The new ENP: youth empowerment without child protection?

Photography credits: Roxana Todea

In response to the Joint Communication on the Review of the European Neighboring Policy, and noticing the absence of substantive references to the importance of child protection reforms, ChildPact and all its members, child-focused national networks of NGOs:

  • welcome EU’s plans to further foster a more prosperous neighborhood by promoting the respect of human rights, democracy, the rule of law and good governance;
  • acknowledge the increased role of the governments of EU member states and ENP countries in defining areas of cooperation;
  • welcome EU’s recognition of the importance of civil society organizations and its commitment to strengthen cooperation with national and intra-regional civil society networks;
  • welcome the focus on youth and the emphasis in the new ENP’s on the facilitation of access to primary and secondary education and on the development of skills in view of better job opportunities for youth;
  • highlight the absence of substantive references to child protection in the Joint Communication on the review of the European Neighborhood Policy;
  • believe that having strong and effective child protection systems is a key preliminary step for youth empowerment and long term prosperity in the countries of the region;
  • believe that child protection should be a key focus of cooperation between EU and ENP countries, including for those countries in the neighborhood that have chosen to remain outside processes of increased political and economic integration such as the Association Agreements and the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA).

ChildPact believes that regional cooperation on child protection and child rights can open doors of collaboration towards new relationships of trust between the EU and partner governments. Nonetheless, we argue that youth empowerment can only be accomplished in relation to child protection. The future of too many children in the region is compromised due to inadequate care and harmful public policy. These children will never become empowered youth if not supported now.

ChildPact recommends to all relevant stakeholders, including actors directly involved in ENP-related negotiations, the European Commission, the European Parliament, as well as the governments of EU member states and of partner countries involved in the ENP:

  • to recognize and explicitly include child protection as a strategic area of cooperation in developing new ENP documents, including ENP Strategy papers;
  • to recognize and explicitly include child protection reforms as a component part of the Association Agenda and ENP Action Plans, in dialogue with national governments and local civil society organizations;
  • to include child protection reforms among the aspects monitored in future progress reports or alternative tools aimed at reviewing the reform process to be established;
  • to favor the exchange of relevant experiences in the field of child protection reforms between partner countries and individual EU member states, considering in particular reforms implemented in countries previously ruled by communist regimes;

While focusing on the needs to empower youth, we should not overlook the appropriate care that every child needs when growing up, which massively impacts her/his future and integration in the society he/she lives in. Institutionalisation, forced labour, poverty, segregation, violence and trafficking are realities that break the basic rights of too many children: in the Republic of Moldova, more than 100,000 children (18.3% of the child population) are labourers with 75,000 of them being involved in hazardous activities; in Azerbaijan about 9,000 children are deprived of parental care and grow up in residential care facilities, while 50,000 children are differently abled, with limited or no access to mainstream education; in Armenia, 5,000 children continue to be institutionalized as a consequence of ineffective alternative care, prevention and early intervention systems; in Georgia more than 64,000 children with disabilities cannot access school education and more than 165,000 are estimated to be enrolled in the labour force; in Ukraine, before the on-going current conflict which massively displaced and separated numerous children from their families, the rate of children living in institutions was of 1,029 children per 100,000 of child population.

Only targeted child-focused policies can create the enabling environment that the younger generation needs and deserves. It is governments responsibility to make this happen. Vulnerable children of today will never become empowered youth if we don’t invest in children now! The child protection systems in our region need to be reformed and the EU has the knowledge and the resources to support these reforms. Moreover, governments in the region need to recognise that their development depends on the way the younger generation of citizens is supported and cared for.

ChildPact and its members, child-focused national networks of NGOs, declare their availability and willingness to be directly involved in dialogue aimed at defining key areas of cooperation in the sphere of child protection, with both national governments and EU actors involved in the negotiations.