20 Years - The Convention on the Rights of the Child

Benita Ferrero-Waldner

The impact of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child on the EU’s external policy on children.
Children’s rights have seen significant improvements in the two decades since the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) was adopted. The treaty’s 20th anniversary is a good moment to reflect on the difference it has made to children’s lives and the challenges that remain.

The EU now has a strong commitment to children’s rights, built on the standards set out in the Convention. The 27 EU Member States prioritise the well-being of European children in many ways; for example by developing a programme on safe Internet, and by making a phone line (116-000) available in every EU country for children to call who have nowhere to turn.

However, the EU's role in protecting children does not stop at its own borders. It is my role as Commissioner to ensure that children's rights are promoted in the EU's relations with third countries in all policies and programmes. Together with Latin American countries, the EU annually sponsors resolutions on the rights of the child at the UN General Assembly Third Committee and the UN Human Rights Council. We seek to ratify and implement the Convention in all the work we do with States to eradicate child labour, crack down on violence against children, and eliminate the use of child soldiers.

Actions speak louder than words
But encouragement at the political level must be supplemented by concrete action. The EU has a long record of delivering support to children on the ground.  EU development projects build schools and hospitals – including schools in Gaza for  children  with  special  needs.  We provide assistance to children and their families who are the victims of natural or man-made catastrophes –  like  the recent humanitarian assistance mission in Sri Lanka. 

I believe that a key impact of the Convention has been to get international actors – including the European Union – to place children’s rights high on their political agenda. UNICEF and the EU are currently developing a “Children’s Rights Toolkit” which will provide practical tools on how to effectively integrate children's rights into the whole range of political, legal, budgetary and programmatic actions. 

It is positive to see the Convention’s agenda coordinated with the EU's own work. We operate on the same principles. Our implementation measures – on legislative reform, monitoring and coordinating mechanisms, and child-friendly budgeting – are closely aligned. The ‘priority countries’ set out in the EU Guidelines on Children and Armed Conflicts are the same as those of the UN’s Special Representative for Children in Armed Conflicts. And the ‘pilot countries’ for the EU Guidelines on the Rights of the Child were chosen in close consultation with UNICEF and civil society organisations. It is absolutely key that we continue to cooperate closely to meet the challenges ahead. 

Encouraging child participation
On a personal level, I am hugely encouraged by the steps we have made on promoting the rights of children in Europe and beyond. In my involvement at events for children, I see the great benefit of having a clear, internationally recognised and binding framework. This has helped us work successfully with partner countries to alleviate the suffering of those children who have no access to clean water or sanitation, no education or who live in conflict zones. 

But there is a great deal left to do. The first challenge is effective implementation. The Convention is almost universally ratified but by no means universally applied. We will need to continue to strive to make its imperatives a reality.

The second challenge is making children’s participation a reality – as set out in Article 12 of the Convention. EU officials recently conveyed to me how rewarding they found some recent work they did with local children. Here, they discuss children's rights on an equal footing, and listened to the young peoples' views on how those rights are violated in different parts of the world. Listening to children allows us to empower them. I believe this is something which we all can do better through involving children in dialogues about the policies that affect them.

This 20th anniversary of the Convention is an opportunity to renew our commitment to those at the heart of our efforts – children everywhere – and to make a vow to them that we will not rest until every child around the world can fully enjoy his or her rights.

Benita Ferrero-Waldner is the European Commissioner for External Relations and European Neighbourhood Policy. In 1992, Dr. Ferrero-Waldner served as the deputy chief of protocol for the Austrian Federal Ministry for Foreign Affairs, and from 1993 to 1995, as the United Nations chief of protocol. From 1995 to 2000, Dr. Ferrero-Waldner was the Austrian State Secretary for Foreign Affairs, and from 2000 to 2004, the Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs of Austria. She received a degree in law from the University of Salzburg.

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