The Council of Europe’s new child rights strategy 2016-2021 to protect and empower all children, is a welcome and much-needed initiative, said FRA’s Director Michael O’Flaherty at the strategy’s launch conference, ‘Reaching the heights for the rights of the child’ in Sofia, on 5 April.
Whilst underlining the importance of measures addressing all children, he stressed the importance of being mindful of certain groups, such as those with a Roma background or a disability, and migrant and refugee children, the focus of his speech. These are “one of the most exposed groups in Europe today, with thousands of children with families or alone arriving daily and many dying in the attempt.”
He spoke of the precarious predicament faced by unaccompanied minors in particular. For example: in Sweden, one in four children go missing from their accommodation, whilst 80% of children given lodgings at Slovenia’s Asylum Home disappear. As a result of the increasing numbers of new arrivals, national child protection systems and local communities are being placed under severe strain. He emphasised that sufficient safeguards are needed to relieve this, and to guarantee that children are protected from trafficking, violence and exploitation.
He gave examples of FRA’s work to increase child protection at a time when more vulnerable children are in Europe than perhaps at any other time since the Second World War. For example, its recent handbook on guardianship for children deprived of parental care is already being applied in the areas where it is needed most. It is also now deploying migration and child rights experts to hotspots in Greece to provide fundamental rights advice to frontline EU agencies. In addition, the latest FRA monthly migration report on fundamental rights concerns looks specifically at children and its upcoming annual overview of fundamental challenges and achievements will assess the hotspots in Greece and Italy, covering all stages from disembarkation, initial reception, screening and relocation, to asylum and return.
He concluded by reminding participants of the enormity of the situation that Europe is confronted with and of the responsibilities we have to those children caught up in it: “We face the prospect of greatly increased numbers of refugee children making the dangerous journey across the Mediterranean as the weather improves. What will their fate be? Will their rights be respected? This is the challenge faced by our Europe.”
The two-day conference gathered together Ministers from Council of Europe Member States, ombudspersons for children, along with representatives from civil society and other international organisations.