The European Union and Children’s Rights

EU Agenda for the Rights of the Child – COM(2011) 60 final

It presents an agenda to strengthen and protect children’s rights as set out in the principles of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). All EU policies which impact on children should respect their rights.


Children’s rights should be an integral part of EU policy making. This means that a ‘fundamental rights check’ is part of every piece of draft legislation.

The EU’s different justice systems must become more child-friendly. This applies to
— family law disputes,
— registration of documents,
— custody,
— criminal and prison proceedings,
— civil status and
— treatment of children as vulnerable witnesses.

Most vulnerable children need protection whether they are
— disabled,
— at risk of poverty,
— victims of sexual exploitation or trafficking,
— seeking asylum or on their own.

Advice should be given to experienced and well-trained professionals, who can help children handle the trauma they have experienced, to understand the rights and needs of the different age groups.

Special attention should be available to Roma children in the EU since they are particularly vulnerable and exposed.

The EU operates a hotline (No: 116 000) for missing children.

The EU is committed to enforcing children’s rights worldwide to protect them from threats such as violence, child labour, armed conflict and sex tourism.


The EU makes sure
— children are aware of their rights,
— can voice their opinions,
— are consulted and listened to, and
— receive information about EU policies that could affect them.

Protecting the rights of the child are recognised in the Treaty on European Union (Article 3(3) and in the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights (Article 24).


Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions: An EU Agenda for the Rights of the Child (COM(2011) 60 final of 15.2.2011)

EU strategy on the rights of the child

European Parliament resolution: Towards an EU strategy on the rights of the child (2007/2093(INI))

The resolution is a wide-ranging prospectus of actions and policies put forward by the European Parliament aimed at protecting children’s rights, building upon the communication ‘Towards an EU Strategy on the Rights of the Child’ prepared by the European Commission in 2006.


The resolution welcomes the Commission’s initiative recognising a political will that children must enjoy the rights set out in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The resolution calls for the rights of children to be at the heart of all EU policies and external actions and all international agreements to include a legally binding clause respecting the rights of the child.

The strategy should recognise the importance of the family as a basic institution of society for the survival, protection and development of the child, and calls for monitoring, financial resources and annual reports.

Not all EU countries have appointed an ombudsman to uphold children’s rights.

Child participation

Children and young people have the right to express their views, with the equal participation of girls and boys.


Legislation and preventive action is urged to deal with violence, sexual abuse, humiliating punishment and harmful traditional practices, such as genital mutilation or forced marriages. It condemns all forms of physical, psychological and sexual violence, torture, exploitation, taking hostage, trafficking or sale of children or their organs.

Sexual exploitation

The sexual exploitation of children should be considered ‘rape’ when applying legal sanctions, and payment for sex with a minor should be a crime. There should be a more effective legal child protection framework, through institutions such as Europol and Eurojust, to combat sex tourism, child trafficking and paedophilia. EU citizens committing sex tourism crimes outside the EU should be dealt with under a single set of EU criminal laws.

Children at risk

The EU should define any child in a social situation endangering their mental or physical integrity as ‘in danger’. Any child witnessing domestic violence is considered a victim of a crime. Multiple initiatives (information campaigns, sharing of best practices, etc.) are proposed to cover such things as the sale of alcohol and drugs.

Harmful media content

In seeking to prohibit harmful media content, including cyber bullying and violent video games, the resolution acknowledges the growing phenomenon of sharing child pornography or sexual abuse images via mobile messaging. It also calls for the blocking of websites related to sexual abuse.

Juvenile delinquency

Parliament asks for a comprehensive response to ‘juvenile delinquency’ at national and EU level, through prevention programmes and the social integration of young offenders in addition to legal intervention. It also calls for a youth crime prevention plan to address bullying in schools and gangs, and promotes alternatives to prison.

Child poverty and social exclusion

As part of the strategy to fight family poverty, focusing on malnutrition and disease prevention and abuse linked to parents’ social or legal situation, the EU should work to ensure that there are no homeless children or street children in the EU.

Child labour

Children working legally must be paid equally for work of equal value. Slavery, debt bondage and work detrimental to health and safety are condemned.


The quality of information, preparation for and processing of international adoptions, and post-adoption services must be improved. Adoption should be allowed in the child’s country or internationally, with residential institutions only a temporary solution.

Migrant children and children in armed conflicts

Special attention should be given to refugee, asylum-seeking and migrant children so that they can claim their rights regardless of the legal status of their parents. Unaccompanied minors are often victims of exploitation by organised crime. Measures are also called for to protect Roma children, as well as child soldiers and the victims of war.

