Portugal, whose national plan is launched today, offers a model for a transversal and localised approach.
On November 20th, we celebrated the 33rd anniversary of the adoption of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, the global cornerstone of respecting, protecting and fulfilling children’s rights. Yet today’s mutually compounding crises are taking their toll on the most vulnerable members of society—children in particular.
According to Eurostat, in 2021 24.4 per cent of children in the European Union—almost one in four—were at risk of poverty and social exclusion. That alarming ratio does not fully reflect the detrimental impact of the pandemic and the cost-of-living crisis ignited by the conflict in Ukraine, implying increasing challenges. In a union which strives to ‘leave no one behind’, the millions of children deprived of basic rights and equal opportunities must be a priority.
In recent years, the EU has shown commitment to better protection of children’s rights, as reflected in the Action Plan for the European Pillar of Social Rights and the European Child Guarantee. The unanimous adoption in March 2021 of the recommendation by the Council of the EU establishing the Child Guarantee was a highlight of the Portuguese council presidency and a fundamental step forward.
The Child Guarantee is a milestone in the fight against child poverty and social exclusion, ensuring the most vulnerable children have access to free education and care, healthcare and healthy nutrition, and adequate housing. It offers an unparalleled occasion to put children’s rights at the centre of the political agenda of member states and EU institutions and to create new synergies among stakeholders—children included. (Indeed, the recommendation reiterates that children must be meaningfully engaged in the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of the framework.)
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The recommendation invites member states to appoint a national co-ordinator to manage and monitor implementation of the framework, while engaging with their peers at the European level. This creates an unprecedented opportunity for national authorities to work together to tackle child poverty, adopt a more comprehensive and integrated approach, and jointly analyse common obstacles and solutions.
The recommendation also requested member states to submit national action plans by March 2022, outlining how they would implement the Child Guarantee. Many did so and those which have not done so as yet can be expected thus to translate the framework into tangible actions for children.
Eurochild and Save the Children members on the ground clearly affirm that this new direction is urgent: we need ambitious and comprehensive action plans in all member states, fully implemented, monitored and evaluated. With rising child poverty and soaring inflation, governments and national co-ordinators must dedicate adequate EU and domestic funds to ambitious measures in the child’s best interest and ensure sustained commitment in the coming years.
A successful example is provided by Portugal, with its strong commitment to deepening the EU social dimension. On November 16th Portugal announced it would organise a ‘Porto Social Forum’ next May. This will be an occasion to follow up on the commitments made to implement the European Pillar of Social Rights at the Porto Social Summit, held during the Portuguese presidency, including reduction of child poverty in the EU.
Portugal has also shown political commitment to the Child Guarantee by investing its national co-ordinator, Sónia Almeida, with the competencies of a director general of public administration. It has established a technical and integrated monitoring committee, with representatives from various ministries: Justice; Labour, Solidarity and Social Security; Education; Health, and Housing.
The national plan, which follows extensive involvement of stakeholders, including children, dovetails with vital social policies recently introduced:
- free access to nurseries;
- a National Plan for Recovery of Learning to mitigate the effect of the pandemic, providing for all students free digital-education tools and textbooks, and
- reinforcement of family allowances for all children and allocation of a cash benefit for children in extreme poverty—itself entitled the ‘Child Guarantee’.
These measures show that the European Child Guarantee can stimulate structured and ambitious national reforms protecting children’s rights, as well as providing the occasion to involve civil societies and children in national and local legislative processes.
The Portuguese plan also envisages Child Guarantee structures at the city-council level. This emphasis on proximity aims to ensure implementation of more assertive and ambitious local measures. The plan seeks to put existing structures and resources together in close co-ordination, with a well-defined and shared direction to support the most vulnerable children.
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We know that poverty undermines children´s ability to thrive, enjoy equal opportunities and reach their full potential in adulthood. Even temporary exposure to deprivation in childhood can have devastating consequences that last a lifetime, if not generations. Child poverty is a pan-European challenge which concerns us all—a reality we must tackle together.
The European Child Guarantee charts a new path, which can lead the EU to enhanced respect, protection and fulfilment of children’s rights and a stronger society, where indeed no child is left behind. We should walk it together, for our collective future.