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What about us? Children'’s Rights in the European Union: next steps

Against a global background of increasing confl ict, insecurity and uncertainty, the European Union’s (EU) population is experiencing signifi cant economic, political, environmental and social change. Following the introduction of the single currency in many states, and enlargement from 15 to 25 countries (with further accessions planned), debate continues about how to build Europe’s future.

Despite the importance of the issues at stake, the EU’s future is rarely considered from children’s point of view. The EU’s development depends on its 94 million children and young people aged 0-18 —over one in fi ve of the overall population— achieving their full potential, and more than any other group, children will be affected by decisions being taken now that have long-term implications. Children also deserve attention as citizens of Europe today, with
 heir own specifi c rights, as set out in the 1989 United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). Yet too often children’s interests are ignored, and their voices go unheard in the public arena. This is unsurprising, given that they cannot vote, they have little or no access to the media, and limited access to the courts. Nor are they members of powerful lobbying groups. Without access to these processes that are integral to the exercise of democratic rights, children and their experience remain hidden from view and they are, in consequence, deni ed effective recognition as citizens

This invisibility results in children’s contributions going largely unrecognised. It is frequently assumed that children are not “competent” to participate in decisions that affect them, and in wider society. But in practice there are plenty of examples that demonstrate children’s capacities, particularly as they mature. Many children provide unpaid assistance with caring and other family tasks and some contribute to family earnings (e.g. on farms and in hotels). Many play an important role in a range of community initiatives (e.g. in playschemes, education projects, youth groups, anti-crime strategies and environmental task forces). Many have particular knowledge or skills (e.g. bi-lingualism, computing) that they use to the benefi t of their families and friends. Many use new technologies such as mobile phones, text messaging, and the internet to voice their concerns, feelings, and opinions creatively. In these and other ways, children are gaining access to, and exploiting positively, crucial opportunities for empowerment and participation as citizens. Recognising their capacities and valuing their contribution —individually and collectively— is a crucial prerequisite for creating dynamic, participative societies.