Thursday

19th Jan 2017

Opinion

Strengthening child protection in the EU and globally

  • Children in Kosovo. Reform is the only way that European and other societies around the world will succeed in changing things for children. (Photo: Council of Europe)

Klajdi is a young boy who lives in Albania and is forced to collect chromium in the mines of Bulqiza. Hana in Bosnia-Herzegovina was forced to marry despite being a child, and had no-one to turn to when her husband beat her. Elen in Armenia lives in hope that one day her family will rescue her from the institution she lives in. Gabriela in Moldova has been waiting years for a family to adopt her. Elvis, Maria, and countless other Roma children live with discrimination on a daily basis.

These children are the future. It is difficult to deny this fact. Politicians say it, parents say it, and organisations like World Vision say it.

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But how do we translate our lofty declarations into sustainable systems which ensure that no child anywhere experiences and suffers from violence?

Reform is the answer. It may not be the most compelling idea or media-friendly message, but it is the only way that European and other societies around the world will succeed in changing things for children, for good.

In our experience acquired working with and for children, their families and communities but also with governments, the process of reform where child protection is concerned involves three key steps.

Simply put, these steps include agreeing to-do lists of actions, holding political leaders to account and maintaining the momentum of the reform process.

What do we mean by a to-do list where child protection systems are concerned?

The EU has great experience in agreeing such lists with candidate countries who wish to join the Union and in keeping them on track to deliver on their commitments.

Ensuring that politicians deliver

This is what we need for child protection – to-do lists that can be used by all actors involved to ensure that planned reforms are kept on track over years, and despite changes in governments.

In order to hold political leaders to account, there is a need to appoint relevant officials – for example a Children’s Ombudsman – with the responsibility to ensure that politicians deliver on what they say they’re going to do. If “end child marriage” is on a particular country’s to-do list, someone needs to hold its political leaders to account to ensure that this happens.

Finally there is a need to keep up the momentum where child protection reforms are concerned. This should involve reviewing progress where the implementation of the to-do list is concerned, agreeing new reforms and re-committing to the process of reform.

The EU’s enlargement process has revealed a tendency for countries that have recently joined the Union to relax and lose momentum on reforms. Indeed, child protection is a particular area where the pace of reforms in candidate countries significantly slowed once accession talks ended. These countries still need the right incentives to make long-term reform happen.

A long list of small steps

Whether it’s horrifying statistics about child abuse or violence against children that make you think twice, or stories of children who have been institutionalised or recruited as child soldiers, it is clear that we need to speed up reforms to protect children everywhere from violence, child trafficking, child labour, discrimination and other violations of their rights.

The European Union is key to this process. It can include and insist upon child protection reforms in its diplomatic agenda with all of its partner countries. It can use state-of-the-art methodologies such as the newly launched Child Protection Index, to develop child protection reform to-do lists for use by its own member states, and neighbours and partner countries.

The way forward to ensure the protection of children globally is through a long list of small steps that governments must take to ensure no child in Europe or anywhere else suffers a life of abuse, exploitation or fear.

Yes, the task seems daunting, but with the right support from the EU and its member states, the protection of children everywhere can become a reality.

Deirdre de Burca is director of advocacy and justice for children at World Vision's Brussels and EU Representation

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