Local and regional cooperation to protect the rights of the child in the European Union
The potential of local and regional authorities (LRAs) to contribute significantly to the protection of children's rights has been recognised since 1959 and the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of the Child. This has since been reinforced by Article 24 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights which expressly provides for the rights of the child. In Opinion 236/20061 the Committee of the Regions commented on the EU Strategy on the Rights of the Child2, welcoming "the proposed development of a strategy to effectively promote and safeguard the rights of the child", but regretting "that there... is no acknowledgment in the communication of the unique role of local and regional authorities in providing services to children and safeguarding their rights", noting "that systems are currently not in place that can produce comprehensive, comparable and consistent data on indicators across the Member States', recommending "that priority be given to the development of a set of comparable indicators and the collection of consistent data at Member State and, where possible, regional level" and insisting "that the crucial role of local and regional authorities as the frontline providers of essential services to children, such as education and housing, childcare and other social services, is fully recognised." Our principal recommendation is that the definitions and data sources should be matched to the specific competencies of each of the local and regional authorities, without which conclusions as to the effectiveness of implementation can only be in generalities. The indicators are "an initial toolkit" but not a toolkit designed to be used by LRAs. Thus, it is necessary to unpick the indicators to identify within each area those groups that should be of major concern for LRAs, which this paper does. As the indicators were only published in March 2009, it is too early to report on how effectively LRAs are using them in protecting the rights of the child. However, it is clear that Rights of the Child Indicators offer local and regional authorities valuable tools for assessment of the state of implementation of children's rights in Core Areas and the identification of Indicator Groups. These, as our report indicates, require greater or lesser degrees according to the relevant competency. Some Indicator Groups should be of more concern to LRAs than others because they are within their competence, either by virtue of legal allocation of responsibilities or by virtue of fiscal responsibilities and resources. The most effective method of improving the Rights of the Child Indicators to take better into account local and regional perspectives would be to produce another version of the Indicators tailored to the competences and special interests of LRAs. This paper is a first step in that direction. Best practice examples are given from eight locations. The entry into force of the Treaty of Lisbon and the designation of 2010 as the European Union Year for Combating Poverty and Social Exclusion offer great opportunities for the Committee of the Regions and LRAs to use the indicators.