||Background Information on the Global Themes
At a rough estimate, there are two thousand million children
in the world today, 79 million in the European Union, and 25
million in the countries that are candidates to join the EU.
In 1989, the United Nations adopted the Convention on the
Rights of the Child (CRC), which has been ratified by all the
countries except the United States of America and Somalia. This
convention is a landmark in the history of the rights of the
children since it is the first compulsory international instrument
adopted in this field.
Why is the Convention on the Rights of the
Child so important?
The convention has brought a lot of changes in the field of
the protection of the rights of children.
children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters
of Life's longing for itself... You may house their bodies but
not their souls, for their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams."
- It is the most widely ratified human rights instrument in
- The convention promotes the "3p's". Firstly, it
promotes the participation - according to their age condition
and maturity - of children in matters that affect their destiny,
such as judicial processes or processes of adoption, with regard
to their families and to society as a whole. It also states
rights for their protection against all forms of abuses, violence
and practices that can violate their rights. Finally, similar
to any other convention, it provides for rights which are meant
as safeguards against potential violations.
- It considers the children as subject of law instead of object
of law. Traditionally, the vast majority of adults have been
educated to perceive children as objects that have to obey adults
unconditionally - teachers, priests, parents, doctors, etc.
Instead, the convention promotes the idea of children as people
with rights that have to be respected by adults, society and
all the institutions that deal with children's affairs. Children
are entitled to be respected and treated with dignity simply
because they are human, whatever their age.
- The best interests of the child should guide all decisions
taken - judicial, administrative, etc. - involving a child.
It is a hard concept to define and there is a lot of controversy
about its exact meaning. In practice, it implies that if, for
example, a judge has to decide who will have the custody of
a child, they have to examine several aspects of the child'
life and the adults concerned. In all cases, the best interests
of the child are more important than the best interests of the
- The content of the CRC refers to a wide range of fields -
administrative, judicial, educational, legal, etc., where the
rights of children have to be respected. For example, a child
that has not been properly registered at birth does not exist
in the eyes of the law. Thus they do not exist for the school
authorities that refuse to accept them as a student and, as
a result, they cannot attend school. This is a common problem
affecting thousands of children in many countries. The refusal
of the school authorities to accept the child as a student because
they "do not exist administratively and legally" clearly
violates the child's right to education.
is essential for bringing the UN Convention on the Rights of the
Child into life;
2. [it] is a decisive
factor for securing social cohesion and for living in a democracy
3. [it] is a necessary
process in the development of the child...1"
The convention has had a practical impact
in many countries, which have been obliged, by ratifying the CRC,
to amend and/or reform part of their existing legislation.
Do you think children should always obey adults unconditionally
for their own good?
The state of children: facts and figures
Even if the convention is a giant step in favour of the cause
of children, the facts prove that the rights of children are being
violated in most regions of the world.
Children in Europe...
- There is a striking increase in the number of women and children
being trafficked. Estimates suggest that up to 120000 women
and children being trafficked into western Europe from central
and eastern European countries each year.
- In Bulgaria, there are reports that prostitution has become
a principal source of income for a substantial number of 14-
to 18-year-old girls and that very often they may be part of
an organised network. What is also worrying is the growth in
the numbers of young male prostitutes.
- In Estonia, prostitution involving very young girls has been
noted in the wider context of a growing foreign market for sex
tourism. In Latvia, very young girls have also been identified
as prostitutes (as young as between 8 and 10 years old).
Who is a child?
As defined by Article
1 of the convention, "a child means every human being below
the age of eighteen years unless, under the law applicable to
the child, majority is attained earlier."
This means that every
person under 18 years old, including adolescents, is covered by
- In the UK, research indicates that there are many thousands
of street children, primarily, though not exclusively, in the
major cities and towns. The population of street children is
split evenly between males and females. It is estimated that
approximately 40000 children run away from home every year.
- In France, the phenomenon of street children began to constitute
a significant problem in the 1980s. Some authorities consider
that there might be as many as 10000 street children, although
others estimate that the number is much lower.
- In general, there is a growing population of young people
living homeless on the streets in eastern and central Europe.
In Bucharest alone, there are an estimated 1500 children and
young people living out on the streets
- In Poland and Hungary over a third of children under the
age of fifteen live in poverty. A recent study in Poland (UNDP,
1999) found that 60% of children suffer from some form of malnutrition
with 10% permanently malnourished. In the Russian Federation,
the prevalence of stunted growth among children under two years
old increased from 9.4% in 1992 to 15.2% in 1994.
Child poverty rates in Europe2
Children in the world...
- More than 10 million children under the age of five still
die each year from preventable causes.
- More than 100 million children are still not in primary school,
the majority being girls.
- There are an estimated 300000 children engaged in combat.
- 149 million children are malnourished, two thirds of them
- Last year alone, some 31 million refugees and displaced persons,
mostly women and children, were caught up in war conflicts and
were forced to flee from their homes and become refugees.
European issues related to children and adolescents
There are specific issues related to the rights of the children
that are particularly relevant to European institutions as well
as to European governments. As a result, there is a clear will
to promote measures aimed at protecting children against practices
and phenomena that clearly violate their rights.
In the light of the statistics above cited on sexual trafficking,
prostitution and pornography in Europe, the Council of Europe
and its members have become increasingly concerned and, as a result,
they have adopted several recommendations, including:
- Recommendation 1065 (1987) on the traffic in children and
other forms of child exploitation;
- Recommendation No. R (91) 11 on sexual exploitation, pornography
and prostitution of, and trafficking in, children and young
- Resolution 1099 (1996) on the sexual exploitation of children.
