Thirty-one years after the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, ‘progress has gone backwards on every key measure of childhood’ according to a report published earlier this month by UNICEF.
As a direct result of the Covid-19 crisis, more than 168 million schoolchildren globally have seen their schools close from one day to the next, with one in three having been unable to access remote learning, and many children expected to never pick up their education again. The pandemic increased levels of child poverty, with an expected increase of 15 per cent projected in developing countries. Lockdowns and the breakdown of support systems around the world furthermore gave rise to a spur of violence against children, including sexual violence, neglect, child marriage, female genital mutilation and the worst forms of child labour. While suffering less than the general population in terms of health impact, children may very well end up being amongst the hardest hit yet most hidden victims of the pandemic.
Against this backdrop, the Von der Leyen Commission recently took a key step in delivering on its promise to better promote and protect children’s rights. The long-awaited EU Strategy on the Rights of the Child published today was developed in consultation with 10,000 children, and includes actions and recommendations targeting the EU, Member States and the private sector. The Strategy covers thematic areas including child participation, children and the digital society, violence against children, child friendly justice, socio-economic inclusion, health and education. In addition, it addresses ways in which child rights will be mainstreamed across all EU legislation and policy areas. A first of its kind, it looks at the role of the EU as a champion for children within, and outside of, the EU.
‘…progress has gone backwards on every key measure of childhood.’
When it comes to supporting the rights of children and addressing the harsh consequences of the pandemic, philanthropic organisations also play a key role. Already today, many foundations contribute actively to the well-being and support of children – and this both during the crisis as well as before and beyond.
Examples include the Prevent Sexual Child Abuse Programme of the Oak Foundation, Bernard Van Leer Foundation’s leading work on early childhood development including ‘top ten ways that leaders can support babies, toddlers and the people who care for them through Covid-19 and beyond‘, and Fondation de France’s support to family helplines in Covid times. In the field of education, the Lego Foundation recently published a report showcasing how play not only helps children learn, but also supports inclusion, and reduces inequality. Other foundations, including “la Caixa” Foundation, provide support to efforts aimed at ending child poverty. Within the EFC, a Thematic Network was launched to bring members together to learn and exchange best practices on how to contribute to the plight of children and youth.
The EU Strategy on the Rights of the Child provides for yet another opportunity for foundations to engage. As is the case for the European Commission, philanthropy too can choose to embed a child rights perspective in different areas of work. Children represent 27 per cent of today’s world population and as such, they too can be girls, migrants, social justice advocates, climate activists and they too are impacted by science and arts. They are rights holders entitled to special protection as children, but are also the future adults who will either benefit from or live with the consequences of decisions we all take now.
A comprehensive approach, mainstreaming child rights into the diverse areas of work, and finding synergies with the European agenda, can only strengthen investments made today for a better tomorrow. With less than 10 years to go to reach the targets of the SDGs, working together across sectors with and for children is not only the right, but also the smart, thing to do.
Delphine Moralis is the CEO of the European Foundation Centre.