High-level conference on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child 

 

Introduction by the President of the European Parliament, David Sassoli

(Check against delivery)

Majesty,

Madam President,

Madam Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ghana,

Commissioner,

Honorable Members,
 
Lord Ambassadors and Ambassadors,

Ladies and gentlemen

and dear children,

Just 30 years ago, on November 20 1989, the UN General Assembly unanimously adopted a new legally binding international treaty, which remains the most ratified to this day. This treaty, dedicated exclusively to children, is intended to recognise and protect their fundamental rights.

After decades of struggle and patience, women and men from different backgrounds have finally succeeded in changing mentalities, overcoming traditions and introducing new rules to ensure that children are never again considered the property of parents or any other authority, but human beings with their own rights, to be respected and protected.
 
The fact that children’s fundamentals rights were so widely recognised was not a foregone conclusion. I would therefore like to pay tribute to such far-sighted, generous and selfless men and women, without whom this convention would not have seen the light of day.

Deeply troubled by the extreme poverty that afflicted children in the aftermath of the First World War, British social reformer Eglentyne Jebb drew up a charter that established the fundamental rights of minors in 1924, which was transmitted to the League of Nations.

The Geneva Declaration, which arose from this charter, therefore created the first international legal foundations. Although not binding, it remains a document of historical importance. Polish pediatrician Janusz Korczak referenced it during the Second World War, to call for the protection of minors from the atrocities of the war.

He was also the first to invoke the recognition of the right to health, education and absolute respect for children. Arrested by the Gestapo, he died in the Treblinka camp in 1942, holding the children he had refused to give up.

His country, Poland, took on his legacy by proposing to the United Nations General Assembly, in 1979, to draft a binding text on protection of children. This initiative was intended to supplement both the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 and the Declaration of the Rights of the Child of 1959.
 
It would take ten years of hard work and arduous negotiations to achieve the codification of the specific fundamental rights of all people under the age of 18. This convention, which we commemorate today, November 20, World Childhood Day, is the direct result.

Since then, it has been the universal pillar that reaffirms that all rights are indispensable for a child's full development.

It is also the humanist symbol for numerous organisations that work with and for children throughout the world.

It is the legal reference for UN bodies, such as UNICEF and the Committee on the Rights of the Child, who sit with us today in this House.

Finally, the convention constitutes a political roadmap for states that, by ratifying it, undertake to implement its obligations and agree to be subject to external control and evaluation.

Being the first state in the world to have ratified the convention, the Republic of Ghana has thus set an example. To date, 197 countries have followed the example of Ghana in the intervening years.

Majesty,
ladies and gentlemen,
dear children,

We meet again today to celebrate the battles won. However, we also recognise the many battles that we still have to carry out together, legislators, experts, public figures, committed citizens and children.

This afternoon's debates should allow us to draw a new course and set new priorities to meet the great challenges of our time concerning the development of all children.

At a time of globalisation and huge digital advances, it is unacceptable that more than six million children under the age of 15 die every year, that is, one child every five seconds! Most children under the age of five die from avoidable causes. According to estimates, if we do not act quickly, more than 55 million children under the age of five, half of them newborns, will lose their lives by 2030.

It is inconceivable that more than 152 million children are deprived of childhood and education because they are forced to work, in agriculture, sweatshops, or mines. This is not to mention those who suffer the worst forms of exploitation, such as slavery, prostitution or recruitment as child soldiers.

Last month the UN alerted states to the situation of children deprived of their liberty. More than 1.5 million children are behind bars, in most cases without contact with the outside world.

These are frightening and chilling figures that mean many smiles are stolen from the innocent.

We take the opportunity offered to us by the new legislature to elaborate together concrete proposals and define clear objectives for the next five years. I would like to pay tribute here to the commitment of President-elect Mrs von der Leyen. She has made the protection of children's rights one of her political priorities, to which, I am sure, Parliament will offer her full support.

This conference should be considered as an important contribution to the strategy on the rights of the child which will be proposed by the designated Commissioner (for Democracy and Demography), Mrs Šuica, and which we hope will be presented very soon in the European Parliament. Parliament is also working on a new resolution, which will be put to a vote next week and can draw on our discussions today.

The European Parliament has called for the promotion and protection of the rights of the child through the EU's foreign policy, and has asked the Commission to propose a strategy and an action plan to achieve this goal. Furthermore, in the last two years the European Parliament has also been more involved in promoting and protecting the rights of the child by designating a coordinator for children's rights, Vice-President of Parliament, Mrs Ewa Kopacz.

As President of Parliament, I agree with UNICEF that the rights of the child are closely linked to achieving sustainable development goals. Special efforts must be made to end the abuse and exploitation of children as well as violence against them, to ensure the eradication of poverty, to improve education and access to good nutrition and health services.

I therefore thank the panelists for having accepted to share with us their experience, their commitment and their vision of a fair and worthy future for children.

In addition, since it seemed important to us that the voice of the main interested parties also resonate in this hemicycle, let me especially thank Akhrat, Rania, Sioda, Maria and Bereket.

I encourage all the children present to intervene today in this hemicycle, but also whenever they have the opportunity to do so in everyday life. This right to expression and participation is key to the Convention. Use it, as many of you do in defense of the climate. We adults have, the moral, legal and political obligation to listen to your concerns and to act.

To conclude, on behalf of all the numerous participants present here, allow me, Majesty, to tell you that it is a great honor to receive you in the house of European citizens and to express our deep gratitude to you for the tireless commitment you have given over many years to children’s causes.

Thank you for your attention.