Once these recommendations are adopted, states have to take
practical measures to ensure their implementation. Examples of
such measures are3:
soul is healed by being with children."
- At the initiative of the Belgium Minister for the Interior,
on 23 November 1992, a unit specialising in countering such
traffic was set up within the Gendarmerie's Central Office for
Missing Persons. On 11 September 1995, the Minister for Justice
ordered the creation of a Missing Children Unit within the same
office. This unit is responsible for the co-ordination and provision
of support and expertise relating to the disappearance of minors
in circumstances giving cause for concern.
- In Luxembourg, a special juvenile protection section has
been formed in the police force. Police headquarters in Luxembourg
City has a juvenile protection section in its research division.
There is a telephone help-line for children (KannerJugendtelefon).
Why is it difficult to eradicate this kind of trafficking?
|Child labour is...
... work done by children
full-time under the age of 15
... work that prevents children
from attending school
... work that is dangerous for
children and hazardous to their physical, mental or emotional
The reasons behind this practice
are sometimes very complex and range from cultural practices
to situations of poverty where the parents and family need
the wages brought home by the child.
In terms of consequences, in
addition to depriving children of a proper education and
impairing their physical and mental development, child labour
can lead to severe health problems such as muscular-skeletal
deformation, chemical poisoning, cuts and other bodily injuries,
respiratory diseases, serious burns, etc.
Examples of goods made by children
include carpets, bricks, matches, sugar, clothing, shoes,
cigarettes (beedis), fireworks, houses and other buildings,
pencils, leather goods. They are also employed in crop picking,
factory work, carrying heavy things, fishing and basic domestic
The Internet and pornography
Children can be exposed to a wide range of risks when they use
the Internet. Some of them are exposure to inappropriate material
(violent pictures, racist and xenophobic propaganda, etc.), harassment
and paedophile activity. There is growing evidence that there
are networks dedicated to the exchange of information (names,
pictures, etc) of child pornography. In recent years, individuals
have been arrested in Europe and other continents for being implicated
and/or promoting this kind of illegal and immoral activities.
Some suggested solutions for individuals involved with matters
relating to children, such as social workers, teachers, psychologists,
etc., and parents are:
- taking individual actions such as reporting, complaining
or asking when they become aware of a child being exposed to
such risks or when they discover illegal or dangerous Internet
- empowering children through informing them and discussing
the matter with them;
- empowering parents, who need to become aware of the dangers
of the use of the Internet and to inform themselves about the
|The World Summit for
In September 1990, the World
Summit for Children adopted the Declaration on the Survival,
Protection and Development of Children and a Plan of Action
for Implementing the Declaration. A series of goals was
set up relating to child mortality, malnutrition, children's
access to basic education worldwide, etc. to be met by the
None of the goals have been achieved, but does this mean
that this summit was useless?
Many NGOs are organising themselves through a network of concerned people who
monitor and report websites containing illegal materials4.
The Council of Europe Convention on Cybercrime was adopted on
8 November 2001. When in force, this convention will be the first
international treaty on crimes committed via the Internet and
other computer networks, dealing particularly with computer- and
Internet-related crimes including child pornography. Its main
objective is to pursue a common criminal policy aimed at the protection
of society against cybercrime, especially by adopting appropriate
legislation and fostering international co-operation. Article
9 of the Convention is devoted to combating paedophilia and child
pornography over the Internet.
Europe, the European Network of Ombudsmen for Children (ENOC)
was set up in 1997. This includes representatives from Austria,
Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Hungary, Iceland, Lithuania,
the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Norway, Portugal, the
Russian Federation, Spain, Sweden and Wales.
The Russian Ministry of Labour and Social
Development has initiated a pilot project, establishing Commissioners
for Children in 5 "oblasts" (states). The Commissioners
have all been established by decree and are mandated to improve
the protection and promotion of children's rights.
Can we take measures to control the use of the Internet by children
without violating their freedom to seek, receive and impart information
and ideas of all kinds? (art.13 , CRC)
The Ombudsman for Children
The word 'ombudsman' comes from the Scandinavian word "ombud",
which means ambassador, delegate or messenger. It has come to
mean a person who deals with complaints from a defined group (in
this case. children), who speaks on behalf of that group and who
tries to improve conditions for individuals from that group as
well as for the group as a whole.
The first ombudsman for children was established in Norway in
1981. The ombudsman is an independent, non-partisan agent, spokesperson,
arbitrator or referee, ensuring that ministries and others fulfil
their legislative duties by suggesting measures for improvements
in issues related to children. The ombudsman protects the needs,
rights and interests of minors, works for the application of the
Convention on the Rights of the Child and supports its dissemination.
The ombudsman has the power to investigate, criticise and publicise
but not to reverse administrative action or revoke administrative
decisions. The ombudsman intervenes separately from legal representatives,
parents or guardians to represent the child's rights in all sorts
of civil or criminal cases where children are directly or indirectly
In some countries, the ombudsman is responsible for adopting
assessment methods, such as the "child impact assessment"
in order to evaluate and identify all possible consequences on
children of various legislative proposals, regulations and any
other measures. According to the Swedish NGO Radda Barnen, twenty
countries have so far set up ombudsman for Children.
|International and regional
instruments and children
1. The Convention on the Rights
of the Child, 1989
2. The World Declaration on
the Survival, Protection and Development of Children
3. The Plan of Action for Implementing
the World Declaration, 1990
4. The Parliamentary Assembly
Recommendation 1460(2000) on Setting up a European Ombudsman
for Children, Council of Europe, Strasbourg 2001.
5. The Council of Europe Parliamentary
Assembly Recommendation 1286, 1996, on a European Strategy
6. The European Convention on
the Exercise of Children's Rights, Council of Europe, Strasbourg