EU member states must invest more in education, healthcare, housing, family support and childcare, making sure that these services reach all children.
“A child is first and foremost a child, regardless of ethnic origin, gender, nationality or social and economic background, ability, migration or residence status”, stated Parliament on Thursday in a resolution passed with 545 to 24 and 119 abstentions. The text highlights the huge toll that the COVID-19 crisis is having on children, further exacerbating their risk of poverty, severely affecting their access to education, compromising their physical and mental health and increasing the danger of being exposed to violence and abuse. MEPs urge the Commission to table, as announced, a legislative proposal to establish the European Child Guarantee in the first quarter of 2021.
All children must have the right to education
EU countries should take the necessary measures to guarantee the right to education for every child, prevent them from leaving school early and ensure gender-equitable access to inclusive education from early childhood, including for Romani children, children with disabilities and migrant children. “Digital education should never permanently replace in-person learning”, MEPs underline, also calling for age-appropriate information about sex and sexuality to be included in the school curriculum.
Integration and inclusion of migrant and refugee children
The situation of migrant children both within and outside the EU must improve, MEPs stress. Focus should be put on family reunification and adequate reception conditions, removing barriers to access basic services and integration measures. The text also demands that member states should avoid detaining children and guarantee that unaccompanied minors benefit from legal representatives and guardians.
Fight against sexual abuse
MEPs are particularly worried about sexual abuse against children, which has increased due to the pandemic and the lockdown, while social services and protective institutions have become highly inaccessible. As many as 23 EU member states have not yet implemented the 2011 directive on combating the sexual abuse and sexual exploitation of children and child pornography, which MEPs find unacceptable. The resolution also calls for an end, in law and in practice, to all child labour, and to prevent all forms of violence and exploitation, including forced marriage, trafficking, torture, honour killing, female genital mutilation, incest, forced school leaving and the use of children as soldiers.
“The current pandemic has exacerbated the inequalities experienced by so many children across Europe. We call on the Commission and the member states to allocate the necessary funds to protect them and to take concrete measures to end poverty, sexual abuse and exploitation”, said rapporteur Juan Fernando López Aguilar (S&D, ES) during the plenary debate on Wednesday.