Doc. 9792

24 April 2003

Building a 21st century society with and for children: follow-up to the European strategy for children (Recommendation 1286 (1996))

Recommendation 1551 (2002)

Reply from the Committee of Ministers

adopted at the 837th meeting of the Ministers’ Deputies (16 April 2003)

1.       The Committee of Ministers wishes to express its satisfaction that the Parliamentary Assembly, in its Recommendation 1551 (2002) “Building a twenty-first century society with and for children: follow-up to the European strategy for children (Recommendation 1286 (1996))”, is showing such commitment and determination to work for the benefit of children and for better protection of children in Europe. It shares the concerns which are at the basis of the Recommendation prepared by the Parliamentary Assembly. It considers it to be of great importance that states live up to their commitments with respect to the protection of children’s rights, as contained in particular in the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of the Child.

2.       The Committee of Ministers would like to underline that a considerable work has already been carried out by the Council of Europe in the field of child protection and children’s rights, some of which will be referred to below. In order to reply to the Recommendation it has requested and received opinions from the European Committee on Legal Co-operation (CDCJ), which consulted the Committee of Experts on Family Law (CJ-FA), and the European Committee for Social Cohesion (CDCS). The opinions are appended to this reply.

A binding action plan (paragraph 3 of the Recommendation) and a binding legal instrument concerning the rights of children (paragraph 4)

3.       With regard to the preparation of a binding action plan and a binding legal instrument concerning the rights of children, the Committee of Ministers would like to underline the importance of making greater use of the existing texts and in particular the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and the reporting mechanism set up under Article 44 of this Convention. It encourages member states to ratify the European Convention on the exercise of children’s rights (ETS No.160), which so far has only been ratified by eight states (see also paragraphs 18 and 19 below). It also encourages them to sign the Convention on contact concerning children, which will be opened for signature on the occasion of the next ministerial session on 15 May 2003.

4.       The Committee of Ministers also recalls the contribution made by the Council of Europe to the Second World Congress against commercial sexual exploitation of children (“Yokohama Congress”, 17-20 December 2001), namely Recommendation Rec(2001)16 of the Committee of Ministers to member states on the protection of children against sexual exploitation, the European Action Plan to combat sexual exploitation, drawn up at a regional meeting held in Budapest on 20 and 21 November 2001 and the Convention on Cybercrime (Article 9 of which contains provisions to combat child pornography on the Internet). It recalls that an Explanatory Declaration based on the regional action plan and on Recommendation Rec(2001)16, prepared and published by the European States, was appended to the "Global commitment" adopted by the Yokohama Conference on 20 December 2001.

Compatibility of national legislation with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (paragraph 4 i)

5.       The Committee of Ministers underlines that, as is the usual practice, member states of the Council of Europe have already, before ratifying the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, examined the compatibility of their legislation with the Convention and have, where necessary, revised it.

6.       Furthermore, it underlines that the Committee on the Rights of the Child, set up under the United Nations Convention (Article 43), has the task to consider reports submitted by States Parties and to evaluate and consider the optimal implementation of the Convention and make suggestions to Parties to make sure that their domestic legislation is compatible with the provisions of the Convention. As the CJCD has pointed out, the UN Committee is the most appropriate body to deal with the matters referred to in paragraph 4 i of the recommendation.

National structures for the protection of children’s rights (paragraph 4 iii, vi-viii)

7.       The Committee of Ministers notes in particular that the European Convention on the exercise of children’s rights already contains provisions concerning the bodies, which could promote the exercise of children’s rights (Article 12). It considers that it should be left to states to decide upon the nature of the structure and the functions of bodies such as national ministers of children’s rights (paragraph 4 iii of the recommendation), permanent inter-ministerial bodies at a national level (paragraph 4 vi), national ombudsmen for children (or similar independent institutions) (paragraph 4 vii) and the national children’s observatories (paragraph 4 viii).

8.       However, being aware that discussions are continuing in many member states on the nature and duties of the new bodies that are needed at national level to actively promote the exercise of children’s rights, the Committee of Ministers notes the availability of the Forum for Children and Families to launch a multisectorial and multidisciplinary debate on the advantages and drawbacks of various solutions already being implemented in different member states.

9.       The Committee of Ministers observes that the important Standing Committee of the European Convention on the exercise of children’s rights (Chapter III of the Convention) will hold its first meeting in 2004. This Standing Committee has the task to keep under review problems relating to the Convention and in particular may consider any relevant questions concerning the interpretation or implementation of the Convention and may make recommendations, propose amendments to the Convention and provide advice and assistance to national bodies dealing with the exercise of children’s rights.

