|Participants in the European Regional NGO Consultation confer on progress made since the 2002 UN Special Session on Children. UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre Director Marta Santos Pais is at far left.|
By Rachel Bonham-Carter
FLORENCE, Italy, 15 November 2006 – European governments who signed up to the ‘World Fit for Children’ agenda more than four years ago are being reminded to involve and consult with children if their pledge is to remain credible.
A call to action to those governments, made in Italy this week, also praises efforts by the European Union to make children a priority – but insists that mechanisms must be put in place to ensure the strategies are implemented.
The comments marked the end of a meeting co-hosted by UNICEF and the European Children’s Network, Euronet, which gathered representatives from civil society organizations, UN agencies and European governmental bodies at New York University’s Villa La Pietra Conference Centre on the outskirts of Florence for two days of dialogue.
“Europe needs to continue to play a very important role in mobilizing resources in the context of the European Union,” said Marta Santos Pais, Director of UNICEF’s Innocenti Research Centre, which is located in Florence. “Also, in bilateral cooperation with third world countries, it must be able to invest in more social services for children. These should be accompanied by the consolidation of the best possible life for children in Europe.”
Progress report upcoming
The ‘World Fit for Children’ pledge was signed by 180 nations at the 2002 United Nations Special Session on Children. It outlined 21 specific goals and targets for the next decade, focusing on four key priorities:
In anticipation of a progress report to the UN General Assembly on the fifth anniversary of the pledge next year, the meeting in Florence gave non-governmental organizations an opportunity to help review achievements in Europe since 2002 – and to identify the challenges.
The Council of Europe’s project, ‘Building a Europe for and with Children’, was praised for involving young people in its work and put forth as a possible model to be shared with nations outside Europe. Similarly, the Children’s Ombudsman’s Network was widely viewed as a significant advance.
Some at the meeting voiced concerns that European countries still have a tendency to look exclusively to the developing world rather than see the problems faced by children on their own soil. Criticisms focused on the level of violence faced by many children in Europe, social exclusion of children (particularly those from minority groups) and criminalization of young migrants and asylum seekers.
Youth participation needed
Euronet President Simone Ek, who is also a senior advisor with Save the Children, Sweden, remarked at the end of the consultation that some “truly excellent contributions” had been made.
A recurring theme at this gathering of adult policymakers was the need to consult with and include children at every stage, particularly in preparation for the ‘World Fit for Children +5’ report.
“Europe can’t go to New York in 2007 without having consulted with its youth,” said UNICEF Regional Director for Europe Philip O’Brien. “That’s not credible anymore, so there has to be something that’s set in place in which the voice of young people will say, ‘This is what we want to see changed in our world in the next five years.’”
Participants were also invited to presentations on child poverty and child trafficking at the Innocenti centre. Ms. Santos Pais said holding the event in Florence helped the centre to be seen not just as the home of UNICEF’s research programme but also as a meeting place for other advocates of children’s rights.