Ending poverty for European children needs a whole-society approach

The Commission's initiatives on a European child guarantee and an EU Strategy on the rights of the child call on European and national policy-makers to work toward the common good of all children growing up in the EU. Ambitious and bold in their approach to ensuring a life free from any discrimination for each and every child, both initiatives have won the EESC's approval.

The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) has given its backing to the EU Strategy on the Rights of the Child and to the proposal for a Council Recommendation establishing the legally binding European Child Guarantee. In its opinion on these two initiatives, adopted at its plenary session in July, the EESC stressed that the fight against child poverty, discrimination, deprivation and social exclusion requires a coordinated European and whole-society approach, ensuring that children's rights are mainstreamed into different policies and that these policies have empowering and long-lasting effects on children's health and well-being.

The figure of one in four children in the EU growing up at risk of poverty is unacceptable. We need strong policies and legal frameworks to break the often-intergenerational cycle of disadvantage and to reverse this trend. We need to have an ambitious target that aims to lift all children out of poverty by 2030 and not only five million children, which is the current poverty target under the European Pillar of Social Rights (EPSR), stated the rapporteur for the opinion, Kinga Joó.

Targeted actions will best support the implementation of these two EU frameworks, said co-rapporteur Maria del Carmen Barrera Chamorro. Children require attention from all layers of society. Consolidating their rights should be a priority for the EU. To this end, we need an inclusive, cross-cutting and intersectional strategy, a true policy based on equity, to ensure equal opportunities and inclusion for all children, regardless of their circumstances.

The EU Strategy on the Rights of the Child is a policy framework mainstreaming children's rights as a cross-cutting issue across EU policy and legislation. Its overarching goal is to build a better life for all children in the EU and throughout the world, focusing on several priorities, including child-friendly justice, combating violence and social and economic inclusion.

The strategy is complemented by the EU Child Guarantee, a flagship initiative under the EPSR, which obliges Member States to come up with national action plans targeting children in need. According to Eurostat data for 2019, 18 million children, or 22.2%, were growing up at risk of poverty and social exclusion in the EU. Due to the social and economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, this figure is expected to rise, which is why the EESC is urging each Member State to submit more ambitious poverty targets in their national Child Guarantee Action Plans. The EESC believes that organised civil society and children's and family organisations, among other stakeholders, must be consulted and involved in drawing up these action plans and their monitoring mechanisms.

Digital and energy poverty is equally detrimental for children and should also be tackled within the Child Guarantee, according to the EESC. Some 5.4% of school-aged children in Europe live in households without a computer or an internet connection. Some 25% of Europeans live in energy-poor households, which also affects children's quality of life and health.

One quarter of children grow up in families in precarious situations that need support to break the cycle of intergenerational poverty. The EESC recommended that national action plans on the Child Guarantee should include a set of two- and multi-generation measures to develop support for both children and their parents, as it may otherwise be difficult to break this cycle of disadvantage.

To lift European children out of poverty, the EESC recommended that all Member States allocate at least 5% of ESF+ funding for that purpose. According to the new regulation, only those Member States in which child poverty surpasses the EU average of 23.4% are required to earmark this percentage of their ESF+ financial resources to fight it. So far, this has been done by only 11 countries.

The EESC also suggested that Member States grant free access to early childhood education and care, education and school-based activities, healthy nutrition and healthcare. The Child Guarantee recognises a strong correlation between the social exclusion of children and their lack of access to key services. The decrease in children's emotional and mental wellbeing seen as a result of the pandemic also highlights the need for swift, high-quality medical assistance and mental health support.

The views of over 10 000 children, collected by five children's organisations, helped shape both the Strategy and the Child Guarantee. The strategy places great emphasis on giving children a say in the rights and future they want and envisages a new EU Children's Participation Platform, which should ensure that children are more closely involved in decision-making. Welcoming this approach, the EESC stressed that the Conference on the Future of Europe also represented an excellent opportunity to make child participation a reality.

The EESC called on the Commission to place the Strategy on the Rights of the Child on a horizontal coordination level with other recently approved European strategies, such as those on gender equality, LGBTIQ equality, the Roma, and disability rights.

The EESC consequently called for the protection of children living in rainbow families, especially in trans-national situations in which family law differs in different Member States. The Committee asked for children with disabilities to be included in the community and given choices equal to those of others. The EESC also called for the social advancement of Roma children and for discrimination against them to be tackled.

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Ending poverty for European children needs a whole-society approach