On Saturday, we will be voting for our new Members of the European Parliament. Over the past few months candidates have presented us with their electoral manifestos. As voters, we have a duty to evaluate their proposals, to ensure that we vote in those candidates who will champion a Europe which is truly and effectively based on the respect of human rights. We need to vote for those candidates that effectively believe in ensuring human dignity to each and every member of our society, whoever they are, and wherever they may come from, especially, to the most vulnerable amongst us, in particular, children.
We need to ensure that we vote in those candidates who believe that the rights of our children should be at the heart of European policy. Earlier this month, as President of Eurochild, I was invited to address the very first Children’s summit organised by the Romanian Presidency of the Council of the EU. This initiative, which set a precedent, placed children’s rights and more specifically child participation in decision-making as an integral part of the European agenda, for this term.
Through the many contributions by children, coming from across the European Union and from different cultures, we repeatedly heard that children are being left out of the decision-making processes in their respective countries. We also heard that, where it exists, child participation is still in a preliminary phase, and on a global scale, structured child participation, is just a dream.
Children meeting in the heart of the Romanian capital insisted that this status quo needs to change. European children told us that they continue to feel ostracised from decisions that are directly impacting their lives.
On the other hand, their statements were evidence that, as adults, we are failing them, as we are not ensuring their fundamental right to enjoy their full dignity, their healthy development, and their holistic wellbeing. It is therefore essential that we have a European Parliament that truly listens to children, and ensures a structured child-participation process, that influences decisions that affect our children’s lives directly.
Unfortunately, cultural attitudes that exist view children as passive rather than active contributors to our society.
The paternalistic mentality, which is still present, many a time overprotects children, rather than helps them reach their full potential. Such cultural attitudes and paternalistic mentalities must be overcome, so that we do not hinder child participation. In this way, our children can become active citizens, critical thinkers and valid contributors to our society.
On the other hand, we are at a critical juncture in child activism history.
Child activists like Greta Thunberg; Malala Yousafzai; the ‘March for Our Lives’ – the student-led demonstrations in support of stronger gun violence prevention measures; the youth climate change protests and other instances of children and youth activism in our times, are highlighting the value added that youth and child participation can bring to our communities, countries and our world, in general.
Children are game changers and they have the potential to be effective contributors for the benefit of our entire human family. In embracing child participation, we must nonetheless make sure that it will not be frivolous, and instead develop meaningful and structured child participation processes.
Let us remember that, as the European Union, we are committed, and we have obligations, to ensure child participation, as this is a right enshrined in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which this year marks its thirtieth anniversary.
On the 25th May, we therefore need to use our vote to make a difference. We need to elect representatives that believe in children’s rights and structured child participation so that children will truly be at the heart of European politics.
In this regard, initiatives like the #VoteforChildren coalition campaign are of significant importance. European children’s rights organisations joined forces to recruit a new generation of MEPs to be ‘Child Rights Champions’.
Therefore, I urge all the voters of the upcoming European Parliamentary Elections, to vote for those candidates who believe in children as valued contributors in our society.
This is an opinion piece by H.E. Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca, President of Eurochild.