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EU Guidelines on the Rights of the Child: Frequently Asked Questions

The revised EU Guidelines on the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of the Child were adopted by EU Foreign Ministers on 6 March. The Guidelines reaffirm the commitment of the EU to children’s rights and outline the approach and actions the EU wishes to take to implement its overarching strategy to promote and protect the rights of all children in partner countries. These youth-friendly FAQs aim to give you all the information you need to know on the content of these Guidelines.

All elements of the system must work together to promote the rights of every child.

1. Why has the EU written these Guidelines?

The European Union (EU) first wrote Guidelines on Children’s Rights back in 2007. Because so much has happened between 2007 and now, the EU wanted to update them. There are Guidelines on a number of human rights issues. Guidelines show, firstly, that the EU thinks a subject is important and secondly, they say what the EU will do about it. So with these Guidelines, the EU wants to show how committed it is to children’s rights. All children’s rights, everywhere.

The Guidelines take the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) as their starting point, because almost every country in the world has committed to the Convention. They show how the different parts of the EU will work with partner countries to further children’s rights. They also show that every policy area and every person in the EU system can play a part in promoting and protecting children’s rights. The EU recognises that governments are mainly responsible for realising children’s rights. But other actors, like the EU, can help governments. So the Guidelines provide examples of what the EU will do.

2. Who are these Guidelines for?

The Guidelines are for all people working in the EU institutions (like the European Commission) and EU Member States whether they are working in Headquarters or in EU offices in your country (called EU Delegations). They are for all EU staff working on policies which impact on your country, like foreign, security, migration, trade and other policies.
They are not only for people working on Human Rights or gender equality!

3. Why are the Guidelines being updated now?

In 2015, world leaders agreed the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.[1] That means all countries have committed once again to providing children with everything they need to reach their full potential (like education, healthcare, protection, clean water, enough good food etc). One of the key mottos of the 2030 Agenda is “leave no one behind”. Everyone must benefit from progress and especially people – like children – who are the furthest away at the moment from having what they need to lead a good life. That is the reason why part of the title of the Guidelines is ‘Leave No Child Behind’.

There have been other changes too, both inside the EU and outside it, which meant that the Guidelines were becoming a bit old. One of the changes inside the EU is the way the EU will now try to ‘take a rights-based approach’ (explained below) – it wants to change the way it tries to make sure that people’s rights are fulfilled.
So the updated Guidelines explain to EU staff how to include all these changes in their work.

4. How will the EU use the Guidelines?

The Guidelines explain the actions that EU staff should take – what they should do, why and how.
The first sections go into the ‘why’ and the ‘how’ (the approach). The ‘Operational Guidelines’ section – perhaps the most important section - goes into the ‘what’. The actions are divided into two parts for each type of action: a) things that the EU itself should do and b) things that the EU should work with your governments and other partners (like children’s rights organisations) to achieve.

5. How can you use the EU Guidelines on Children’s Rights?

Children and young people could engage with the EU Delegation in their country to ask what the Delegation will be doing to improve the children’s rights situation. You could also provide ideas about what you think are the most important issues to deal with.  If you have a children’s parliament, or other kind of children’s/young people’s association, you might like to work through them. Most EU Delegations have either a Facebook account or a Twitter account, or both, so this would be another way to ask questions or post a comment, especially if you don’t live in the capital.

It is important to remember that these Guidelines are aiming to improve the situation for ALL children in the country (as explained below under ‘systems strengthening approach’), but the EU is not able to act on behalf of individual children. Most of its work is done towards the government of your country.

6. The EU says it will adopt a “rights-based approach” - what’s that?

Since 2012, the EU has been trying to move towards a rights-based approach; for children that means the EU must take account of children’s rights standards and principles in all its work – including in the projects it pays for.

There are some important principles which are in the UNCRC that the EU has also included in its Guidelines. For example, the fact that all children have the same rights and no one can take those rights away from you and that the EU should be open (and should request your governments to be open) about what they are doing for children’s rights. A rights-based approach also means that we must all try to reach the children who have so far been left the furthest behind FIRST now.

In the case of children’s rights there are also four very special rights, called the General Principles of the UNCRC. These deal with the best interests of the child, non-discrimination, the right to be heard and the right to life, survival and development. The best interest of the child means that all adults should do what is best for children in all their decisions and actions which could affect children. The principle of non-discrimination means that anyone, including the EU, making decisions or taking actions about children must be fair for all children, with equal opportunities given to all children. The right to be heard means that people taking decisions about children should discuss them with children to get their opinion. The right to life, survival and development means that no one can take a child’s life away and must do their best so that children can develop to their full potential.
Because these principles are so important in making all the other articles in the Convention happen, the EU will consider them when it is designing and carrying out EU policy and actions affecting children.

