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Universal Children's Day: Joint Statement by the European Commission and the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy

On the occasion of Universal Children's Day on 20 November, the European Commission and the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy stated the following:

This year has shown more than ever how crises disrupt children's lives, no matter which country they live in. The coronavirus pandemic and its socio-economic consequences are having a serious and potentially long-term impact on children's learning, well-being, development and protection. Children risk falling behind in their education, falling into poverty and becoming victims of violence, abuse and neglect. Many children are struggling with limited or unequal access to services and care. The pandemic has shone a light on the deep inequalities that persist and exposed serious gaps in child protection systems all over the world.

Over 1.5 billion students across the world have been affected by school closures and at least 1 in 3 – more than 460 million – cannot access remote learning. For many children, particularly those already living in conflict zones or extreme hardship , going to school means much more than access to education; it also means access to water and sanitation, nutrition, care and safety which they would not otherwise have. Not having this access means that many of them have fallen into extreme poverty or are obliged to abandon education and find work. To tackle these issues, in September the EU together with UNICEF sent out an S.O.S message to the world to promote actions to maintain access to education for every child.

The pandemic has also increased the reports of child sexual abuses online. In July the EU adopted the EU Strategy for a more effective fight against child sexual abuse and in September a legislative proposal to ensure that companies can continue detecting, reporting and removing child sexual abuse onlineThe EU also continues to implement the CLEAR Cotton project, that monitors children's situation to ensure they do not fall back into child labour and drop out of school completely.

The newly adopted EU Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy 2020-2024 sets out actions to promote, protect and fulfil all rights of all children. Its implementation will be supported by the Multiannual Financial Framework 2021-2027, which reaffirms the importance of the rights of the child through geographic programmes and thematic initiatives.

Our next step is to adopt the EU Strategy on the rights of the child in 2021, to address the challenges that have emerged from the pandemic, propose actions to strengthen child participation, protection and promotion of the rights of the child at all levels, in the EU and globally. This goes hand in hand with a Recommendation for a European Child Guarantee that we will put forward next year. The European Child Guarantee will help Member States to work towards the goal of ensuring children at risk of poverty or social exclusion have access to essential services like education, healthcare, food and quality housing.

Children have the unmatched opportunity to be the greatest agents of change. It is our collective responsibility to give them the means to reach their full potential; this is how we build free, inclusive, prosperous, peaceful and democratic societies.


The EU strives to mitigate the harmful impact of the coronavirus pandemic, adapting its projects all over the world to focus on the impact of the pandemic and taking the best interests of the child into account. In Africa, the EU invested €10 million to address child protection issues arising from and exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic through a programme of the Joining Forces Initiative. The EU also swiftly refocussed the EU-UN Spotlight Initiative to counter the increase of violence against women and girls. More than €21 million have been frontloaded to prioritise helplines and shelters for survivors in South East Asia, Africa and Latin America Pacific and Caribbean.

Since the 2018 Communication on education in emergencies and protracted crises, the EU continued to focus its actions to bring out-of-school children back into safe and quality education. The EU's commitment to education in emergencies is maintained at the level of 10% of its humanitarian aid budget. The EU leads by example to overcome inequalities and turn the coronavirus education crisis into an opportunity to build better, more inclusive and more equitable education, going hand-in-hand with protection of the most vulnerable. The EU also supports humanitarian child protection projects, including on prevention and response to violence, prevention of the recruitment and use of children, family tracing and reunification, psychosocial support and support to unaccompanied and separated children.

Through its continuous efforts toward the elimination of child labour and its cooperation with the ILO, the EU contributed to the universal ratification in 2020 of the ILO worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, 1999, n°182. The EU Sustainable Cocoa Initiative launched in September will help to reduce child labour highly prevalent in the main cocoa producer countries.

When it comes to children in migration, the New Pact on Migration and Asylum presented on 23 September 2020 puts the best interest of the child at the forefront and includes strengthened safeguards for migrant children. In October 2020, the EU, in partnership with UNICEF and UNHCR, launched the programme EU Global promotion of best practices for children in migration to increase the use of alternative care options to replace immigration detention. The programme Protecting Children affected by migration in Southeast, South, and Central Asia, launched in January 2018, continues to support access to national protection systems for all children. Since 2011, the EU provides support to strengthen regional and cross-border cooperation on child protection through the West Africa Network for the protection of children on the move.

The EU continues to support two UNICEF-UNFPA global programmes addressing child, early and forced child marriage and eliminating female genital mutilation through its Spotlight Africa Regional Programme (Stream II).

The EU commitment to children's wellbeing offline and online remains a key priority. In 2020, the Safer Internet Centres funded by the EU run a specific awareness raising campaign and continued to provide helplines for supporting young users increasingly facing online risks, and hotline services for reporting child sexual abuse material.

The EU Strategy for a more effective fight against child sexual abuse presented in July aims to tackle child sexual abuse by putting in place a strong legal framework, improving coordination, and addressing child sexual abuse from all angles, including prevention, investigation and assistance to victims. In September, the Commission proposed an interim Regulation to ensure that providers of online communications services can continue detecting, reporting and removing child sexual abuse online beyond 21 December 2020. In 2021, the Commission will propose long-term legislation to tackle child sexual abuse and to replace the interim Regulation. The EU continues to support the WeProtect Global Alliance to end child sexual abuse online (WPGA), including by participating in its policy board.

The EU has developed a €13 million programme for quality alternative care for children and deinstitutionalisation in which five projects are being implemented in Armenia, Burundi, Cambodia, Georgia and Myanmar. EU initiatives in as many as 17 enlargement and neighbourhood partners contribute to preventing the separation of families and strengthening quality alternative care for children without sufficient parental care. The EU has approved a Decision to facilitate the access to justice for children on the move in West Africa (€7.9 million), that will be implemented by UNICEF in Burkina Faso, Guinea Conakry, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Nigeria.

Related to the EU's work on the Syria crisis, the EU and UNICEF have together published ‘The Book of Dreams', telling the stories, hopes and dreams of children affected by the Syrian war. This book is a tribute to the children of Syria and the region, highlighting the EU-UNICEF partnership supporting them.

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