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I have the honour to speak on behalf of the European Union and its Member States.
The Candidate Countries Turkey, the Republic of North Macedonia*, Montenegro*, Serbia* and Albania*, the country of the Stabilisation and Association Process and potential candidate Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as Ukraine, the Republic of Moldova, and Georgia, align themselves with this statement.
This year, we observe the 30th Anniversary of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC): the most widely ratified human rights treaty in history and the first international instrument to explicitly recognise every child as a rights holder. This creates an opportunity to assess the progress made as well as to discuss remaining and new challenges for the upcoming years.
The EU would like to reaffirm that the CRC and its three Optional Protocols constitute the primary international standards in the promotion and protection of the rights of the child. The EU will continue to support and encourage partner countries to ratify and implement these instruments. They strongly guide the EU policy, legislation and financial programmes that have an impact on all rights of all children.
During this year's session of the Third Committee, together with our partners from GRULAC, we will present our annual resolution on the rights of the child. This year the theme is children without parental care. The CRC recognises that children, for the full and harmonious development of their personality, should grow up in a family environment and in an atmosphere of happiness, love and understanding; yet since its adoption, no rights of the child resolution has specifically addressed this theme. Children grow up without parental care in every country, making this a universal issue; however approaches to protect them vary as does the quality of care they receive. 2019 constitutes a particularly appropriate opportunity for the UN to address this issue as it also marks the 10th Anniversary of the Guidelines for the Alternative Care for Children.
As laid down in Article 3 of the Treaty on EU, the protection of the rights of the child is a core commitment of the EU in its internal and external policy. In the line with the key principle of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and with the CRC general principles and articles, the EU and its Member States are committed to strengthen its efforts to ensure that all children are reached by their policies and actions. Special attention shall be given to those who are in disadvantaged, vulnerable and marginalised situations, including children without parental care or who are at risk of being so.
A wide range of complex and overlapping factors trigger the sometimes preventable loss of parental care by a child. In the first place, efforts should be directed to preventing the need for separation, if that would be according to the best interests of the child. Where this is not possible, a child temporarily or permanently deprived of his or her family environment, or in whose own best interests cannot be allowed to remain in that environment, shall be entitled to special protection and assistance provided by the State, as specified in Article 20 of the CRC.
The EU would like to express concerns over the large number of children who are deprived of parental care owing to violence, internal disturbance, armed conflicts, natural and man-made disasters, migration, displacement, contact with the law, economic crises, social problems, discrimination or poverty, among others, and recognise that these children deserve special protection and assistance from their families and communities, and as part of national efforts and international cooperation. Such cooperation is needed, for instance, in case of unaccompanied refugee, migrant and internally displaced children, when all States, UN bodies and agencies need to work together to ensure their early identification and registration, to secure timely appointment of a guardian, to respect procedural safeguards and protection measures, to give priority to programmes for family tracing and reunification and to monitor the care arrangements. Children without parental care are among the most vulnerable targets for trafficking in human beings, sexual exploitation and abuse, both in the online and offline environment. The EU remains committed to preventing this type of criminality and to ensuring justice for child victims.
The EU encourages and supports states to adopt national strategies on the rights of the child that will also address specific needs of children without parental care, using rights based and gender sensitive analysis of the situation of children in the country. Such strategies shall foresee adopting and enforcing laws and improving the implementation of relevant policies and programmes, budget allocation and human resources to support children, particularly children living in disadvantaged and marginalised families, to address the root causes of unnecessary family separation and ensure that they are cared for effectively by their own families and communities. Subsequently, child sensitive national budgeting should be designed and implemented to make children visible in budgets, including children without parental care.
We recognise the potential harm of institutionalisation and institutional care to children's growth and development when such placement is not compliant with the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Hence, we support the development of quality alternative care solutions while addressing the roots causes leading to unnecessary separation of children from their family. We also encourage states to take the Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children into account when adopting, enforcing, improving or implementing policies to protect children without parents or caregivers, recognising that efforts should be directed primarily to enabling the child to remain in or return to the care of his or her parents or, when appropriate, other close family members and, that where alternative care is necessary, quality family- and community-based care should be promoted over placement in institutions.
Within the EU, the promotion of quality alternative care for children is considered as a case of social investment in the best interests of the child. The 2013 European Commission Recommendation Investing in children: breaking the cycle of disadvantage recalls the need to enhance family support and the quality of alternative care settings. The 2017 Communication on the protection of children in migration highlights the guiding value of the Guidelines for the Alternative Care and specifies the need to ensure that a range of alternative care options are provided for unaccompanied children. The Common European Guidelines on the Transition from Institutional to Community Based Care provide practical advice about how to make a sustained transition from institutional care to family-based and community-based alternatives. In 2017, the Council adopted Conclusions on Enhancing Community-Based Support and Care for Independent Living which show the commitment of EU Member States to continue investment in community-based social support services. The regulation governing European Structural Funds for 2014–2020 include specific protection to ensure that funds are used to facilitate the transition from institutional to community-based care, in particular for those who face multiple-discrimination. The funds should also not support any action that contributes to segregation or social exclusion. For the particular case of children with disabilities, this built on policy commitment in the European Disability Strategy 2010–2011 to promote the transition from institutional to community-based care by using the funds to support the development of community-based services.
Regarding external action, the EU Guidelines for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of the Child highlight the importance of appropriate and quality alternative care for children that allows them to participate in community life. It further recommends improving coherence in the EU’s external action on children. For instance, opportunities for alternatives to detention, aligned with the best interests of the child, remain limited worldwide: the EU is therefore working with partners to strengthen alternatives to imprisonment for children. In this context, the EU recognizes the importance of conducting the UN Global Study on Children Deprived of Liberty.
We encourage states to prioritize quality alternative care options over institutionalization, and, where relevant, adopt a strategy and a comprehensive plan of action in that respect, including by implementing relevant reforms, developing or reforming legislation, budget allocation, awareness-raising campaigns. It is also important to increase the capacity of all relevant actors with adequate training and support for caregivers and robust screening and oversight, accountability and monitoring mechanisms assessing the quality of alternative care.
Without access to quality and appropriate alternative care, children deprived of parental care often face a downward spiral of economic, social and structural exclusion, and marginalisation with long-term consequences for them and their communities. Children in institutions or on the street, separated from their parents due to poverty, conflict or disability, have largely fallen off the statistical map and global development agenda. It is both important and urgent that concerted action is taken to address their often overlooked situation. Addressing the needs of children without parental care is necessary to make progress on the Sustainable Development Goals.
Through bilateral and multilateral cooperation, the EU will continue to pursue political dialogue in order to promote and protect the rights of the child without parental care. The EU will also continue its cooperation with the UN bodies and Special Representatives of the Secretary-General, regional organisations, civil society and governments.
Promoting and protecting children's rights is crucial for sustainable development of our societies and essential to guarantee stability, security and prosperity. Investing in children throughout their journey to adulthood is a moral duty and an essential investment in a better present and future for all of us.
* The Republic of North Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Albania continue to be part of the Stabilisation and Association Process.