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Children demand respect
A four-year strategy for the protection of minors
“Children do have full rights, just like any adult. And precisely because they are weak and defenceless, their fundamental rights should be greater”. On February 15 the Council of Europe adopted a four-year plan (2012-2015) for the protection of minors. The strategy, that lies within the framework of the programme “Building a Europe for and with children” launched in 2006, is aimed at eliminating all forms of violence against them and promote and ensure their rights. It is the result of broad consultations with governments, MPs, important international organizations and representatives of civil society, and it is also based on surveys and consultations with minors. The body in Strasbourg wishes to provide guidelines and advice to 47 Member States to help them fill in the existing legislative gaps.
The objectives. The strategy will focus on four main objectives: “promoting child-friendly services and systems (in the areas of justice, health and social services);
eliminating “all forms of violence against children” (including sexual violence, trafficking, corporal punishment and violence in schools). The plan will also
”guarantee the rights of children in vulnerable situations (such as those with disabilities, in detention, in alternative care, migrant or Roma children)
and promote child participation. In pursuing these objectives the Council of Europe will bring forth cooperation with the EU, with the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC), UNICEF, NGOs, academic institutions and research bodies.
What children are asking for. The consultations carried out with children highlight their “diffidence” towards public services and systems. The youth, states the document illustrating the four-year strategy, want them to be “treated as individuals”, and want that “their contacts with professionals be based on mutual trust and respect”. Children also report that they “often do not know where to go for help”, They complain that they are inadequately informed about procedures involving them and that they are “neither heard nor taken seriously by professionals”. In particular, victims of abuse “are often afraid that they won’t be believed and report that professionals often “undermine the importance of what they have said”. As relates to violence (second objective) they say they do not feel “adequately protected”, especially against bullying, corporal punishments, sexual abuse in the family, at school, in residential institutions and social networks. In general, states the CoE strategy referring to the third point, “children resent being labelled as members of a ‘vulnerable group’. They prefer to be treated with respect as individuals”. Children in detention are concerned by having to share space with adult offenders, their lack of “adequate preparation to reintegrate into the community” and slow judicial proceedings. Asylum-seeking and unaccompanied children describe the procedures they have to undergo, in particular detention, as “stressful and traumatic”. They also say they are victims of “widespread prejudice and discrimination”. Ultimately, as regards the last objective, children say they “feel excluded from civil life and from decisions on important topics affecting their lives, notably placement outside the family, schooling, and medical treatment”. The situation is even more serious for those belonging to “vulnerable groups”.
The answers. The Council of Europe will promote child-friendly services and systems “that are respectful, responsive, reliable and responsible, with a particular focus on children in vulnerable situations”. In compliance with the guidelines on child-friendly justice the program will provide “policy guidance and support to the member states that will include legislative, policy and institutional reforms”. Measures will also be aimed at ensuring that national policies take children’s rights as a “guiding principle” in the planning, delivery and monitoring of healthcare services for children; and provide “equitable access to quality healthcare without discrimination”, ensuring “integrated services for children with special needs”. As relates to the elimination of violence and trafficking, the body in Strasbourg refers to its own One in Five campaign, calling for ‘zero tolerance’ with the implementation of its tools and conventions to this regard. In order to raise the awareness on sexual exploitation and sexual abuse of children, the Council of Europe will decide upon a “European Day on the Fight against Sexual Abuse and Sexual Exploitation of Children” by 2014. The protection of detainees, migrants, Roma children, especially young girls is also a CoE priority.