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Interview with EEAS: Leave No Child Behind

6 March 2017
"Children's rights are everyone's business." That's the message from Eileen Gonnord, who is responsible for children's rights at the European External Action Service. We spoke to Eileen to get her thoughts on the newly adopted EU Guidelines for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of the Child and the impact they will have on children around the world.

Children at school in Ghana

Agenda 2030 commits to leave no one behind. How will these guidelines help the EU and its Member States to meet the promise to leave no child behind?

When we set out to revise these Guidelines we were very mindful of the importance of taking into account the 2030 Agenda and its key guiding principle, leave no one behind. These Guidelines aim at strengthening efforts to ensure all children are reached by EU policies and actions, in particular, the most marginalised children and those in vulnerable situations. They set out how to operationalise a system-strengthening approach to ensure all the necessary measures, structures and actors are in place to protect the rights of all children. How to operationalise a rights-based approach is also underlined. Applying this approach means the EU will endeavour to integrate all children's rights, standards and principles into the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of its external policies and programmes in all sectors.

 The EU will endeavour to integrate all children's rights, standards and principles into the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of its external policies and programmes in all sectors.

What has your role been in the development of these Guidelines?

I work in the human rights division of the European External Action Service and am responsible for the rights of the child. My role was to ensure the Guidelines were comprehensively revised to take into account all the developments globally and in EU policy since the adoption of the 2007 Guidelines. A few examples of these developments include the adoption of the 2030 Agenda and the EU's commitment to move toward a rights-based approach to development cooperation, encompassing all human rights (Council Conclusions 2014). To achieve this objective a very important part of my work was to ensure all relevant stakeholders had the opportunity to give their opinion and provide input to the content of the Guidelines throughout the drafting process.

Are you happy with the outcome? 

Yes, I am happy with the final Guidelines. In particular, I'm pleased that these Guidelines are more user-friendly and clearly set out key principles which must be understood if we are to ensure the most marginalised children are reached by our actions. For example, the four guiding principles of the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child - non-discrimination, best interests of the child, respect for the views of children, right to life, survival and development - and the key principles of a rights-based approach.

The aim of these Guidelines is to provide general guidance on the measures needed to implement the EU's overarching strategy to promote and protect the rights of all children. An important next step is to complement these Guidelines with specific guidance on how we can support the strengthening of child protection systems to ensure the protection of all children from violence, abuse neglect and exploitation. Indeed, this is a specific action in the EU Action Plan for Human Rights and Democracy (2015-2019), Action 15, and of course for the first time a specific target on child protection was included in the 2030 Agenda, Target 16.2.

What would your response be to somebody who said, “These guidelines don’t have anything to do with me. I don’t work with children or on children’s rights”?

A key message that we will be advocating is that children's rights are everyone's business. If we think about it, every single sector and almost every policy has an impact on children either directly or indirectly, positively or negatively, whether we are talking about the more obvious areas of cooperation on children such as education and health or other sectors that are perceived as less child sensitive such as infrastructure, agriculture, energy, climate change or environment.

Children's rights are everyone's business. If we think about it, every single sector and almost every policy has an impact on children either directly or indirectly, positively or negatively.

We know children are victims of conflict and natural disasters such as flooding and earthquakes and food crises but do we realise that the construction of a bridge or road could result in making a route to a school or hospital inaccessible or dangerous or result in the closure of a school which was the only one available in a very rural area? Examples like this illustrate that a rights-based approach needs to be applied to all sectors and we are all responsible for children's rights.

What change do you hope and expect to see in the coming months and years as a result of these Guidelines?

I believe there will be greater awareness that all sectors must play their part if we are to deliver on our commitment to promote and protect the rights of all children. Overall I am confident that efforts will be strengthened as the EU has invested in the tools and training needed and continues to do so.

The guidance provided in these Guidelines complement the EU-UNICEF Child Rights Toolkit: Integrating Child Rights in Development Cooperation launched in 2013. This toolkit provides practical guidance on how to ensure the rights of the child are effectively integrated and applied across programmes for development assistance and has been widely distributed to EU Delegations worldwide, where workshops have been organised or are underway. It is an invaluable tool for officials of EU institutions, EU Member States and all development actors. Please do have a look!

Through these tools and a collective goal to deliver on children's rights underpinned by the 2030 Agenda, cooperation with civil society and international cooperation will be further strengthened. At country level we need to work closely with NGOs, for example human rights NGOs, child-and-youth led organisations and youth groups, parent and family groups, academic institutions and professional associations; and UN bodies such as UNICEF, if we are to understand the violations and determine the best long-term and sustainable solutions.

If you had one message to share with EU institutions, Member States and partner countries about what needs to be done to promote and defend children’s rights, what would it be?

We need to support and encourage greater investment in children and their future. We have all the necessary tools and guidance to implement the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, the most widely ratified human rights instrument (196 states parties), and the 2030 Agenda.

However, the legislation, policies and programmes needed to protect the rights of the child cannot be implemented without sufficient financial resources being mobilised, allocated and spent in an accountable, equitable and sustainable manner.

There is a high price to pay for not investing in children, the very future and backbone of nations.

Editor's notes

Download the EU Guidelines for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of the Child on the European External Action Service website.

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