7. The Guidelines talk about “mainstreaming children's rights” – what does that mean?

Mainstreaming means that the EU will consider children’s rights in all policies, actions and projects. So, no matter what the issue, EU officials must make sure that they include a children’s angle (ie. a benefit to children). It also means that staff must make sure that there will not be any negative impacts on children of an EU policy, action or programme.
From now, the EU will try to include children’s rights in sectors like energy, agriculture, transport or environment. This is good because sectors are very often interlinked – for example, energy and healthcare (eg. electricity or other form of energy is necessary to power fridges for medicines and vaccines, or machines for operations).

8. What is “systems-strengthening” and why have the guidelines adopted this approach?

For children’s rights to be achieved, countries have to make sure certain things happen. All ‘systems’ have a number of elements. The main ones include, for example, laws and policies, funding, services, coordinating and monitoring bodies, data collection, awareness-raising and training of staff. The State is responsible for most of this, but might be helped by others, like children’s rights organisations. All the elements of the system must be put in place and work properly if the system as a whole is to function properly. So, for example, all legislation must respect, and preferably promote, children’s rights, money must be set aside for services for children in line (eg. education, health care). This is known as a system-strengthening approach.

9. The Guidelines also talk about using the “General Measures of Implementation” (GMI). What are they and what is the difference between the GMI and the systems-strengthening approach?

The General Measures of Implementation (GMI) is the name the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child gave to the list of things that countries have to do to achieve children’s rights. These things are exactly the same as the elements of the system. The GMI therefore describe all the elements of the system but the UN Committee gave them a more formal name.
So there is no difference between the General Measures of Implementation (GMI) and the systems-strengthening approach. The GMI purposely focus on the elements of the system so that children’s rights will be achieved.

10. How will the EU change its way of working on children’s rights under the revised Guidelines?

One of the aims of the Guidelines is to make the children’s rights work of all staff of EU institutions and EU Member States more consistent. For this reason, the Guidelines give concrete examples of how and when to raise children’s rights using the system-strengthening approach. They also show how children’s rights are relevant for all staff, no matter the level of the staff member in the EU hierarchy or the subject they are working on.
As a result of these Guidelines, the EU’s work to promote and protect children’s rights should become more sustained and better thought-through.

11. Will there be any funding available to support the implementation of the Guidelines?

NO. These Guidelines most particularly address the approach that the EU takes to promoting and protecting children’s rights in its relations with partner countries. So, what the EU talks about with governments and where it puts pressure on them for change, as well as how it does its own work.

12. What sort of concrete actions could be carried out to implement these revised Guidelines?

Many examples of actions are suggested in the ‘Operational Guidelines’ section of the Guidelines.  They are divided into actions that EU staff can take themselves to improve their work on children’s rights and others that the EU should encourage governments and/or other bodies to do.

Actions for the EU include:

  • Ensure staff are trained on a rights-based approach to development cooperation.
  • Strengthen the focus on children’s rights in all cooperation and funding.
  • Work closely with civil society organisations to understand the main issues that children face as well as the best way to solve them.

Examples to support and encourage partner countries to:

  • Adopt a national strategy on the rights of the child based on a child rights, gender sensitive analysis of the situation of children in the country.
  • Design and implement child sensitive national budgeting to make children visible in budgets especially children in vulnerable situations[2].
  • Develop and strengthen independent institutions on the rights of the child, including national human rights institutions (NHRIs) and/or ombudspersons for children.
  • To collect and use of disaggregated data, which makes inequality and discrimination visible; by age, sex, gender, disability, racial, ethnic, social or other origin, and geographic location at a minimum. 

14. Will the EU monitor how well it is working on the Guidelines?

Yes. The Member States together with the EU institutions will regularly see how they are doing in helping children’s rights to be achieved. It would be a good idea to try to engage with the EU Delegation in your country to give your opinion on whether things have improved or if you have other ideas for the EU.


[1] Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, Resolution adopted by the General Assembly on 25 September 2015 (UNGA A/RES/70/1)  
[2] General Comment 19, CRC/C/GC/19, 2016, para 3, "children in vulnerable situations" are those who are particularly susceptible to violations of their rights, such as, but not limited to, children with disabilities, children in refugee situations, children from minority groups, children living in poverty, children in alternative care and children in conflict with the law.