Blog: Advancing Children’s Rights in Early Childhood

22 October 2021

Blog by Dr Agata D’Addato, Senior Project Manager, Eurochild; Giorgiana Rosa, Advocacy Consultant, First Years, First Priority campaign

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) states that all young children, throughout infancy and the pre-school years, are rights holders. Early childhood is an especially important period for the realization of children’s rights, and requires a 360° approach to policies and services needed by young children, their families and caregivers. The European Child Guarantee and the EU Strategy on the Rights of the Child are therefore important instruments for governments to fulfill their commitments under the UNCRC.

This was the focus of a workshop at the Fundamental Rights Forum 2021, organised by First Years, First Priority campaign partners, Eurochild and The International Step by Step Association (ISSA). The Forum convened over 3,000 people, in six locations and on-line, addressing the many human rights challenges of today.

The UNCRC recognises that children – including the very young – are social actors and active participants in families, communities and societies. The Convention commits governments to take all appropriate measures to realise children’s rights from the start, by addressing discrimination and child poverty, upholding children’s best interests in policy-making, ensuring their right to an adequate standard of living, to health and nutrition, to quality early education and care, to social protection, safety and security.

However, infants and very young children are often not recognised as rights-holders, and their earliest years rarely explicitly considered in public policy, despite evidence of the impact that national policies, or the lack of them, have on shaping children’s healthy development and wellbeing. 

Our own analysis of early childhood indicators – across six policy areas and nine countries – highlighted the scarcity of data available, especially for children under three, resulting in significant gaps in knowledge of children’s earliest experiences. The lack of data on child poverty among children under three, for example, or of disaggregated data on young children facing particular disadvantage and discrimination, means that we often know little about their first years. This hinders efforts to improve policy and public investment, especially for young children experiencing multiple and intersecting vulnerabilities.

If effectively implemented by governments, there are unprecedented EU initiatives that could make a real contribution to realising children’s rights in early childhood. The European Child Guarantee seeks to prevent and combat poverty and social exclusion by guaranteeing access to some key services for all children in need. It is essential that the Guarantee pays special attention to the age group from birth to 3 years of age. This is in line with the EU Strategy on the Rights of the Child, which recognizes that every child has the right to an adequate standard of living and to equal opportunities, from their earliest years, and that families and communities need support to enable them to provide comprehensive nurturing care. From our panel, we heard about implementing the Child Guarantee in Ireland, and efforts to develop a national action plan that addresses child poverty through an integrated whole of government approach, with civil society’s input and participation.

The panel also highlighted that early childhood education and care (ECEC) is key to upholding child rights. Yet we know that many children still don’t have access to high-quality ECEC services, especially those facing poverty and social exclusion, who often experience services of poorer quality. The European Commission’s work on advancing a European Quality Framework for ECEC is therefore very welcome, as it aims to ensure that all children have access to inclusive and high-quality services.

At this critical time of rising poverty and inequality, exacerbated by Covid-19, governments have both an obligation and an opportunity to ensure that the rights of all children, from their earliest years, are a public policy priority.

Watch the recording of the webinar