housing, can be supported through the InvestEU programme.

As part of the Recovery Plan for Europe and NextGenerationEU, the Recovery and Resilience Facility offers funding for reforms, investments and policies for the next generation, children and the youth, such as education and skills, to be included in the national recovery and resilience plans.

Finally, the Technical Support Instrument, which is part of the new EU long-term budget and the recovery plan for Europe, can support Member States in the design and implementation of reforms. This includes reforms addressing educational, social, economic and legal inequalities and challenges affecting children.

What are the next steps, and how will the Commission monitor implementation and progress in Member States?

The Commission proposal for the European Child Guarantee will be discussed in the Council. After adoption by the Council, Member States should prepare - together with key stakeholders - national action plans on how to implement it.

According to the European Child Guarantee proposal, Member States should nominate national coordinators and publish progress reports every two years.

The Commission will monitor the progress in the European Semester, the framework for coordinating social and economic policies across the EU. Where the Commission sees a need for Member States to act, it will issue country-specific recommendations.

With the Social Protection Committee, an advisory policy committee to promote cooperation on social protection policies between Member States and with the Commission, the Commission will establish a common monitoring framework. The Commission and the Council will also make available relevant and comparable data at EU level.

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