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News article | 24 March 2021 | Service for Foreign Policy Instruments

Empowering and protecting children globally: contributing to EU’s work to promote the rights of the child

Every child should enjoy the same rights, without discrimination, wherever they live. Children in conflict or crisis region are particularly vulnerable, while those living in regions affected by poverty may be prone to child labour or human trafficking. Today, the European Commission has adopted its first comprehensive Strategy on the Rights of the Child, including actions to empower and protect children globally.

Over the past years, the EU has already delivered several actions around the globe to protect and promote the rights of the child, creating new opportunities and better lives for children and youth in vulnerable situations.

Promoting youth in peacebuilding actions

Following the large influx of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh in 2017, thousands of teenagers braving the dangers of displacement in a foreign country were forced to find a new life. No child should have to face these challenges on top of the difficulties associated with entering adulthood.

Since 2019, the EU has been supporting specific actions to enhance peaceful co-existence among refugee adolescents and youth in Bangladesh, by empowering them as agents of change. The EU-funded action, implemented by UNICEF, helped them fulfil aspirations towards a better life, preventing negative and violent behaviour within the local communities.

Overall results to date:

  • 5 Social Hubs were established in areas where five refugee camps border their host communities. Almost 17 000 refugee and host community teenagers took part in workshops developing life skills (basic literacy, computer skills, storytelling, etc.); group sessions on peacebuilding/peaceful coexistence; community work (notably through cleaning actions); recreational activities (games, sports, etc.); and counselling (notably through sensitization on abuses).
  • Over 3 500 teenagers were trained on peacebuilding, conflict resolution and tolerance skills. Many were able to put the lessons they learned from the life skills course into practice to support fellow young people.
  • Almost 500 religious leaders and law enforcement officers received orientation on positive messaging for youth (covering gender equality, the importance of youth engagement and messaging on preventing negative social norms, child trafficking and early marriage).
  • Over 8 000 parents participated in awareness sessions to encourage them to allow their children to attend the Social Hubs.
Rohingya girls playing

In Sudan, another EU-funded action sought to protect children affected by armed conflict from violence, abuse, and exploitation. It also fostered preventive child protection systems, including prevention of military recruitment of children through dialogues both with state security forces as well as with armed groups. Its overall results include:

  • 43 children formerly associated with armed groups and in military detention were released and re-integrated through community-based reintegration programs, including family reunification, psychosocial support and access to education;
  • over 1 500 members of the Sudan Armed Forces and other security forces have been trained on the protection of children affected by conflict;
  • comprehensive age verification exercises conducted in barracks across the country to raise awareness, build capacity of officers engaged in the recruitment process and to demobilize children if/when identified and provide them with a holistic family tracing and reunification package.

Ending Child Labour for Peace and Stability

  • The EU has helped to protect 1500 exploited children in Mali and Senegal by providing education and social reintegration work for those who have been victims of child labour. Children were reintegrated with their families and in formal education. At the same, the community learned about local mechanisms of child exploitation and found solutions to build long-term stability. This was part of an EU-funded project through the Instrument contributing to Stability and Peace, which contributes to EU’s efforts to fight child labour and build lasting peace in the Sahel.

Tackling child trafficking and ensuring safety for children

Child trafficking has become an increasing global phenomenon that affects communities around the globe and many times involve criminal trans-national networks.

The EU-funded project ‘Enhancing action against Transnational Organized Crime in Africa’ (ENACT) undertook a comprehensive research into transnational organised crime affecting children’s rights and safety across Africa.

In West Africa, the exploitation of children is one of the fastest-growing criminal industries. Taking children from Guinea-Bissau to Senegal and forcing them to beg on the streets has become the most visible form of human trafficking in both countries. Forced to beg: child trafficking from Guinea-Bissau to Senegal provides practical guidance for policy-makers to tackle the phenomenon.

In Kenya, 20% of trafficking victims are underage. Abuse of children is a crime, and even more so when it is conducted for the sake of profit. A series of media investigations link charitable children’s institutions to child trafficking and forced begging networks, both locally in Kenya and regionally involving Uganda and Tanzania. Protecting Kenya’s most vulnerable children report looks into the situation in the region and provides policy advice on tackling trafficking of children.

At the same time, the Human smuggling in Africa: rethinking responses report focuses on new responses to the trafficking and smuggling phenomena. This include focusing more on actions which have at their core prevention and harm reduction, which have a positive implication for children’s rights and safety.

As part of the EU-ENACT project, Interpol conducted a series of capacity building measures, trained and mentored 4 criminal analysis units in Malawi, Congo, Uganda and Niger. As a result, the criminal intelligence analysis unit based in Congo has successfully disrupted 2 children trafficking networks and permitted the return of five children to their respective families. The victims, children from Mali and Congo, were either compelled to forced-labor or to commit theft and burglary. A more strategic analytical report on child trafficking in Congo is currently under preparation.

Preventing and responding to violence against children by terrorist and violent extremism groups

The EU’s work encompasses also actions focusing on some of the world’s most vulnerable children: children recruited and exploited by terrorist and violent extremist groups.

This has short and long-term implications, for the children themselves, who are often victims of extreme brutality, and for society as a whole. Because once associated with these groups, these children may end up perpetrating acts of violence themselves.

In response to this increasing challenge, the European Union is supporting a global programme ‘STRIVE –Strengthening Resilience to Violent Extremism’. It is empowering women and youth, promoting community dialogue, strengthening local actors, and improving the capacity of media and education sectors to address radicalising ideologies.

As part of this programme, STRIVE Juvenile acknowledges that children can be extremely vulnerable to terrorist tactics. It promotes the rehabilitation and reintegration of children who were once associated with terrorist and violent extremist groups, empowering them and thus helping build peaceful societies.

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