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Reaching the heights for the rights of the child: the Council of Europe launches its six-year strategy

Children’s access to and participation in decision-making processes remain limited.

New Council of Europe Strategy for the Rights of the Child

In difficult times, it is often children who find themselves most vulnerable to human rights violations. The refugee and migrant crisis has resulted in thousands of unaccompanied children strewn across Europe. These children are too often subjected to unnecessary detention, and lack of access to the most basic resources. The economic crisis, meanwhile, has left deep scars in the form of poverty across many homes.

Violence against children, fuelled by modern technologies, is becoming ever more multi-faceted. It spans the range of child grooming and trafficking, to hate speech and radicalisation. These dangers must be reconciled with the fact that the same technologies provide an invaluable portal for children’s development, and their genuine participation. Meanwhile, children’s access to and participation in decision-making processes remain limited. Maneuvering in a world designed for adults sits ill-at-ease with the principle of the child’s best interests.

These challenges come in spite of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child entering into force over twenty six years ago, as well as the existence of numerous regional conventions and policy documents which protect human rights, including those of children. There has been clear progress, but much more is needed to be done. 

In the light of this, the Council of Europe has adopted the Strategy for the Rights of the Child, a six-year plan highlighting five priorities for children’s rights, namely: 

1. Equal opportunities
2. Participation
3. A life free from violence
4. Child-friendly justice
5. Children’s rights in the digital environment

Focus is placed on implementing existing standards, forming and strengthening partnerships with stakeholders, and sharing research and good practices.

The strategy is the result of input from governments, civil society and, importantly, children. Its implementation will be evaluated by a new Committee consisting of the same interest groups. This recently established ad hoc Committee for the Rights of the Child (CAH-ENF) will also be an opportunity for NGOs to play an active part in supporting the Strategy’s implementation. They will facilitate a structured approach to working with governments, children and civil society, as well as international bodies, such as the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child and the European Union. 

To start with, however, we need more awareness about children’s rights in order for them to have a real impact. Change is only possible with popular support from citizens, and the resultant political drive of governments. This is why civil society’s role will be vital to the Strategy’s success. There are several areas where civil society can have a significant impact, including activism and participation in campaigns aimed towards our five priorities. The No Hate Speech Movement, the Dosta! Campaign for Roma and traveller people’s rights, and a European day to end sexual violence and exploitation against children (18th November) are all creations of the Council of Europe which depend on civil society to coax them onto national agendas. 

Beyond this, the role of civil society in collecting research and sharing good practices will be an invaluable resource. In particular, NGOs will be encouraged to assess their country’s performance through the Child Participation Assessment Tool, as well as to support and monitor implementation of the Convention on the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse, to name a few. The potential is large and the opportunities are unaccounted for. Creativity is key. 

The Strategy will be launched at a High Level Conference in Sofia on 5th and 6th April 2016.

Regina Jensdottir, Head of the Children’s Rights Division of the Council of Europe