10.       Therefore, the Committee of Ministers considers that many of the tasks proposed under paragraphs 3 and 4 of the recommendation might be carried out, if necessary, by the existing machinery set up under the United Nations Convention (i.e. the Committee on the Rights of the Child) and under the European Convention on the exercise of children’s rights (i.e. the Standing Committee).

European children’s ombudsman (paragraph 5 i)

11.       As to the institution of a children’s ombudsman in the Council of Europe, the Committee of Ministers notes the strong hesitation expressed by the CJ-FA. Like the CDCS, the Committee of Ministers considers that the advantages of such an institution must be examined carefully as must its possible powers as compared with the other international bodies responsible for children’s issues, for children’s rights and for child welfare. It considers that in the immediate future, the priority must be to strengthen existing bodies and to ensure that they have sufficient funding to carry out their activities.

A European Convention on Children’s Rights (paragraph 6)

12.       The rights of children are protected by the European Convention on Human Rights, which applies to all children in member states of the Council of Europe. They are also protected by the European Social Charter and the Revised European Social Charter. In addition, in order to give greater effect to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and, in particular Article 4 which requires parties to undertake all appropriate legislative, administrative and other measures for the implementation of the rights recognised in the UN Convention, the Council of Europe prepared the European Convention on the exercise of children’s rights (ETS No. 160) and the Convention on contact concerning children.

13.       Therefore, the Committee of Ministers considers that it is not necessary, at the present time, to draft a European Convention on Children’s Rights nor to include such rights in the European Convention on Human Rights (see also paragraph 10 above). The various proposals set out in the Recommendation (paragraphs 2, 3 and 4) have more to do with putting existing commitments into practice than with any lack of legal rules.

European data centre on missing children (paragraph 7)

14.       The Committee of Ministers considers that before setting up a new computerised European data centre on missing children, consideration should be given, if necessary, to the strengthening of the role of and access to existing data centres (for example the Interpol data base of missing and abducted children covering 181 states) and to greater co-operation between such centres.

The Forum for Children and Families

15.       The Committee of Ministers is of the opinion that greater emphasis should be put on political measures and recommendations to encourage effective implementation of the rules on children’s rights. It recalls that the Council of Europe has a special body responsible for such matters, namely the Forum for Children and Families. It comprises a number of operators in the child welfare field and several young people, while being a CDCS consultative body, and it is already serving as an informal European children’s observatory.

16.       The Committee of Ministers notes that a European Union informal group of experts, “Children’s Europe”, has recently created a mechanism for information and data exchange through the Network of Observatories for Child Policy. It would like to explore the possibility of establishing links between the European Union, the Committee on Children’s Rights set up under Article 43 of the United Nations Convention, and the Council of Europe before exploring the possibility of setting up an observatory in the Council of Europe, which could be liable to duplicate work in these other two bodies.

17.       As the Forum for Children and Families provides unique opportunities for exchange and
co-ordination among the main actors in the field of policies on children and families, it should forge even closer and more effective links with the other bodies in order to improve its capacity for advising, inspiring and guiding policies and measures in the interest of children and families in Europe. Being convinced of the interdependence of all policies in the social cohesion field, the Committee of Ministers would call upon all Council of Europe steering committees to make maximum use of the Forum for Children and Families.

18.       The social sector prioritises development of national policies by means of very specific studies and recommendations and through co-operation among the different countries and competent institutions, including the non-governmental organisations actively involved in this particular field. The Forum might, moreover, provide liaison facilities for the national structures of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

19.       The Committee of Ministers notes that for these reasons, the CDCS points out that upgrading the Forum’s status, along the lines of Paragraph 5 ii of the recommendation, would be an extremely welcome move. It also notes that if it had greater human and financial resources the Forum could, in particular, more regularly involve those member states which most need its facilities and which are expressing an interest in this form of co-operation.

20.       The Committee of Ministers is aware that the Forum for Children and Families is a flexible Council of Europe instrument which could achieve a desired higher profile by conducting longer-term activities with appropriate and reliable resources. This new approach could take the form of practical programmes in specified member states, conferences and seminars, reports widely distributed through various technological channels, etc.

21.       The Committee of Ministers will study the various possibilities and proposals referred to in the opinion of the CDCS in the context of the renewal of the terms of reference of the Forum for Children and Families, which is due to expire at the end of 2003.

Final remarks

22.       In conclusion, the Committee of Ministers would like to underline that in its view the vast majority of Council of Europe activities have a direct or indirect impact on the lives of children. In fact, the political message sent by the Committee of Ministers to the Special Session of the United Nations General Assembly on Children (New York, May 2002) provides confirmation of this, and also commits the Organisation to continue promoting children’s rights and interests.