23 December 1998
European strategy for children
Recommendation 1286 (1996)
Reply from the Committee of Ministers
adopted at the 652nd meeting of the Ministers’ Deputies (15 December 1998)
The Committee of Ministers welcomes the adoption by the Parliamentary Assembly of Recommendation 1286 (1996) on a European strategy for children. By emphasising the need to take account of the rights, interests and needs of children, particularly in the process by which decisions concerning them are taken, the Assembly is making a valuable contribution to the childhood policies to be developed nationally and internationally. Recommendation 1286 (1996) of the Assembly has thus been transmitted to Unicef, to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child and to the European Parliament, as well as to the governments of member States and to the Closing Conference of the Multidisciplinary Project on Childhood Policies (Leipzig, June 1996).
Since the 2nd Summit of Heads of State and Government of the member States (Strasbourg, October 1997), the Council of Europe in its activities relating to childhood is trying to follow a comprehensive, consistent and co-ordinated approach.
The Council of Europe Programme for Children, launched last May at the 102nd Session of the Committee of Ministers, takes account of the Assembly's observations and recommendations. It is brought to the attention of the Assembly in the appendix to the present reply.
The Programme for Children is an integral part of the European strategy for social cohesion, the preparation and speedy implementation of which are priorities for the member States. It should be noted that the Programme has already moved into its operational phase: on 26 and 27 November 1998, the Forum for Children and its three focus groups met in Strasbourg to start their discussions, with the active participation of children, about a strategy in line with the proposals put forward at the 2nd Summit for the promotion of the interests of children and for their protection. The Parliamentary Assembly is a member of the Forum, and the Chair of the Sub-Committee on Children, representing the Social, Health and Family Affairs Committee, took part in the meeting. The aforementioned bodies of the Programme are multidisciplinary structures involving numerous partners, and each will hold more than one meeting in 1999. During the same year, Sweden will host the XXVIth Session of the Conference of European Ministers responsible for Family Affairs, on the theme of "Towards a child-friendly society".
The Committee of Ministers underlines that all Council of Europe member States have ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, and that the principles of this fundamental text - provision/prevention, protection and participation - are central to the activities carried out at European level. Furthermore, the Council of Europe Programme for Children is intended to raise public awareness of, and to promote, children's rights. The rights of the child are an area in which the Council of Europe undeniably has achievements to its name, among them being the European Social Charter (especially Article 7), the European Convention on the Exercise of Children's Rights and the latest Recommendation to member States on this subject issued by the Committee of Ministers, Recommendation No. R(98)8 on children's participation in family and social life, adopted on 18 September 1998.
Appendix to the reply of the Committee of Ministers to
Recommendation 1286 (1996) of the Parliamentary Assembly
COUNCIL OF EUROPE PROGRAMME FOR CHILDREN
1. The Council of Europe has long been concerned with the protection of children, and the level of that concern is brought out in the Action Plan of the Second Summit of Heads of State and Governments of member States of the Council of Europe, under the heading Security of Citizens calling for better protection of children.
2. The Programme for children was proposed in the same Action Plan, under the heading of Social Cohesion. Here, the Heads of State and Government "encourage the adoption of a programme to promote the interests of children, in partnership with the international and non-governmental organisations concerned."
3. The current offers of funding from member States would enable a programme to be established over a period of two years on the basis of three key elements, with scope for adding activities on specific issues. These three elements and a list of specific issues are given in paragraphs 13 and 14. A possible continuation of the programme could then be considered.
4. The Programme should raise public awareness of the social, environmental and technological challenges for children in their everyday lives.
5. The Programme should seek to support and to co-ordinate the efforts of public authorities at the national and local levels, as well as those of the private and voluntary sectors, in matters concerning children.
6. Activities within the Programme should ensure that different groups of children have been heard before recommendations or decisions are made concerning them.
7. With these objectives in mind, the Programme should contribute to:
(i) surveying what is being done regarding children and their environment;
(ii) proposing appropriate strategies for co-operation between the public sector (at national and local level), and the private and voluntary sectors, in matters concerning children;
(iii) defining the contours of a child-friendly society, i.e. a society in which families are enabled to carry out their child-rearing tasks in a positive and serene manner, and in which the democratic forces of society defend children adequately against all forms of exploitation.
