Recent data indicates that the arrival of unaccompanied minors from conflict-affected regions in Europe is becoming a long-term characteristic of EU migration. Yet, these vulnerable migrants are dealt with using a variety of methods across the EU, and no coordinated approach has been designed in Europe. At the same time, child protection in Europe faces many challenges ranging from a lack of coordination to the limited evidence base and exchange of good practices in areas such as parental child abduction or bullying. In both instances, the EU has made recent endeavours to design joined-up approaches to ensure better delivery and child protection.
In 2012, the European Council and European Parliament published a mid-term report to the European Commission on the implementation of the Action Plan on Unaccompanied Minors . It highlighted the multifaceted nature of the type of unaccompanied minors which arrive in Europe each year, with only some seeking asylum (12,225 in 2011) and pointed out the difficulty of collecting reliable data. In addition, the situation varies by state: whereas unaccompanied minors arrive as asylum seekers, such as Sweden, whereas in eastern Member States, few migrant children apply through the asylum procedure, but only pass through.
In recent years, the EU also turned its attention to child protection, which covers areas including unaccompanied children on the move, but also abuse or parental abduction or female genital mutilation. Recent insights exchanged at the 8th European Forum on the Rights of the Child in Brussels, which the European Social Network took part in, revealed three main types of challenges. First, the evidence-base on child protection policies, and the learning from best practice remains reduced. Second, the area is fragmented between national and local government, which translates into a top-down, multi-agency, pluri-disciplinary setup. Finally, management of child protection remains non-holistic, which in turn affects how policy areas relate to the issue.
To begin tackling the issue of unaccompanied migrant children, the EU began by developing an Action Plan on Unaccompanied Minors for 2010-2014, and created the European Asylum Support Office. As part of one of its programmes on migration and asylum, the EU funded numerous projects preventing unsafe migration and trafficking, and aiming to raise the awareness for children at risk. In 2012, it reviewed the implementation of the EU Guidelines on the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of the Child, and engaged with numerous stakeholders in doing so, although it did not publish an update of the guidelines. The EU has also sought to engage with specific states in various ways, and involved various agencies in the process, notably Frontex, which delivered special training on how to deal with children.
When it comes to child protection systems, the EU adopted the EU Agenda for the rights of the child three years ago, and passed directives on anti-trafficking and parental responsibility, among others. Later, the EU developed a Strategy for the eradication of trafficking in human beings for 2012-16, which it used to ask EU Member States to collect information which could be used to draft future EU guidelines on child protection.
In the areas of child protection, and unaccompanied minors arriving in the EU specifically, several measures, agendas and directives have been passed over the past years to pursue efforts to improve the system.