Almost 25% of European children at risk of poverty or social exclusion

Shortly before International Children's Rights Day, DIPLOCAT, along with the Group of Entities of the Voluntary Sector of Catalonia and the Childhood Platform of Catalonia, organized an international conference on the rights of children and teenagers

DIPLOCAT and the Group of Entities of the Voluntary Sector of Catalonia, through the Childhood Platform of Catalonia, in collaboration with Eurochild and the Faculty of Social Education and Social Work of the Pere Tarrés Foundation - Ramon Llull University, have organised a new debate of the Social Europe series with the title "A new push for local and European action in defense of children's rights". This series is a space for debate and exchange of experiences on social challenges shared by different territories and actors of the European third social sector and the subject of this year was how to guarantee the rights of children.

According to the latest Eurostat data, nearly one in four children in the European Union is at risk of poverty or social exclusion. Spain has the third highest rate, with nearly one in three children growing up at risk of poverty or social exclusion, accounting for more than 2.6 million children. The conference allowed international and local actors to meet and reflect on how to respond to child poverty, both in Catalonia and in Europe. The entity Eurochild will soon publish the report "Children's Rights: Political will or won't", which includes the needs of children in each country and specific measure proposals for the governments of the 27 EU countries. Mieke Schuurman, who is the Director of Child Rights and Capacity Building of Eurochild, chaired the event and announced that the report will be available on 20 November, World Children's Day, at the website of the entity.

In her welcoming words, the Secretary General of DIPLOCAT, Laura Foraster i Lloret, said that "childhood must have legal and political guarantees for its rights". She added: "Faced with figures of children in vulnerable situations that we cannot accept, and with an eye on the European elections of June 2024 and the review of the European Pillar of Social Rights Action Plan in 2025 by the European Commission, we do not want to miss the opportunity to give voice to entities and experts working in the field of childhood and who know what the current problems and challenges are, with the ultimate goal of influencing and transferring recommendations for a new European social agenda that ensures the rights of children".

The coordinator of the Childhood Platform of Catalonia (PINCat), José Antonio Ruiz, stated that in Catalonia, a deterioration in the rights of children and teenagers is evident: "The increase in violence against children, whether sexual, gender-based, or school violence, and the entrenchment of child poverty and exclusion, which is at 32%, and the little improvement in early school leaving are of great concern. Both rates are among the highest in Europe. We also have a very clear aggravation of mental health problems and the consequences of a digital divide that does not reduce and an educational leisure that continues not to be universal for all girls, boys, and teenagers". At the conference, PINCat presented the main conclusions of the Report on the Rights of Children and Adolescence in Catalonia 2023, which updates the document presented two years ago.

The Secretary of Childhood, Adolescence, and Youth of the Government of Catalonia, Núria Valls, highlighted the main lines of work of the Government: "We are now prioritizing the 25 most important challenges of the Pact for Childhood, which we will present soon. We are very committed to the Barnahus strategy for protection against sexual violence against children and teenagers, and by the beginning of 2024 we will already have 13 Barnahus homes. Regarding the strategy of welcoming unaccompanied migrant youth, Catalonia has the political will to implement it. We are once again at very high levels of arrivals and want to see this as an opportunity so that these young people have their rights guaranteed and to be protagonists of their future, but at the same time, it is a complex challenge that requires everyone's involvement. We agree that we cannot afford to have such a high rate of child poverty and exclusion. It is a very important challenge and one that worries us greatly, and for this reason we plan to present the Strategy to Fight Child Poverty next March".

First round table

The first round table, "EU and global perspectives to advance on children's rights", was moderated by Roger Garcia, Child Policy Coordinator at the UNICEF Catalonia Committee (PINCAT).

Jiri Svarc, Head of Unit Social Policies at the Directorate-General of Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion of the European Commission, emphasized the importance of the European Child Guarantee initiative as a means to help children out of poverty and achieve equal opportunities. He also stressed the need to ensure access to services and provide additional support to children in poverty or inequality situations, and the importance of collaboration with national coordinators and civil society.

Stela Grigoras, Child Protection specialist at UNICEF Europe and Central Asia, highlighted the positive changes of the European Child Guarantee, especially for children in vulnerable situations. She noted that, despite good practices, there are big differences between countries in the implementation and data handling. She insisted on the need to ensure effective implementation of the guarantees, with technical support to member states and developing alliances at national and subnational levels.

Ricardo Ibarra, Director of the Spanish Children's Platform, explained that although the Child Guarantee cannot completely eliminate child poverty due to a lack of resources, it can have a significant impact in the most severe cases. He underlined the importance of acting in severe situations with targeted programs and the need to include children's voices in the construction, implementation, and evaluation of policies.

Ester Cabanes, General Director of Child and Adolescent Care of the Government of Catalonia, positively valued the European Child Guarantee as an essential part of the international agenda. She highlighted the importance of knowing the rights of children and teenagers, and the need for government and social support where families cannot reach. She emphasized the need for strategies to fight child poverty and violence against children.

Second round table

The second round table, "Proposals on the rights of the child agenda based on local and EU third sector perspective", was moderated by Ciaran O'Donnell, project manager at Eurochild. This table was primarily focused on the local level, complementing the national and international perspectives previously examined.

Mattia de Bei, Board Member of the Italian CNCA (National Coordination of Welcoming Communities) network, explained their work to combat poverty and marginalization, highlighting the critical situation of vulnerable children, especially the 25.000 unaccompanied minors in the country. He recalled a 2017 law that protects the rights of these minors and the need for an integrated approach in society, promoting restorative justice and empowering youth in the transition to adult life.

Henrik Nørgaard, who works for the Broen organization in Denmark, underlined the importance of extracurricular activities for children from disadvantaged families. He highlighted how these programs help prevent isolation and association with negative communities, promoting inclusion and active participation of children in society. Their work is crucial in connecting children with opportunities that allow them to grow in a positive and healthy environment.

Margaret White, director of Prisms in Malta, presented their projects on autism and support for socially disadvantaged youth. She spoke about issues like anxiety and depression, and the importance of human connections through initiatives like walks and creating safe spaces for youth, including those with autism.

Bettina Schwarzmayr, Educational Director at the Children and Youth Agency (WIENXTRA) at the City of Vienna (Austria), talked about her experience in child inclusion, highlighting the need to develop integrative strategies for unaccompanied minors, refugees, and children with disabilities, with workshops to understand and respond to their specific needs.

Elisenda Xifre, president of the Federation of Childhood and Adolescent Care Entities (FEDAIA) in Catalonia, explained how the entity leads efforts to support children and families in vulnerable situations, facing challenges like child poverty and school segregation. She highlighted digitalization as a key tool to improve management and care, and stressed the need to treat children as full-fledged citizens.

Conclusions and workshops

At the conclusion of the conference, Schuurman and Delgado agreed on the importance of cooperation and unity in the fight for children's rights. They emphasized that collaboration among various sectors is essential for achieving significant and lasting changes. Their message was clear: we can only overcome challenges and ensure a fairer and more  opportunity-filled future for children through joint efforts and firm commitment

After the conference, the international speakers held work sessions with staff from the Faculty of Social Work and Social Education of the Pere Tarrés Foundation in order to analyze the social impact of research in defining and advancing children's rights. Meetings are also planned with member entities of the PINCAT and the International Commission of the Group of Entities of the Voluntary Sector of Catalonia, as well as with Joan Llosada, coordinator of the Observatory of Childhood of the Department of Social Rights of the Government of Catalonia, to learn about some of the public policies being implemented and the current state of the situation in Catalonia.

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