EU Agency for Fundamental Rights: Pandemic underscores why child protection is critical for our future

Safeguarding children rights is more important than ever. Measures to tackle the spread of COVID-19 risk having a lasting effect on our children and our future. Children’s day on 20 November reminds us to step up efforts to protect the rights of all children and to provide them with opportunities to contribute to change.

Young people are concerned about their future. They continue to be vocal about today’s issues from climate change to Black Lives Matter. Europe needs to channel this drive to improve our societies. It needs to ensure young people’s right to be heard is adhered to and fully respected.

Education can build on this. Education spreads tolerance and it feeds inclusion, as FRA’s Fundamental Rights Survey shows. It reveals a direct link between education and tolerance: people who are more educated tend to be more tolerant of others.

This underlines the importance of investing in education.

The future of children is at stake. Educational inequalities already existed before the pandemic. Some disadvantaged groups had less access to quality education. With the pandemic, the divide is likely to grow as many children lack computers or good internet connections. Similarly, many schools and teachers lack the technical infrastructure to offer online teaching.

In addition, even before the pandemic struck, 1 in 4 children across the EU was at risk of poverty. This figure masked higher poverty rates among children at risk. These include children with a migrant background, with less educated parents, or with single or low-income parents.

Government measures to limit the virus’ spread can exacerbate pre-existing risks among vulnerable groups. Parents find it harder to work or receive an income, distance education becomes challenging, and access to social and healthcare services is limited. These all affect children.

Member States have an obligation to protect and ensure the rights of children.

These rights are protected and granted by the United Nations’ Child Rights Convention, the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights and by EU law.

That legal framework was already important before the pandemic. Now it is even more so.

The EU already had plans for a new child rights strategy. It promises to be a comprehensive strategy, pooling existing and future child right actions. The European Commission aims to release it early next year.

Alongside this strategy, there is momentum to offer an EU child guarantee. It aims to oblige Member States to invest more in improving access to service to children who are at risk of poverty. This should allow all vulnerable children to participate equally and inclusively in society.

Together, both developments offer hope to millions of children across Europe. They promise much needed support that will enable children and young people to shape a brighter and more secure future for themselves and for Europe.

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