The 24th of March 2021 is a date to remember. On Wednesday, the European Commission approved its first comprehensive Child Rights Strategy and accompanying proposal for a Child Guarantee, demonstrating that all children without discrimination are high on the internal and external political agenda of the Commission.

During the last year, Missing Children Europe has been advocating with the European Commission for actionable commitments to prevent and protect children from all violence and abuse that can lead to or result from going missing. We are very happy to see many of our requests and suggestions reflected in the text of the Child Rights Strategy.

Missing Children Europe is especially pleased to read about the Commission’s plans to:

  • Establish a new EU Children’s Participation Platform with the European Parliament and child rights organisations to ensure children are better involved in decision-making
  • Invest in research on specific thematic areas covered by this strategy, which includes missing children
  • Present an initiative aimed at supporting the development and strengthening of integrated child protection systems, which will encourage all relevant authorities and services to better work together in a system that puts the child at the centre
  • Propose in 2022 a horizontal legislative initiative to support the mutual recognition of parenthood between Member States
  • Contribute to training of justice professionals on the rights of the child and child friendly justice, in line with the European judicial training strategy for 2021-2024
  • Provide targeted financial support for trans-national and innovative projects to protect children in migration under the new Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund (AMIF)
  • Support Member States in the development of effective and viable alternatives to the detention of children in migration procedures
  • Provide information and exchange of best practices to address children’s mental health; and set up an expert group for creating supportive learning environments and supporting well-being at school – both important for the prevention of runaways
  • Step up the fight against all forms of online child sexual abuse, such as by proposing the necessary legislation including obligations for relevant online services providers to detect and report known child sexual abuse material online

Moreover, Missing Children Europe joins the European Commission in inviting the Member States to:

  • Improve the functioning of child protection systems at national level, in particular:
    • Establish (where not yet available), and improve child helpline (116 111) and missing children hotline (116 000), including through funding and capacity building.
    • Promote national strategies and programmes to speed up de-institutionalisation and the transition towards quality, family- and community-based care services including with an adequate focus on preparing children to leave care, including for unaccompanied migrant children.
  • Support and promote the work of the EU co-funded Safer Internet Centres, and support child helplines and hotlines in developing online avenues for communication.
  • Raise awareness of, and invest in capacity building and measures for a more effective prevention of violence (…) and provide adequate support to children with specific vulnerabilities who suffer violence, as well as to violence that occur in schools.
  • Identify children as a priority target group in their national mental health strategies; and build up networks with families, schools, youth, and other stakeholders and institutions involved in mental health of children – all measures relevant to runaway prevention.
  • Develop robust mediation in the context of parental abductions.
  • Strengthen guardianship systems for all unaccompanied children.
  • Enhance cooperation in cases with cross-border implications, to ensure the full respect of the rights of the child.

And most importantly,

  • Develop, where not yet available, robust and evidence-based national strategies on the rights of the child, in cooperation with all relevant stakeholders, including children.

Finally, the Commission committed explicitly to mainstream children’s rights perspective “in all relevant policies, legislation and funding programmes. This will be part of efforts to create a child-friendly culture in EU policy-making”. As “well done” is better than “well said”, the launch of the strategy included the publication of a child friendly version (short and long versions).

Last but not least, the proposal for a Child Guarantee sets out how the European Union will support Member States in their efforts to guarantee access to quality key services for children experiencing social exclusion. Targeting, among others, children living in households with mental health problems, substance abuse or domestic violence, children living in alternative care and children experiencing homelessness, and setting out clear implementation mechanisms which involve civil society in identifying children in need, the Child Guarantee can be an important instrument for national advocacy to support prevention of as well as services for runaways who make up 55% of children who go missing in Europe.

Missing Children Europe and its members will support the work of the Commission to make sure that these commitments do not remain words on paper but are meaningfully implemented in European and national laws and policy, and are supported with adequate funding.

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