The Malta Independent 22 May 2019, Wednesday

‘We need to put children’s rights and wellbeing at the top of the political agenda’ – MEP

Giulia Magri Saturday, 23 February 2019, 08:19 Last update: about 4 months ago

As coordinator and spokesperson for children’s rights, what are your immediate priorities?

As legislators, one of our main priorities is to ensure that any legislation discussed in Parliament safeguards children’s rights and the rights of asylum seekers.

We prioritise the protection of children on many different levels and on many issues, including migration, sex trafficking, slave trade, violence and abuse. We also push for children to empower themselves by participating in and understanding their rights. We want children to know that they are capable of making their voices heard, especially in an environment which is safe and welcoming.

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You mentioned that children have the right to participate and have an active voice in decision making, which ultimately goes against the proverb ‘children should be seen and not heard’. How are you working to change this mentality?

This is exactly the kind of taboo and culture which we want to address. Children and youth have every right to be heard just as much as they are seen. We really want to give them a voice and to make sure that their voice is heard and protected. We will make sure that this is done correctly.

We cannot talk of our children’s future without involving them. The European Parliament is doing as much as it can to help children and youth become more involved, such as by introducing European Schools and Euroscola, which gives them the opportunity to learn more about the European Parliament and democracy.

Towards the end of 2018, 49 men, women and children were stranded in the Mediterranean Sea, just off Malta. How does it make you feel knowing that there were unaccompanied children on board?

Children should never be held hostages to disagreement between member states on migration. A child is a child, regardless of their migration status, and this is what we are focusing on. There were 15 unaccompanied minors. We reacted to this on social media, but I also held a meeting with all the NGOs and political groups regarding this sensitive issue. There needs to be more solidarity in Europe regarding migration, but we must not debate and discuss policies at the expense of children’s lives. Apart from it being freezing and wet, these children were faced with the trauma not feeling welcome. Of course Europe needs long-term, stable resolutions, as boats will continue to keep coming. Member states can no longer shirk their responsibility on the migration issue. They must share that responsibility.

What is your message to Maltese and European decision-makers?

We will mainstream children’s rights in terms of everything the European Parliament is working on, to monitor and watch any resolutions, amendments or negotiations. We will continue to work very closely with our partners and NGOs which focus on children’s rights, ensuring they have enough resources. Safeguarding children’s rights must not just be something done on paper, but a reality.

Are you optimistic that recommendations made during the conference will be taken on board?

I am very hopeful and confident about this conference. I believe it is the right time to discuss this topic, just before European parliamentary elections. I believe it is important to send a clear message to all candidates and political parties that they have to keep child migrants high on the political agenda, and that they will be held accountable if they don’t.

We are safeguarding Europe’s future generations and will fight to make sure that migrant children have their rights safeguarded too.

 

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