Opening of the First Meeting of the Steering Committee for the Rights of the Child (CDENF)
It is a great pleasure to welcome you to the First meeting of the Steering Committee for the Rights of the Child.
This represents a further step in an ongoing process:
Putting the rights of the child at the heart of the Council of Europe and taking on the existing and emerging challenges that we see in this field.
In recent years, progress has been real.
In 2006, our “Building a Europe for and with children” programme put in place an Organisation-wide agenda, mainstreamed across most of our intergovernmental committees.
This was followed by the establishment of the Ad Hoc Committee on the Rights of the Child.
This has enabled us to develop new and comprehensive non-binding standards on children’s rights in the digital environment, on guardianship for unaccompanied and separated children in migration, and our current Rights of the Child Strategy.
In turn, these are helping national authorities to better protect children in line with the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Recognising the importance of this work, member states decided to transform the Ad-Hoc Committee into this Steering Committee.
This is a well-earned “upgrade” but, of course, with this comes added responsibility.
In the coming months and years, you will address complex policy issues, and have in-depth exchanges with an important community of experts.
And you will be able to deploy your knowledge and expertise, to break down silos, and to put in place new and innovative transversal working methods, liaising with other Council of Europe bodies and institutions and with other stakeholders at national and international level.
The scope of your challenge is growing.
The recent Mid-Term evaluation conference “Redefining Power: Strengthening the rights of the child as the key to a future-proof Europe”, and the Mid-term evaluation report, have supplemented the current children’s rights agenda with ambitious goals and targets.
And these are reflected in your Committee’s Terms of Reference.
First and foremost, you are expected to oversee the implementation of the current Strategy for the Rights of the Child.
While the five priority areas of the Strategy remain vital, new topics have been added to your work programme and these will require your expertise.
And you will also need to put in motion the preparation of a new Strategy, which will be equally ambitious and break new ground.
This must offer a forum where taboos are broken, myths debunked, and innovative solutions developed on the basis of sound evidence.
And in this process you will also need to bear in mind the UN Strategic Development Goals and create a bridge between the work in the Council of Europe and the wider world, to the benefit of all.
In the framework of the tasks that you will carry out in this biennium you will address a number of important challenges.
- Children often suffer disproportionately from family disputes.
Legal problems triggered by separation and divorce include child support payments, child custody and visitation rights, the occurrence of domestic violence, and related enforcement mechanisms.
Our obligation is to uphold the best interests of the child in such proceedings and to ensure that children participate adequately in the decisions that will inevitably affect them.
Your job will be to examine how this can best be done in Europe today.
In this weighty task, you will join forces with the European Committee on Legal Co-operation, combining the expertise of your ministries and the ministries of Justice, and guided by the case law of the European Court of Human Rights.
- You will also go on to consider the future of reporting mechanisms on violence against children.
Over the past fifteen years, the Council of Europe has delivered many innovative tools and recommendations which contribute to preventing such violence.
But when it comes to domestic legislation and policy regarding reporting mechanisms, there remains a weak spot to address.
Violence ranges from highly visible abuses to largely hidden violence, such as domestic and child abuse, and we know that these remain underreported.
And through the work of the Lanzarote Committee, we have seen that many professions are under no obligation to report incidents or suspicion of violence against children.
So, you will have the important opportunity to explore how impunity might be ended and children better protected through clear guidance and obligations set for professionals and institutions working with children.
You will also have the responsibility of addressing one of the most sensitive subjects of all.
We know that about one in five children become victims of sexual violence and that 80% of those children fall victim to someone they trust.
In the recent years, the Council of Europe has invested in addressing the problem of adults from the circle of trust preying on children.
But it is now time to look at how to prevent and respond to the harmful sexual behaviour of children.
Legal and child protection systems are often unprepared for this very sensitive and complex issue.
Professionals dealing with the child who harms another child, with the victim, and with their families need guidance to find and apply solutions that take into account the rights and interests of all those involved.
This is difficult, but it is necessary.
- It is also essential that our member states are encouraged and empowered to
tackle the issue of migration of children in a responsible manner and in line with international humanitarian and human rights standards.
In that regard, the Committee of Ministers has recently entrusted you with finalising the stream of work on age assessment procedures.
This is an important issue concerning children’s rights, including children who are undocumented and particularly vulnerable.
And I know that this will weigh heavily on your minds as you work to further harmonise European policies and practices in line with international humanitarian and human rights standards.
- Lastly, you will also have the task of following up to recently adopted standards:
These include the implementation of the Recommendation on Guidelines to respect, protect and fulfil the rights of the child in the digital environment.
And I am aware that many of you have helped prepare these in the CAHENF.
Follow up will include working closely with others such as the Committee of the Data Protection Convention, and I know that you will make good progress together.
Moving forward, I wish your Committee and each of your delegations inspiration and success.
And I encourage both national delegations and observers contributing to the work to make the most of the upcoming biennium, to implement an innovative and ambitious work programme, and to make a substantial difference for advancing the rights of the child in Europe.
Children across Europe stand to benefit from your commitment and the destination will be worth your every effort.
Congratulations on your first meeting: let the good work begin today.