Beyond the horizon: a new era for the rights of the child

Michael O’Flaherty
FRA Director, Michael O'Flaherty delivers his speech during the Council of Europe's 'Beyond the horizon: a new era for the rights of the child' conference. The event in Rome on 7 April marks the launch of their new child rights strategy.


Dear friends,

I very much remember 1989 and the adoption and the coming into force of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. There was a very legitimate sense of celebration that something astonishing had been achieved. But I also remember 10 years later: the deep disappointment; the sense that so little had actually changed for children out there on the streets.

It became clear, a decade after the Convention, that we needed smart planning to turn the fine principles and noble laws into a lived, improved experience for children. We saw the birth of child rights strategies. UNICEF began that work, but the Council of Europe was not far behind: already in 2006, this organisation adopted its first child rights strategy and it has been in the lead on this essential work ever since. I applaud the Council of Europe for the sustained attention to the topic.

As we seek to deliver on this strategy, or on the EU strategy that you heard of this morning, and on all of the others, we need to put a face on this strategy: we need to see who it is for. We need to see, among all those children, who are the primary customers, the primary beneficiaries of the strategy.

We need to put a face on that strategy, and who is that face for me? Well, the face of that strategy for me is the Roma child who, two years ago, was told to go home and distance learn because of Covid. Told to go home without a computer, without the internet, without any of the services that would allow him or her to distance learn.

The face of the strategy for me is another Roma child who told a colleague of mine last year that what she missed most about not going to school was that she had nowhere left where she could dream.

It is for me the face of still another Roma child, this time a Ukrainian Roma child, who last month, on arrival into the EU, was refused access to a bus because the people on the bus did not want Roma in the bus. Had difficulty finding somewhere to sleep that night because the people in the shelter did not want Roma to share the shelter.

I use the Roma example deliberately this morning because it seems to me that they are a primary customer, if not the primary customers and beneficiaries, of this important strategy. They are the most marginalised group on our continent. There are some 11 million Roma in the territory of the EU and of the Council of Europe Member States, of whom 3 million are children.

Some general figures about Roma: their poverty levels are six times those of the general population. Two-thirds of Roma children never go beyond the lower-secondary level of education. Thirty per cent of Roma children are harassed at school. I suggest that in the future, when we gather again to see how this strategy was delivered and what was achieved, we must ask: ‘what did it do for Roma children?’

As the Council of Europe and the Member States seek to engage on this high challenge, you can count on the Fundamental Rights Agency. We will accompany you all the way with our data, with our analysis, with our research and with our technical tools. We will continue to roll out these supports in close cooperation with the Council of Europe. Let me conclude, as an example of that cooperation, by inviting you to come this afternoon to the launch of the joint FRA-Council of Europe Handbook on European child rights law. A concrete demonstration of how we work together to achieve the goals of this strategy.

Thank you.

See also