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Building a Europe for and with children – towards a strategy for 2009-20011

Conclusions by the Chair – Ambassador Per Sjögren, Chair of the Ministers' Deputies, Permanent Representative of Sweden to the Council of Europe

Within the framework of its Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe in 2008, Sweden has proposed to take stock of the progress achieved through the Programme “Building a Europe for and with Children”, assess the effectiveness of the methodology adopted and develop a strategy for the years 2009-2011 under the heading “Provision, Protection and Participation for Children in Europe”.

A main objective of the High Level Conference we are now closing was to discuss the Council of Europe future priorities in the field of the rights of the child.

Participants were invited to consider a number of proposals included in the document presenting the draft elements for a future strategy circulated before the Conference.

I am satisfied that this document has been a good ground for your contributions and in general to this Conference. I am both impressed by the quality of the presentations and challenged by the expectations that this Conference has raised.

It is not possible to summarize in a few minutes the contents of all your contributions but I shall try to identify the main messages we have heard:

1. The Conference confirmed that the Council of Europe programme has achieved important progress. Its results are much appreciated for their quality, pertinence and positive impact. The programme “Building a Europe for and with Children” is today one of the most important promoters of children’s rights in Europe. Council of Europe standards, training tools, policy guidelines and assistance programmes have proven very useful for many governments, NGOs and other specialists working for and with children.

2. Participants supported the Swedish initiative that the Council of Europe should adopt a new strategy for the further development of its programme “Building a Europe for and with Children” for the next three years. They welcomed the proposed strategy under the heading “Provision, Protection and Participation” - the core provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

3. The Council of Europe should aim to promote the implementation of international standards in the field of children’s rights by all member states, introducing a child rights perspective in all its policies and activities. The Council of Europe should also encourage member states to use the same approach. In all work related to children, the decision-makers should give comprehensive consideration to children’s rights to have their day-to-day needs met, to be protected from abuse and to be heard. With other words – provision, protection and participation for children.

4. Children’s rights are an important concern for all Council of Europe member states. Although not all governments are focusing in the same priority areas, there was consensus on the need to develop a strategic and integrated approach to the promotion of children’s rights. The future Council of Europe strategy should emphasize government responsibility and accountability in the implementation of children’s rights standards.

5. The Programme “Building a Europe for and with Children” should continue to mainstream children’s rights and to coordinate all Council of Europe activities in the policy areas: democracy, human rights and the rule of law. The participants supported the setting up of flexible mechanisms facilitating cooperation among stakeholders both inside and outside the organisation. They agreed that the efforts of the Council of Europe should focus on a few priority areas: (1) elimination of all forms of violence against children, (2) child participation and (3) child friendly justice.

6. There was an overwhelming support for the proposal to continue working for the elimination of all forms of violence against children, including corporal punishment. Participants described the way they use Council of Europe instruments at national level to address specific forms of violence and agreed to the need to invest in the elaboration of European policy guidelines for integrated strategies on violence against children. Many participants referred to their determination to address the issue of sexual abuse and sexual exploitation of children, supporting the idea of a campaign against sexual violence. In this context, the Council of Europe was seen as the most relevant forum in Europe for the follow up of the recommendations included in the UN SG’s report on violence against children.

7. The need for European Guidelines on Child friendly Justice has been reaffirmed. A gap in national and international law has been identified in this respect. The seminar on child friendly justice served as a real milestone in paving the way for the future standard-setting work of the Council of Europe. Challenges were identified and principles were proposed to be taken into consideration by the Group of Specialists that will prepare the consolidated guidelines in 2009. Such challenges include, for instance: how best to inform children of their basic human rights including their rights to information, representation and participation in accessing justice; challenges in evidence-taking where children are involved and the place and role of the child before, during and after proceedings as well in alternative dispute resolution mechanisms such as mediation. The training of professionals was also underlined as a crucial element to be addressed, including training of judges, prosecutors, lawyers and police. The need for research and development in this field, to identify best practices and other forms of evidence-based decisions, has been highlighted.

