Children in EU external action

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Children in EU external action

Outline of the Community (European Union) legislation about Children in EU external action


These categories group together and put in context the legislative and non-legislative initiatives which deal with the same topic.

Development > Sectoral development policies

Children in EU external action

Document or Iniciative

Communication from the Commission to the Council, the European Parliament, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions of 5 February 2008 – A special place for children in EU external action [COM(2008) 55 final – Not published in the Official Journal].


Children and adolescents account for one third of the world’s population and half the population in most developing countries. Investing in children therefore means investing in the future. Improving the situation of children makes it possible to prevent State fragility and ensure long-term sustainable development, stability and human security at regional, national and global levels.

Children are vulnerable and so must be placed at the centre of the development, humanitarian aid and external relations policies of the European Union (EU).

The challenges relating to this sector of the population include health, education and training, social inclusion, combating crimes such as human trafficking and sexual exploitation, but also combating child labour and recruitment by armed groups. Some children are particularly at risk, especially in situations of humanitarian crisis. Particular attention must be paid to girls, since they are exposed to additional risks, such as various forms of violence, whether domestic or sexual.

Normative framework

The EU is committed to respecting human rights in general and children’s rights in particular under international and European treaties. It adheres to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which establishes four general principles that apply to all actions affecting children: non-discrimination, the best interests of the child, the right of the child to survival and development and respect for the views of the child.

The EU also adheres to the Millennium Declaration and the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) and supports the United Nations Plan of Action “A World Fit for Children”.

The protection of children’s rights is also given particular prominence in the EU’s human rights and democratisation policy towards third countries, especially in the context of implementing the EU Guidelines on Children and Armed Conflict and those concerning the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of the Child.

The enlargement process and humanitarian aid are also useful tools to promote children’s rights.

Action by the EU

To respond to the many existing challenges, the EU is establishing a framework for a comprehensive approach towards the protection and promotion of children’s rights in third countries. This approach must be based on a global, universal view of children’s rights. It must also be included in wider development and poverty eradication strategies.

The EU plans to rely on a variety of measures to ensure coordination of its external action, such as:

  • development cooperation, so as to address the root causes of poverty;
  • trade policy, which must be consistent with the protection and promotion of children’s rights. In bilateral agreements, the issue of children’s rights is covered by labour standards;
  • political dialogue between the EU and the partner countries, which allows emphasis to be placed on the commitments under the Convention on the Rights of the Child;
  • regional and global actions which supplement the country-level actions and address issues of a supra-national character;
  • empowerment of children and adolescents to play a more active role in matters that affect them directly;
  • humanitarian aid, as children are particularly adversely affected by difficult situations resulting from natural disasters or conflicts. Humanitarian aid will focus in particular on separated and unaccompanied children, children associated with armed forces or armed groups and children’s education in emergencies.


This Communication follows the 2006 Communication, which proposes the definition of a long-term strategy for the EU in the field of children’s rights. It supplements the EU Guidelines for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of the Child, adopted by the Council on 10 December 2007, which forms the basis for the EU action in the field of the protection and promotion of children’s rights under its external policy.

Key terms used in the act
  • Children not attending school: 72 million, 57 % of whom are girls.
  • Children involved in child labour: 110 million.
  • Over 50 % of all mothers giving birth are not assisted by a trained midwife.
  • Over 3 million children die from complications that arise during or immediately after delivery.
  • Over 300 000 children annually are born HIV positive.
  • 10 million children die every year from preventable causes before reaching the age of five.

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