To date, the promotion and protection of the rights of the child has been one of the objectives of the EU. However, an important milestone regarding the rights of the child was the entering into force of the Treaty of Lisbon. The Lisbon Treaty explicitly requires the EU to protect the rights of the child. The Treaty also incorporated the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU, giving it a legally binding value on the EU institutions and on national member states governments as the Treaty itself. However, the Charter does not extend the competence of the EU to matters which are not included as its competence by the Treaties.
The Charter has a dedicated article on children (Article 24), recognising the right of protection and care necessary for children’s well-being and the right of children to freedom of expression. It also outlines that actions taken by public and private institutions which concern children should take into account the child’s best interest as a primary concern. The Charter also makes reference to the prohibition of child labour and the right to adequate living conditions, education and health. To ensure the implementation of these fundamental rights and freedoms enshrined in the Charter, the Commission has also published an Annual Report on the Application of the Charter.
Early childhood development (ECD) is also an important issue for several UN organisations and a key issue for consideration in the next sustainable development goals. However, at an EU level, it remains difficult to ground early years’ actions on the rights of the child using ECD as an argument for later outcomes in life.
Whilst the adoption of the EU Agenda for the Rights of the Child was an important step forward towards mainstreaming children’s rights in all EU policy spheres, it does not offer an overarching vision of how the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) can be effectively and consistently implemented across EU policies and member states. According to the UNCRC, it is important to underpin policies in relation to early childhood education and care recognizing children as rights holders. The UNCRC guarantees all children the right to the conditions necessary for their health, well-being, and education so they can develop to their full potential. More specifically, UNCRC Committee General Comment No 7 provides useful guidance on the implementation of child rights in early childhood.
Even though the protection of children’s rights is a stated objective of the EU, explicitly mentioned in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, the EU institutions lack competence in this area. However, there are many civil society organisations working on children’s rights and an increasing interest in promoting early years and mainstreaming this issue across policy areas from a child rights perspective can be noted.
In fact, several current initiatives which are closely related to children’s rights are now seen incorporated notably in the fields of justice and home affairs, social inclusion, early years education and care, education, youth, reconciliation of private, work and family life, health, enlargement, development and humanitarian aid and importantly, child poverty and well-being.
In light of this, the 2013 European Commission’s Recommendation ‘Investing in Children’ urges the strengthening synergies with relevant EU policies, in particular in the fields of education, health, gender equality and children’s rights. In the future, improved opportunities will largely rely on how the European Commission follows up on incorporating children’s rights across its policy agendas and work.
European Commission Recommendation 'Investing in Children: Breaking the Cycle of Disadvantage' /20.2.2013, C(2013) 778