8. In addition to more traditional means (expert groups, consultants, studies, conferences), the following elements should be considered, particularly in order to involve children, as well as to achieve maximum impact: videos; internet; newsletters; competitions.
9. The Steering Committee on Social Policy (CDPS), or its successor committee in the social field, should be responsible for the general implementation of the Programme.
10. The partnership referred to in the Action Plan, with the international and non-governmental organisations concerned, calls for a forum bringing together the Council of Europe with the other organisations.
11. The Programme should co-ordinate its activities with input from Vote IX activities concerning children.
12. The XXVIth session of the Conference of European Ministers responsible for Family Affairs, which will be held in Sweden in June 1999, on the theme “Towards a child-friendly society”, will provide an occasion for governments to express their opinion on the Programme. It will also contribute to the realisation of this Programme, in particular to (i) and (iii) above.
13. The elements should take into account the best interests of the child, as set out in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. The broad basis of the Programme would be the promotion, participation and protection of children and provision of services for them. The three key elements which have been identified are:
- Children and their environment
- Children and child day care
- Social support systems for children at risk of, or who have been victims of, abuse, violence and exploitation
14. They should be carried out according to the financial means available.
15. Specific issues which might receive attention within the Programme could include:
- An examination of the situation of vagrant children
- Training and integration arrangements for the most disadvantaged children
- Access to rights and to citizenship (i.e. teaching on democratic citizenship)
- New forms of dealing with juvenile delinquents
- The place of the family in society
- Public health policies concerning children
- Possibilities of prevention and early treatment of alcohol and drug addiction among children
- Combating the sexual commercial exploitation of children, (including on the internet)
- Fostering and foster care
- Measures against the ill-treatment of children
- The situation of children living in residential care
- The social consequences of illiteracy
- Children living outside of their family environment
- Children in special circumstances (social exclusion, migrants, disability, etc.)
- Equality issues affecting children
- Support and protection of non-accompanied children
- Family law concerning children and, in particular:
- contact concerning children (e.g. access)
- legal status of children (e.g. establishment and legal consequences of parentage
- Children separated from their parents. The question of reunification with their family in accordance with the UN Convention and in the best interests of the child.
These could be the subject of attention by the relevant intergovernmental committees, pilot projects by individual member States, or initiatives by other parties to the Programme.
16. The particular perspective of disabled children should be taken into account throughout the Programme.
Proposal for the general plan of activities for an initial period of 2 years
17. On the basis of present funding, it should be possible to carry out the first three elements presented in paragraph 13 above. The specific issues listed in paragraph 14 could be carried out either by more traditional means within the ordinary budget of the Council of Europe as from 1999 (this might include other steering committees, as well as the co-ordinated research programmes and possibly the framework of the specialised unit, the creation of which is foreseen in the Action Plan of the Second Summit) or by voluntary contributions.
An overall evaluation will be undertaken at the end of the two-year period, but assessment criteria will be integrated in the programme at an early stage.
Concerning the three key elements
18. Four experts should be appointed members of a "focus group" for each element selected. They should be appointed by the committee referred to above. Each group will have as its task the planning of the contents and activities for the element, and will meet two or three times either in Strasbourg or elsewhere to carry the work through for the two years.
19. Each element will have a launching activity (press conference, Internet seminar, video etc) which should be hosted in a member State, which expresses particular interest in the element to be launched. Emphasis should be put on the "visibility" of the element in order to ensure a "media profile". The planning of these launching activities by the "focus groups" should involve the Council of Europe's press services on an ongoing basis.
20. After the launch, member States interested in the elements will be invited to propose pilot projects for implementing relevant policies. These pilot projects will be presented and discussed in 'seminars for action'. The outcome of the seminars will be detailed project plans with implementation schedules.
21. The "focus groups" will visit the projects of their respective element in order to draft reports on the implementation process, identifying the strengths and weaknesses of the projects. These reports will serve as the basis for preparing training packages with examples for action (project designs, resource implications, preconditions, time schedules etc.).
22. The projects, reports and training packages will be presented at a "Fair of Ideas" or 'Market for Action' which would be a mixture of an exhibition and a conference. Agencies involved in the implementation and the experts from the "focal groups" will be available to present projects, answer questions, offer advice and discuss further areas for action.
23. The result of such a Programme in each topic area selected should be:
- examples of good practice
- training packages
- technical advice
- transfer of knowledge and know-how
- development of common policies
- impulses for future action.