“The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the erosion of the democratic fabric of our society on which the protection of human rights ultimately depends… The pandemic has revealed with tragic clarity the many and growing inequalities that exist in our countries”, warned Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatović, while presenting her annual activity report covering 2020 before the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organisation.
The report covers a vast array of topical issues concerning the human rights protection challenges Europe is facing, including children’s rights which remained high on the Commissioner’s agenda both in her country work and thematically. In addition to a separate section, children’s rights are dealt with under a number of other thematic sections being a cross-cutting issue, e.g. migration, social rights, women’s rights and gender equality, Roma rights, COVID-19, counter-terrorism, etc.
In her country work, the Commissioner underlined the importance of de-institutionalising children, including based on poverty or disability, to eliminate segregated schooling and to strengthen efforts to ensure an adequate standard of living for all children. Concerned about the increased risks of violence and sexual abuse online for children during the pandemic, the Commissioner issued a Human Rights Comment on comprehensive sexuality education in July. She pointed to overwhelming evidence that comprehensive sexuality education benefits children and society as a whole by teaching young people about their human rights and their bodies and empowering them to develop safe and respectful relationships, and deplored the proliferation of myths and misinformation about sexuality education being a threat to traditional and religious values.
On the occasion of World Children’s Day, the Commissioner expressed her serious concern about the possible adverse long-term effects of COVID-19 on children’s health, safety, education and living conditions across Europe. As pre-existing inequalities have been deepened and children’s ability to enjoy their human rights has been undermined by growing violence, poverty and neglect, she called on all member states to safeguard the best interest of the child in all their COVID-19-related measures and adhere to their commitments stemming from the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.