After an unusual summer break, an untypical back-to-school period is following. As millions of children across the European Union returned to school, packing schoolbags this year meant including hand sanitizers, facemasks and carefully reading the security and hygiene instructions.

School principals and teachers found themselves drawing demarcation lines on school hallways and courtyards, preparing meticulous plans for sanitary and hygiene measures, and for staggering the start and close of the school day, recreational breaks and meal-times.

But this year’s return to school is also marked by joy: it adds some long-awaited normalcy, a familiar and welcome daily routine. It means seeing school friends and teachers and finally learning again together, after months of isolated home-schooling.

At the height of the pandemic some 1.5 billion children were out of school world-wide due to confinement. Being out of school for an extended period may at first seem like an unexpected holiday to a child, but the long-term impact on a child’s development is very significant. The Covid-19 outbreak highlighted that we need to prepare for uncertainty and risk and that we need to help our children to be well prepared and strengthen their resilience, mentally and physically, for an equal start in life and a future filled with opportunities.

Children represent almost 20% of the EU population, which translates into 90 million persons. President von der Leyen has said that “we need to invest more in the future of our children”.  The message is clear and we need to act, and even more so now. 

A central part of this action is our work on the new comprehensive EU strategy for the rights of the child, to be adopted in early 2021. We will not shy away from being ambitious.  This new strategy will provide for an action-oriented policy framework that pools all internal and external EU actions on children’s rights under one umbrella. It will contribute to mainstreaming children‘s rights across the six political priorities of the current Commission mandate.

The strategy will centre, among others, on the protection of vulnerable children, the protection of children online and against all forms of violence. We will secure the protection of children with disabilities, minority children, Roma, migrant children and unaccompanied minors, throughout all thematic pillars of the strategy. We want to ensure that all children in the EU are entitled to the same protection and access to services such as education, healthcare and socio-economic support, regardless of their background, social or residence status. The global dimension of the EU’s action on children’s rights will feature horizontally throughout the strategy. Embedded in the UN convention on the rights of the child, the strategy will help lead and promote the EU’s work on children’s rights in the multilateral context. A child is a child, no matter where and our work has the best interest of the child at heart.  

VP Suica Back to school

I would like to borrow the words of Nelson Mandela: “Our children are the rock on which our future will be built, our greatest asset as a nation. They will be the leaders of our country, the creators of our national wealth who care for and protect our people.” In this spirit, the comprehensive strategy on the rights of the child will help strengthen the active participation of children in the EUs democratic and political life. I am profoundly impressed and humbled when I see the activism and engagement of young people around me. Informed and outspoken, they are often at the forefront against climate change, injustice and discrimination, including in the recent, justified outcry against racism.  This is inspiring and encouraging. We need to listen and not only look to the role of children in the future of our Union, but also in its present.

Therefore, for the strategy to live up to its ambitions we need the cooperation and advice of all relevant stakeholders, civil society, NGOs and, of course, children. The public consultation on the child rights strategy was launched by the Commission on 1 September and consultations with children have already started during the summer period. I am also very much looking forward to the European Forum on the Rights of the Child, which will take place from 29 September to 1 October. This Forum, held virtually this year, will be an excellent opportunity to exchange and listen to many child rights organisations, member state and international experts and some 60 children whose participation I am very excited about. The discussions and deliberations of this Forum will feed directly into our strategy and our work on children’s rights. This is our joint project, we all own it and owe it to future generations, the future of Europe and we will also promote the protection of children’s rights beyond the borders of our Union.

As my portfolio covers work on demography, it includes the full life cycle: from children to the elderly. In my next blog, I will write about our work on active ageing, the elderly and the Green Paper on Ageing.

Until then, stay healthy and I wish you all a safe and successful back-to-school and back-to-work season.

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