Education and registration

Improvement in the training and education of children, especially girls, and better care for young children are called for. Every child should be registered, respecting the right to receive a nationality or an identity at birth.


European Parliament resolution of 16 January 2008: Towards an EU strategy on the rights of the child (2007/2093(INI)) (OJ C 41E, 19.2.2009, pp. 24-46)


Communication from the Commission — Towards an EU strategy on the rights of the child (COM(2006) 367 final, 4.7.2006)

last update 13.06.2018

Children as a focus of EU external action

Communication (COM(2008) 55 final) — A special place for children in EU external action

It aims construct a comprehensive European Union (EU) approach towards the protection and promotion of children’s rights in non-EU countries.
The approach is based on a holistic and universally applicable view of children’s rights and is part of the EU’s broader development and poverty reduction strategies.


The overall approach for promoting children’s rights in non-EU countries consists of this communication along with the Action Plan on Children’s Rights in External Action and the Staff Working Paper on Children in Emergency and Crisis Situations.

Children’s rights are a part of universal human rights that the EU is committed to respecting under international and EU treaties, such as:
the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC);
the Millennium Development Goals, which in 2016 were replaced by the Sustainable Development Goals;
the European Charter of Fundamental Rights;
and the EU Guidelines on Children and Armed Conflict.

The EU is to use the following tools to promote children’s rights in non-EU countries:
development cooperation in order to eradicate poverty at the source;
trade policy that is consistent with the protection and promotion of children’s rights;
political dialogue between the EU and partner countries that places emphasis on the commitments under the CRC;
empowering children and adolescents to play a more active role in the matters that affect them;
humanitarian aid to assist children affected by conflicts, complex emergencies and natural disasters.

On the 25th anniversary (2014) of the UN CRC, the European Parliament passed a resolution calling on the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy to ‘prioritise children’s rights in all EU external action’ and report annually to Parliament.


Children and youth are the key for their societies’ future progress and success. Investing in children is investing in the future. However, 47 % of all people living in extreme poverty are aged 18 years or under, and of those, many also suffer from social exclusion, violence and abuse, which restrict opportunities to live a fulfilling life and contribute to societal instability.

This communication follows the 2006 communication called Towards an EU Strategy on the Rights of the Child, which lays down the foundations for a long-term strategy for the EU in the field of children’s rights. This is tied in with the 2007 EU Guidelines for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of the Child, which is the basis for EU action in promoting children’s rights in external policy.


Communication from the Commission to the Council, the European Parliament, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions — A special place for children in EU external action (COM(2008) 55 final, 5.2.2008)

Commission staff working document – Children in emergency and crisis situations (SEC(2008) 135 final, 5.2.2008)

Commission staff working document — The European Union’s Action Plan on Children’s Rights in External Action (SEC(2008) 136 final, 5.2.2008)


Children’s rights and armed conflict


EU guidelines on children and armed conflict

They commit the EU to addressing the short, medium and long-term impacts of armed conflict on children.

They aim to persuade governments and organisations around the world to apply humanitarian law and human rights that protect children from the effects of armed conflict.

They also seek to stop the recruiting of children into armed forces and impunity for crimes against children.


The Council Working Group on Human Rights (COHOM), along with other relevant parties, determines where help is needed on the basis of reports from EU Heads of Missions, military commanders and EU Special Representatives; reports and recommendations from the United Nations (UN); and information from the European Commission on EU-funded projects aimed at children and armed conflict (and their aftermath).

To promote and protect children affected by armed conflict, the EU uses tools in its relations with non-EU countries, such as diplomatic initiatives, political dialogue, multilateral cooperation, training in child protection and crisis management.

The EU’s Revised Implementation Strategy on these Guidelines puts them into practice.
The EU has invested in strengthening its capacity on child protection, such as through the 2014 joint initiative with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the Child Rights Toolkit: Integrating Child Rights in Development Cooperation. The EU also supports and contributes to the Children, Not Soldiers campaign, which was established in 2014 and aims to end the recruitment and use of children in conflict by 2016.


According to UNICEF, 1 in 10 children in the world lives in areas affected by armed conflict, which threatens their survival, development and life opportunities. There has been international legislation to address this problem, including the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), in which the Optional Protocol aims at countering situations where children are affected by armed conflict.

The EU and its countries aim to take account of and to coordinate their actions with other bodies, such as the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, and the UN Security Council Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict, in order to maximise their impact. Other relevant human rights standards and humanitarian law that guide EU action to protect children affected by armed conflicts are listed in the annex to these guidelines.


Update of the EU guidelines on children and armed conflict. General Affairs Council of 16 June 2008

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