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SPEECH/ 09/507

José Manuel Dur ã o Barroso

P resident of the European Commission

Protecting Europe's Children - Together

Figures and graphics available in PDF and WORD PROCESSED

Missing Children Europe reception

Brussels, 28 October 2009

Sir Francis,

Dear Baron Daniel Cardon de Lichtbuer,

Dear members of the board of the International Centre for Missing and Exploited Children,

Dear members of Missing Children Europe,

Distinguished guests,

Ladies and gentlemen,

It is an honour to be invited by Missing Children Europe to speak on a topic which is very close to our hearts.

We have a common goal: to protect and promote the rights of all children and to ensure their protection.

Unfortunately, these rights cannot be taken for granted. Too often, children's needs are not met, their rights are not respected and their safety is compromised. Children who go missing, who are abused, who are victims of human trafficking and all kinds of exploitation need our concerted help.

It is important always to keep in mind that these crimes do not stop at the borders of the Member States. We cannot ensure the safety of children and the protection of their rights by working in isolation. In fact, we stand no chance of success if we do not engage all of our skills, knowledge and energies in a combined effort.

This is an important year for the protection of children’s rights around the world, as we mark the 20th anniversary of the adoption of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. This Convention, which has seen almost universal ratification, including by all 27 EU Member States, sets high standards for the protection of rights of every child and young person under the age of 18.

Upholding the high standards set by the UN Convention has been, remains, and will be, a priority for the European Commission.

In 2006, the Commission adopted its Communication "T owards an EU strategy on the Rights of the Child".

On the basis of this strategy, when preparing proposals that might have an impact on children, when following negotiations on the proposals, and when monitoring implementation of Community Law in the Member States, the Commission always makes sure that the rights of the child are fully taken into account. The principle of the " best interests of the child " must be of primary consideration in all actions related to children.

Children's rights potentially concern a wide range of EU policies. The Commission, therefore, intends to focus its action on the rights of the child on clearly identified priorities. From numerous consultations and the work done so far, it emerged that priority action is needed in the areas of violence, poverty, and children in particularly vulnerable situations, notably in the context of immigration – like unaccompanied minors and victims of trafficking.

The European Commission has repeatedly highlighted the importance of co-operation and the sharing of views and best practices among different actors.

Member State governments are on the front line in implementing strategies on children’s rights. However, the role of other actors, namely civil society and non-governmental organisations, such as yours, is crucial in finding innovative solutions to children's needs.

As such, the value and importance of partnership between the European Commission and Missing Children Europe, including all your members and partners, cannot be overstated.

Let me briefly address three key topics that have been of our common concern for missing, abused and exploited children: the Child Alert systems, the hotline number 116 000, and the proposed Council Decisions on sexual exploitation and abuse of children and on trafficking of human beings .

The value of the Child Alert mechanism is undisputed. Most essentially, it provides the possibility to involve the public in the search for information on child abduction.

Indeed, in a number of cases, kidnapped children have been rescued thanks to information given by the public following an alert launched through the media.

It is of the highest significance to ensure that these systems can operate across the boundaries of a given Member State. The Commission is firmly committed to promoting cross-border cooperation between Member States in cases of child abduction.

The Commission proposed guidelines for Child Alert that were endorsed by the Council in November last year. These guidelines call on the Member States to establish and develop national mechanisms to alert the public of criminal abductions of children and to define how they intend to implement a cross-border system; they also call on the use of best practices established by the European Commission.

The creation of the hotline number 116 000 is another concrete action aiming at providing for a single telephone number for children and their families throughout the EU. It also allows access to social support services in connection with children who have gone missing or have disappeared.

The decision to create this line obliges EU Member States to make the number available. However, more than two years since its adoption, the number is only operational in 10 Member States.

Missing Children Europe has been a staunch promoter of this action and its implementation. Let's redouble our efforts to strengthen the protection of children across the EU by activating the 116 000 number in all EU Member States. I can assure you that the Commission will continue to make all possible efforts to achieve full implementation of this number in the 27 Member States.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Let me finish by touching upon the last initiative of common concern, the proposed Council Decisions on sexual exploitation and abuse of children, and on trafficking of human beings . I understand this was discussed more in detail during the conference yesterday and today.

The Commission adopted in March two proposals revising the existing EU legal framework, to develop a comprehensive EU approach to combating sexual abuse of children, child pornography and human trafficking.

These proposals represent an ambitious package aimed at combating these crimes. They contain a number of elements that should make a difference in protecting children from the worst forms of abuse. Here are just some examples:

  • defining new crimes to address new forms of abuse, for example for children going online;

  • clearly addressing child begging as a new form of exploitation;

  • substantially increasing criminal penalties, that should be proportionate to the seriousness of the abuse and thus a genuine deterrent;

  • removing legal obstacles to prosecute criminals that go abroad to abuse children (so called 'child sex tourism');

  • ensuring that children have easier access to justice and do not suffer additional trauma in legal proceedings.

These are not new ideas to you. Indeed, the Commission has built on experience and suggestions made by key players in child protection. Let me explicitly thank you, Missing Children Europe, for your assistance and support during the preparation of the proposals.

Our proposals are now being discussed in the Council. While substantial progress has been achieved on the front of trafficking, the discussions on child sexual exploitation are less advanced. There is therefore still room for all of us to convey a message to the Member States and to explain to them why these proposals are important. Protecting children from such terrible crimes simply cannot wait.

Ladies and gentlemen,

We have also to look ahead. The Commission has recently proposed the further development of the EU strategy on the rights of the child as one of the priority issues in the so-called "Stockholm programme". This programme, which is expected to be adopted at the European Council meeting in December on the basis of the Commission proposal, will set the priorities of the EU in the area of freedom, security and justice for the next five years.

I can assure you that the next Commission will continue its efforts made until now and will strengthen the priority given to the protection of the children's right. And in this sense, I have already announced and I confirm it here: the next Commission will have a new Commissioner especially responsible for the respect of Fundamental Rights and Justice. The protection of children's rights will be a very significant part of his or her competences.

I wish to thank you all for your dedication, effort and partnership. And I would like to thank especially Baron Daniel Cardon for all his efforts and contribution as President of IMEC. His dedication and commitment have been of particular importance for the progress made in this matter. There is still plenty to do in our quest to ensure that the rights of children are effectively promoted and protected.

I hope I can continue to count on you in the years to come.

Thank you.

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