Children from nine EU Member States expressed concern about the challenge of protecting human rights across the EU today. They joined experts in making practical suggestions on how to tackle this issue, particularly when it comes to migration and poverty, during a high-level symposium in Brussels on 28 June that questioned whether Europe is doing enough to protect fundamental rights.
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They expressed shock that in the EU today 1 in 4 children are at risk of poverty or social exclusion and that such worrying headline figures are receiving so little attention. They stressed the need for action to allow children to not just have access to basic rights such as education but to also have support to enjoy a normal childhood such as socialising and going out with friends. They also emphasised the importance of child participation, of empowering children by providing free education for all including supporting material such as textbooks and of ensuring that children understand the rights that they are all entitled to.
As children make up a third of EU asylum seekers, the children also urged greater efforts to make migrant children feel safe and for society to do more to welcome asylum seekers as "nationalism or hatred towards other nationalities or religions has no place in today's society". Ideas included creating or implementing initiatives in each Member State where children and young people meet and help refugee children to integrate.
The Maltese President Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca spoke of the need to “end the scourge of poverty and other inequalities within our European Union, as part of our commitment to secure the universal rights and freedoms of all.” FRA’s Director Michael O’Flaherty then outlined concrete action the EU and its Member States can take to systematically strengthen their efforts to protect fundamental rights. This included to know, refer to and use existing EU and international law. He reminded participants that respect for rights is not a question of good will but a legal obligation. He also underlined the importance of being as committed to human rights at home as we are abroad. Lastly he called for greater use of the robust expertise and data that FRA has to offer.
This need to strengthen rights protection was underlined by Kaia Iva, Estonia’s Minister of Social Protection. She said that although a lot has changed in recent years, throughout history our aspirations have remained the same: “the hope to live in a violence free safe world and provide the best opportunities for our children.”
The symposium ‘Is Europe doing enough to protect fundamental rights?’ took stock of human rights developments in the EU over the last 10 years since the Agency has been created drawing on FRA’s annual flagship Fundamental Rights Report and its Opinions. It was hosted in cooperation with the Maltese Presidency of the Council of the EU with the support of Eurochild who helped ensure the children were actively involved in the discussions throughout the event.
The children there intervened during the panel debate giving statements and asking panellists pointed questions about what could be done to address issues related to migration and asylum, and poverty and social exclusion particularly from the children’s perspective. They reminded participants that children are not just for the future but also the present. As one child put it: “We have one mouth but two hands, so it is time to stop talking and act now.”