The European
11-17 July 1996


Sam King analyzes the facts revealed in a report on EU youth

The children on Europe are being let down by Brussels, according to the most comprehensive survey yet on under-18s in EU member states.

"Children in Europe" has taken almost two years to compile and has 500 pages of facts and statistics on every aspect of childhood in the Union.

The EU is neglecting its younger citizens and storing up problems for the future, the report concludes.

According to Sandy Ruxton, the author of the report, the Union has concentrated so much on economic policy..."the EU is more concerned with the free flow of goods and services to do with children than with children themselves".

This imbalance will have a detrimental effect in the long term, said Ruxton, as those who have suffered violence, abuse, social exclusion or poverty in their childhood are unlikely to fulfil their potential as adults.

He told `The European': "If the EU is serious about developing citizens who will contribute positively to the future, then it needs to act now..."

"The treaties of the EU should have a legal basis for addressing issues concerning children. ...the EU should make it a priority, when collecting statistical information, to collect statistics on children as a separate category."

For example, child refugees are...counted with adults, although their needs are very different.

The report accepts...many aspects of child welfare are best left to national governments, But, said Ruxton, the creation of the internal market and the removal of border controls between member states means...issues such as child pronography, crime and drug abuse need to be tackled by the EU as a whole.

There are approximately 75 million children under 18 in the member states. ...their upbringings vary enormously. Ruxton beleives...all states can learn from each other by studying the statistics he has compiled. His book covers all aspects of childhood, including childcare and family life, crime, education, punishment, violence, disability, refugees, child labor and civil rights.

Possibly the most serious issue facing the EU is demographic change. If the pattern of decreasing birth rates and increasing life expectancy of the past 20 to 30 years continues, ...the number of young people could fall by 9.5 million, or 11 per cent, by the year 2025. At the same time, the number of elderly people will rise.

Ruxton said: "This change in the proportion of young to old will require a massive reorientation of resources. There is a significant danger...children's services will be eroded."

Statistics reveal homelessness and poverty are on the rise in most European countries. In Germany and Britain there has been an increase in the number of children living on the streets. That rise could be connected to a breakdown in traditional family models. Escalating divorce rates and more single-parent families...sometimes force children to fend for themselves at an earlier age.

The highest rate of teenage pregnancy is found in Britain, with three per cent of 15 to 19-year-olds having a child. The pregnancy rate in the Netherlands for this age group is five times lower.

Dutch children are also less inclined to take drugs, despite their country having the most liberal drug laws in the EU. More British children are likely to turn to drugs than the Dutch, Spanish or Portuguese.

...juvenile delinquency rates in England and Wales are lower than those in the Netherlands, Spain and Portugal.

Infant mortality is highest in Portugal and Greece.

Comparisons of crime rates are....difficult because the age of responsibility varies from seven in the Irish Republic to 18 in Belgium. The report suggests...this is an area where collaboration between states can be particularly useful, because countries can compare the results of different punishment strategies.

All member states are signatories to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which sets out a number of parameters for dealing with youngsters.

There are...various EU directives on issues such as child labor and childcare, but many signatories do little more than pay lip service to the documents, the report concludes.


"Children in Europe" is the most comprehensive collection of data relating to youngsters within the EU, writes Sam King.

Its compilation was prompted by a 1991 European Parliament committee report which called for an in-depth study of the situation of children. Funding was provided by the European Commission and the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation (UK).

It took Sandy Ruxton, European officer for the British charity NCH Action for Children, around 18 months to gather the information. It involved a lengthy process of wading through documents and reports, some from governments and some from non-governmental organizations. Much of the data came via the 1989 United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which obliges signatories to submit reports on childcare and welfare.

But the data proved far from all-encompassing. Only ten of the 15 member states had submitted reports, and in some cases the information was misleading. For example, Britain's report was accompanied by contradictory statements from a children's charity group, and definitions of basic terms such as "household" and "family" vary between states. Figures were papticularly hard to obtain in policy areas such as homelessness and child refugees, where official registers are sparse.

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