30th Anniversary of the Convention of the Rights of the Child
Last Updated: 27 November 2019
30th Anniversary of the Convention of the Rights of the Child
Where are We Now? […and What Can We Do?]
November 20th marked the thirtieth anniversary of the ratification of the Convention of the Rights of the Child- an effort that resulted from nearly 30 years of prior negotiations between states, organisations, charities, and institutions. Today, the Convention is the most widely ratified document in the world, with 195 countries demonstrating their desire and will to uphold the protection framework that encompasses some of the world’s most vulnerable groups. In Europe, these groups include children from Roma, Sinti, and Traveller communities as well as refugee children. Although progress has been achieved since the Convention was first ratified, gaps in implementation have resulted in circumstances where these particular groups are left behind.
Access to Basic Services
Article 24, 26, and 27 of the Convention clearly outline a child’s right to basic services. These services include preventative healthcare, social security, and assistance which will ensure that every child is able to have an adequate standard of living that allows for their physical, mental, spiritual, moral, and social development. However, equal access to these services is not something that has yet been accomplished in Europe. Children from Roma, Sinti, and Traveller communities must overcome barriers due to language differences, mistrust, and lack of means in order to access healthcare services.2 This is incredibly problematic since Infant Mortality Rates are already significantly higher for Roma children than non-Roma children in countries like Bulgaria, Hungary, Macedonia, Montenegro, and Romania and overall life expectancy for Roma individuals is lower than non-Roma individuals.3 This problem is exacerbated by lack of housing in many European countries, which can result in overcrowded living conditions that may lack sanitary facilities or clean drinking water.4 Refugee children face similar issues to Roma children when attempting to access basic services, which may include a lack of proper documentation, a lack of knowledge regarding eligibility to these services, and being placed in detention which prevents their access altogether.5
Access to Education
Education is another basic service which fosters a child’s physical, moral, and social development and is a right outlined in Article 24(e), 28, and 29 of the Convention. Although targeted measures have been established in order to address gaps in access, barriers which result in unequal access for Roma and refugee children persist. These include language barriers, lack of resources for the necessary study materials and supplies, and high mobility.6 Refugee children in particular suffer from a lack of psychosocial support in school as well as a lack of make-up classes to help them catch up from extended periods of school absence.7 School segregation for Roma children as well as placement in parallel ‘special’ schools is also prevalent in countries like Albania, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Macedonia, and Montenegro, which results in a lower quality of education and an inhibited ability to move on to secondary education and difficulty eventually entering the job market.8
Experiences of Discrimination
Another factor which inhibits access to basic services is the perpetuation of discrimination. The root of this discrimination is the prevalence of stereotypes and racism which, in the case of Roma and refugees, involve pre-conceived notions like ‘they are criminals’, ‘they don’t want to integrate into society’, and ‘they are a societal burden’. For Roma populations, these stereotypes and the resulting prejudice is considered to be a particular kind of racism referred to as ‘antigypsyism’.
Article 2 of the Convention clearly states that ‘State parties shall respect and ensure that the rights set forth for every child without discrimination of any kind irrespective of the child or parents’ race, colour, religion, ethnic or social origin ’ and ‘State parties shall take action to ensure that a child is protected from all forms of discrimination on any basis’.9 Despite this delineation, experiences of discrimination are widespread throughout Europe, which not only fuel feelings of exclusion but can render Roma and refugee children vulnerable to exploitation and violence.
Experiences of Violence
Although Articles 6 and 19 calls on State parties to ensure a child’s inherent right to life through the implementation of measures to prevent them from experiencing violence in any form, the existence of stereotypes has resulted in the exhibition of violence against Roma and refugee children. Although in many cases the exhibitions of violence may be directed towards the parents of these children rather than the children themselves, the impact that witnessing hate speech, threats, intimidation, or racially motivated violence cannot be understated.
Recent developments have also seen extreme instances of mistreatment of refugee children in Europe, particularly at EU borders where refugee children have been experiencing violent rejections.10 Such instances of violence have been known to occur in Italy as well as instances where refugee children were robbed of their mobile phones and beaten by Croatian border guards.11 Not only do occurrences such as these blatantly violate the Convention, but they go against the value of children’s rights that unites the European Union and Europe as a whole.
Vulnerability to Exploitation
When children face violent border rejections and find safe migration routes closed to them, they are rendered more vulnerable to exploitation or to further violence by trafficking. This is in direct violation of Article 22 of the Convention, which outlines the obligation of a State to ensure that a child seeking refuge or is recognised as a refugee receives appropriate humanitarian assistance and protection, whether or not they are unaccompanied.12 In addition to a lack of safe migration routes, both Roma and refugee children are rendered more vulnerable to exploitation inside the borders of Europe, where inhibited access to basic services can leave little options in order to survive. States that have ratified the Convention also must work to prevent and protect children from any form of exploitation (Articles 19, 32, 34, and 36) and ensure that appropriate measures are taken to promote recovery and reintegration if a child is exploited in any way, shape, or form (Article 39).
Although the Convention of the Rights of the Child is a comprehensive treaty which seeks to address various aspects of a child’s life in order to promote their inherent dignity and freedoms, gaps in the established protection framework can result in a cyclical effect where a deficiency in one area can perpetuate a deficiency in another. For example, experiences of discrimination influencing access to basic services or rendering a child more vulnerable to violence and exploitation. It is important to take this into account when advocating for or developing targeted measures to address these deficiencies.
In closing, this article should not be seen as entirely negative and failing to see the progress that has been made throughout Europe in regard to the rights of refugee and Roma children, rather it should be regarded as a reminder that there is always further work to be done. The existence of human rights treaties is not enough if there are gaps in the implementation of the protection framework which leave behind Europe’s most vulnerable populations.
What Can We Do? The Role of the Church
As a network, The Salvation Army is a formidable force is ensuring the implementation of the Convention. The Church itself can contribute to this goal in a variety of ways, foremost being awareness and/or fundraising, which is vital in drawing attention to gaps in the implementation of the Convention and especially important in shattering stereotypes which can result in the gaps in the first place. Another way that the Church could contribute is through the establishment of preschool centres to promote a solid base for which children can begin their education.The establishment of tutoring groups would also be beneficial, since Roma and refugee children both may struggle to catch up after long periods of absence.
It is also important to remember that a lot of important work does not require any funds or organisational time. Some of the most vital work can be done on an individual level- spreading awareness by sharing knowledge person-to-person or volunteering at local organisations and NGOs. Every individual effort matters.
Considerations for The Salvation Army Network:
- The Salvation Army’s work is integral in the implementation of the Convention.
- The Salvation Army must consider in what ways first-hand experience with these populations can be utilised in order to identify and advocate to address gaps in implementation.
 Profuturo, The history of the ‘Convention of the Rights of the Child’, 2017.
2 EuroCities, Mapping the Situation of Roma in Cities in Europe, 2017.
3 Decade of Roma Inclusion Secretariat Foundation, ‘Roma Inclusion Index’, 2015.
4 EuroCities, supra note 2
5 Europa, Action Document for ‘EU Global Promotion of Best Practices for Children in Migration’, 2019.
6 EuroCities, supra note 2
7 ReliefWeb, ‘Access to Education for Refugee and Migrant Children in Europe’, 2019
8 Decade of Roma Inclusion Secretariat Foundation, supra note 3
9 United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner, ‘Convention on the Rights of the Child’, 1989.
10 DW, ‘Refugee children facing violence at EU borders’, 2018.
11 DW, supra note 10.
12 United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner, supra note 9.