Anna Ernestam, National Director of SOS Children's Villages Sweden
In these turbulent times of war, rising costs, forced migration and climate-induced calamities, the rights of children are more under threat than ever. And yet, as we enter 2023, we have never been more aware of what needs to be done to uphold these rights.
Ingrid Johansen, CEO of SOS Children's Villages International
Now, as Sweden has assumed the Presidency of the Council of the European Union on 1 January, we at SOS Children’s Villages believe there is a golden opportunity.
Sweden’s long-established credibility as a leader on children’s rights, for example its social protection systems for families with children and commitment to socially excluded children, provides the Swedish government with leverage to act ambitiously as a child rights champion.
If the Swedish government is serious about protecting and promoting the rights of children, then it needs to act upon its duty to support children, especially those without adequate parental care.
SOS Children’s Villages has six recommendations for Sweden’s EU presidency:
1. Spearhead bold actions to implement the child rights agenda
The European Child Guarantee aims to prevent and combat social exclusion by guaranteeing the access of children in need to a set of key services such as actual and free access to early childhood education and care. The implementation of the European Child Guarantee, adopted in 2021, has been marked by severe delays, with only 18 Member States having presented their action plan so far. Sweden can galvanize Member States to accelerate the development of ambitious action plans and ensure coherent implementation and adequate funding.
Looking globally, children’s rights must be mainstreamed in the EU’s external action to achieve the EU’s Strategy on the Rights of the Child. The EU must prioritize the protection and care for affected children and work to prevent family separation in particular in humanitarian and development programmes.
2. Protect and promote children's and young people’s mental health
Children and young people in alternative care (e.g. children who are not growing up in their families of origin) are at a higher risk of abuse and neglect. Research shows that 75% of children in alternative care have experienced trauma, and 46% of adults who lived in alternative care are at greater risk of mental illness. Therefore, we need to ensure their mental health needs are addressed and that care professionals are equipped and adequately trained. In preparation for the EU Commission’s upcoming initiative on mental health, Sweden should encourage debate in the EU Council on how to ensure the realization of the right to mental health for all children and young people, including those in alternative care.
3. Protect children from violence
The EU has committed to combat violence against children. However, more needs to be done to ensure that tangible action and adequate investment follow suit. It is time to honour the commitments under the EU Strategy on the Rights of the Child to develop and strengthen integrated child protection systems that truly respond to the needs of all children across the EU, regardless of their residency status.
4. Uphold the rights of children in migration
Elements of the EU Pact on Migration and Asylum and other proposals at the EU level risk prioritizing migration control over upholding child rights. The EU Strategy on the Rights of the Child and the European Child Guarantee explicitly target every child, regardless of background and residence status. Taking the Council Presidency, Sweden must lead on fulfilling commitments made in those policy frameworks, effectively welcoming and including children with a migration background as is their right.
5. Empower young people in their transition to adulthood
The EU Youth Strategy aims to ensure that all young people have the necessary resources to participate fully in society. However, people with experience of being in alternative care are amongst the most socially excluded groups and are at greater risk of poor outcomes in education and employment.It is therefore essential to ensure they have equal access to quality education and vocational training. The EU Year of Skills in 2023 provides a pivotal opportunity for young people to have their voices heard and include their recommendations for policies that provide equal opportunities to all young people.
6. Recognize children as agents of change
Sweden must use its presidency to ensure children and young people are able to meaningfully participate and contribute to key decision-making processes. The voices of children should be heard in policy debates that relate to their rights. The Youth Action Plan and EU Child Participation Platform provide key channels to make this happen.
Millions of children in Europe and across the globe cannot afford the price of inaction. They don’t need empty promises, but tangible responses that will enable them to be protected, cared for and reach their full potential. At a critical time when the scale of risks to children are higher than ever, the Swedish government has a unique opportunity to bring renewed commitment and rally the EU behind it. The goal of all of us must be to ensure no child is left behind. Collectively we know what needs to be done to improve the lives of millions of vulnerable children across Europe – so let’s do it.