Building stronger children, building stronger societies
Twenty years ago, the Convention on the Rights of the Child was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly. Its introduction into the international arena brought about a new vision of the child, recognizing that children are holders of their own rights and are neither the property of their parents nor helpless objects of charity. The Convention offers a vision of the child as an individual and as a member of a family and community, with rights and responsibilities appropriate to his or her age and stage of development.
The Convention has played a major role in catalysing inspiration at domestic, regional and international levels. Its message has been reflected in many constitutions and child rights codes throughout the world, in addition to encouraging a rapid rise in the number of independent national institutions for children’s rights, including children’s ombudsman offices and commissioners for children.
The EU and children’s rights
The Convention has also been a key source of inspiration for the European Union. The EU Charter of Fundamental Rights explicitly recognizes children’s rights and reaffirms the obligations to act in the best interest of the child and to take children’s views into account. Since the charter’s adoption in 2000 there have been several key children’s rights policy developments within the EU.
In 2003, within its human rights policy, the EU adopted ‘Guidelines on Children and Armed Conflict’ as part of its human rights policy framework. With the implementation of these measures, the EU is strengthening its efforts to stop the use of children in armies and armed groups, and end impunity for acts violating children’s rights in armed conflict.. The guidelines allow the EU to use the wide variety of instruments at its disposal in order to address the short, medium and long-term impact of armed conflict on children. Furthermore, the EU aims to influence third countries and non-state actors to implement and adhere to international human rights norms, standards and humanitarian law.
Putting children first
In 2007, the EU adopted ‘Guidelines for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of the Child.’ These guidelines affirm the EU’s determination to consider the promotion and protection of the rights of the child as a matter of priority in its external human rights policy. Important basic principles, including the best interests of the child and children’s right to protection from discrimination and participation in decision-making processes, have been further articulated within these guidelines. The EU chose 'All Forms of Violence against Children' as the first priority thematic area to be addressed through these guidelines. EU policy on children’s rights was further consolidated in May 2008 through the promotion and protection of the rights of the child in the European Union's external action in development and humanitarian spheres.
The EU is conscious of the fact that despite these and other policy accomplishments in the international arena much remains to be done. The reality for many children is alarming, as every year millions of children die from preventable causes, and experience discrimination, violence and exploitation, including child labour and involvement in hazardous work. Children continue to pay a heavy price for armed conflicts, poverty and insecurity. In a world full of promise, of new technologies, communication, wealth and opportunity, many children are still excluded and marginalized, never given the possibility to reach their full potential. For the EU, the key challenge now is to continue implementing the policies we have already adopted – giving children the central place they deserve and need in societies.
I firmly believe that by investing in children we lay the foundation for a world that cares and where passivity and indifference in front of human rights violations have no place. The normative and ethical framework of the Convention is a strong foundation for the way forward. From the EU’s perspective, the Convention led us to look at the child – at all children – differently. We know that at the national level children have increasingly been making their voices heard in their schools, in their communities and even in national politics. We know that by enabling children to participate, we are contributing to building stronger children, and that stronger children will be able to build stronger societies – and ultimately a better world
Javier Solana is Secretary-General of the Council of the European Union and High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy. Dr. Solana earned a doctorate in physics and taught solid-state physics at Complutense University of Madrid before entering politics. In 1977, he was elected to the Spanish Parliament, and from 1982 onward, held a number of cabinet posts including Minister of Culture, government spokesperson and Minister of Education and Science. In July 1992, he became Minister of Foreign Affairs, a post he held until he became Secretary-General of NATO in December 1995. Dr. Solana left NATO in 1999 to serve in his current post.
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