8. The task that lies ahead of the Council of Europe and its member states in the field of child friendly justice is not only challenging, the method to be used is also innovative. I understand that a transversal and integrated approach will indeed be applied as four of Council of Europe main committees, in the field of human rights, legal cooperation, crime problems and efficiency of justice, will pull together their efforts in the future work. I have also taken due note of the call for signature and ratification of the European Convention on the Exercise of Children’s rights, prepared by the Council of Europe. This instrument will indeed be a key element in the future guidelines. There is scope for the member states that have not signed or ratified the Convention to proceed to do so. It clearly came across that all efforts must be made to ensure a meaningful role, and to hear the real voice of the child, in all judicial procedures.

9. Participants at the Conference also greatly supported the focus on promoting child participation in the decision-making at local, national and when appropriate at international level. Adults should have to listen to children for more democratic and better decisions. Examples of good practices and the testimonies of young participants at the conference showed existing opportunities but also obstacles for the participation of children in our societies. The Council of Europe was encouraged to provide a framework for knowledge sharing regarding a meaningful and effective participation for children in all maters that affect them. The existing tools for young people participation from a child perspective should be mainstreamed within the Council and be adapted and used to promote participation of children at all decision-making levels. In order to support participation, the Committee of Ministers could adopt a set of standards for meaningful and sustainable participation, recalling governments’ responsibilities when it comes to the implementation of Article 12 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The interest of launching a pilot scheme on child participation with volunteer countries was also mentioned. The Council of Europe could act as a ”laboratory” for child participation and continue developing training and awareness raising material, in particular for children. Governments of Council of Europe member states should be encouraged to establish children’s ombudsman offices.

10. You have also mentioned that children at risk should be given particular attention in all the above-mentioned priority areas. This includes children with disabilities, children living outside the family environment or in institutions, poor children and children in risk of discrimination because of their ethnic origin.

11. As I already mentioned the close involvement of the member states is vital for the success of the Council of Europe’s work in this field. You have stressed the value of involving all partners in the formulation, implementation and evaluation of the Council of Europe action.

The proposed permanent platform for children’s rights to support the implementation of the programme was considered to be an interesting way of gathering governments’ focal points and representatives of Council of Europe institutions, international organisations, NGOs and professional networks. The participants encouraged the Council of Europe to maintain the quality and further develop its website to include information about all Council of Europe activities or decisions concerning children.

12. Increased cooperation between the Council of Europe and other European and international actors was also stressed. Cooperation with the European Union and its institutions, such as EU Fundamental Rights Agency and the European Commission, should be a priority. The participants recommended that the consecutive presidencies of both the Council of Europe and the European Union commit to the implementation of the strategy. At global level, the Council of Europe should develop cooperation with the United Nations family (and notably with Unicef, OHCHR and UNESCO).

13. The discussions underlined the usefulness of convening conferences such as the ones organised in Monaco and Stockholm to assess progress achieved and promote future developments. To maintain children’s rights on the agenda of the Council of Europe, it has been suggested to organise a Conference of Ministers responsible for children’s rights policies in 2011.

These are the elements summarising the Swedish initiative and your contributions to a new strategy for the future work of Council of Europe – our joint Stockholm Strategy.

I hope that this summary reflects our discussions. The Council of Europe will prepare the full report of the Conference and the revised version of the strategy taking into account our discussions. The draft of the Stockholm strategy promoting the rights of children to provision, protection and participation will then be presented to the Committee of Ministers for adoption in November.

I very much appreciate your support for our Swedish initiative and for the Council of Europe work for the rights of the child. I look forward to the results of our joint efforts. I also trust you have enjoyed your stay in Sweden. We all were very happy to have you as our guests here in Stockholm.

Thank you, ladies and gentlemen, and good luck in your coming efforts to promote the rights of children