The European Union and child rights

Menu: Child rights in the European Union | The EU and the European Convention on Human Rights | EU policies and programmes | External relations |

Child rights in the European Union

When the Treaty of Lisbon entered into force on 1 December 2009, it gave the 2007 Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union the same legal status as the treaties within EU law. Article 24 is the main provision of the charter that makes reference to children, including principles such as the best interests of the child, a right of children to protection and care, and a right for children to have direct contact with his or her parents, unless contrary to his or her interests.

This does not mean that cases can be brought directly using the Charter nor that EU institutions can legislate to further its rights. Both article 6 of the amended Treaty on the European Union and article 51(2) of the Charter itself make it clear that the Charter does not extend the competencies of the European Union's institutions.

However, when European law is already engaged, that law must be interpreted in accordance with Charter rights. If EU law touched on a custody suit, the relevant legislation would have to be interpreted in light of article 24 of the Charter. For an example of where European Court of Justice case law requires EU law to be interpreted in accordance with the Charter in the context of children's rights, see: J.McB V L.E. [2010] C-400/10 PPU

Consolidated versions of the EU treaties and the Charter of Fundamental rights can be found through the EU website.

Learn more about the European Union here.

The EU and the European Convention on Human Rights

As a result of the Treaty of Lisbon, article 6(2) of the amended Treaty on the European Union provides that "the Union shall accede to the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms" (ECHR).

An informal working group met between July of 2010 and June of 2011 on the development of an accession instrument, and an extraordinary meeting of the Steering Committee for Human Rights (CDDH) will consider the results of the working group in October 2011. The CDDH is then expected to submit an accession agreement to the Committee of Ministers and the Council of Europe. The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and the two European Courts will be given the opportunity to submit an opinion on the agreement, which must then be adopted by the Committee of Ministers. The accession to the ECHR will only enter into force with the ratification of the agreement by all State Parties of the ECHR and the EU itself.

The Council of Europe, comprised of 47 members including the 27 member states of the EU, is different from the European Union (EU) and is an international organisation in its own right.

Read more:

EU policies and programmes

On 4 July 2006, the European Commission launched a Communication called "Towards an EU Strategy on the Rights of the Child". The Aim was to establish a comprehensive approach to children's rights in both internal and external EU-policies.

It contained seven long-term objectives (such as fighting child poverty), and short-term measures (including a telephone help-line for children to access from all over Europe). It also required the Commission to appoint a "Co-ordinator of the Rights of the Child", to act as a contact person and ensure co-ordination.

On 15 February 2011, this communication was succeeded by the Communication "An EU Agenda for the Rights of the Child". The communication laid out 11 actions for the coming year aimed at making the justice systems within the EU more child-friendly. Actions included adopting a proposal for a directive on victims' rights to raise the level of protection for vulnerable victims (including children) and tabling a directive on special safeguards for suspected or accused persons who are vulnerable (including children). The communication has been described as "weak on measures that will ensure the implementation of the commitments made on children's rights" by some within the child rights community.

Read more:

The European Union has adopted about 50 legislative and non-legislative documents. The former include regulations, directives and decisions while the latter include green papers, communications, reports, studies, and declarations. They are all used as instruments to promote children's rights in areas including:

  • asylum and immigration,
  • justice and family matters,
  • child trafficking and prostitution,
  • violence against children,
  • child safety on the internet and TV,
  • discrimination and social exclusion,
  • child poverty,
  • child labour (including trade agreements committing to the abolition of child labour),
  • health and education
  • children in armed conflict.

In 2009, the EU also began a programme on the rights of child victims of crime as part of the Children in the Union: Rights and Empowerment (CURE) initiative, which produced an official report in 2010, including recommendations to the Commission and the Member States of the EU.

In addition, it has also developed financial assistance programmes. These include:

  • DAPHNEE II on violence against children, young people and women,
  • AGIS on trafficking in human beings and the sexual exploitation of women and children, as part of the fight against organised crime,
  • Safer Internet Plus to promote safer use of internet particularly for children
  • Twenty five children's rights projects identified as priorities within the European Initiative for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR ) in 2001, and main streamed in funding from 2002-2004. More information

For a complete list of areas covered please click here and for documents and lists of projects click here

External relations

In recent years, the EU has focused on children in its external relations. For example, it adopted the "EU Guidelines on Children in armed conflicts" in December 2003. The European Commission's Humanitarian Aid Office (ECHO) has financed projects relating to children (e.g feeding, vaccination, primary education, and reintegration of child soldiers) and has identified children as a priority in its last two annual strategic plans and guidelines. Other projects also have been financed under the European Initiative for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR), as seen above.

Finally, the European Commission incorporates a "human rights clause" into nearly all EU agreements with third countries. It has also incorporated human rights into the conditions required for countries wanting to join the EU. Candidate countries must respect those EU principles common to Member States.




      Please note that these reports are hosted by CRIN as a resource for Child Rights campaigners, researchers and other interested parties. Unless otherwise stated, they are not the work of CRIN and their inclusion in our database does not necessarily signify endorsement or agreement with their content by CRIN.