As 2019 comes to a close, I would like to wish every child and every adult a very happy New Year 2020. The year 2019 brought us many surprises, crises and discoveries. So, what lessons do we take with us into the new year ahead?
For me, one of the highlights of 2019 was the work undertaken on the rights of the child against the backdrop of the 30th Anniversary of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. This was an occasion to take stock of our achievements, to discuss problem areas that remain, to build partnerships and to decide on future priorities.
The Convention on the Rights of the Child has been ratified by all Council of Europe member States. The Council of Europe Convention on Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse, also known as “the Lanzarote Convention”, has been signed by all member States, with only two ratifications still outstanding. Alongside these ratifications, the Council of Europe Strategy on the Rights of the Child has been successful in mainstreaming children’s rights into all areas of our work. Furthermore, the Parliamentary Assembly has given priority to supporting the development of these Council of Europe standards and their practical application in member states, through regular debates and reports on topical issues.
However, challenges remain. It is simply unacceptable that half of the children globally suffer from violence every year. It is simply unacceptable that a quarter of the children in Europe live in poverty. Clearly, we are not doing enough to protect children from deprivation and abuse.
Throughout the year, many ideas on how to resolve these problems were put forward and many examples of good practice were shared. At various events, children took the floor and shared their concerns and their thoughts on how things could be changed. Among them were migrant and refugee children, disabled children and children from countries in armed conflict. In some cases, adults provided moving accounts of their suffering during their childhood.
2019 was also a year when children went out on to the streets massively and participated in demonstrations concerning climate change, showing the important role that children and young people can play in determining the future of humanity. The young climate change activist Greta Thunberg was not only a catalyst for child participation but also a breath of fresh air for the climate debate, which is also an important challenge for the Council of Europe.
I hope that this experience will inspire practical action in our parliaments, governments and societies in 2020.
We should stop seeing children through the prism of problems, and we should start seeing them as a part of the solution. Every child has the potential to help us make this world better. Children who have suffered have firsthand experience of problems and have the best understanding of what needs to be done. Whether this experience leaves them frustrated and prone to further harm or committed to positive change depends on how we treat them.
I hope that in 2020 children across Europe will get the protection and support that they need and deserve.
I also hope that this will light up smiles on their faces and will give hope for a better future for all of us.