Euro-orphans: What about us?

The 6th annual European Forum on the Rights of the Child was held in Brussels last week, on the 23rdof November. The key actors from European Institutions, EU Member States, and Ombudspersons for children, international organisations and NGOs were sharing their experiences and ideas, exchanging views and providing examples of the best practices of promoting child-friendly justice and improving the protection of children when they are vulnerable. However, the issue of children left behind in the country of origin, when parents move to another European country in search of employment, was left behind as well.

The issue of Euro-orphans is not the first priority to be tackled. Photo by Lyosha Nazarenko

Not under the EU’s competence

“It is indeed a heartbreaking problem. As some of the most vulnerable members of society, children require a particular protection”, – says Margaret Tuite, Commission coordinator for the rights of the child. This phenomenon is still underestimated and often unknown even if it concerns approximately half a million children in the EU.

“The EU provides a possibility for its citizens to move and live in another country, which is considered as an advantage. But it cannot sort out the situation of families and the way they want to move abroad. Of course, the perfect situation would be if they would take their children with them, but for some reason often don’t. And this is for social reasons.”, – says Marek Stavinoha, Commission Policy Officer at the unit for Fundamental Rights and the Rights of the Child.

According to him, employment and social policy mainly falls under the competence of the member states. The main task to provide social policy and social care for those children and those families lies within member states. “The EU only can play a coordinating role”, – he comments.


Lack of awareness

“The rights apply to your family and children as well if you move as a worker”, – Mrs. Stavinoha points out. However, only very rarely, parents are aware of what the law states with regard to the protection of their child. For example, the parents are unaware of the fact that anyone working with a valid work permit in any member Country is entitled to receive a subsidy for any dependent children, regardless of whether or not the child is with the parents.

“The problem is that sometimes they work illegally or anyway, they are not earning millions and if they are working 12 hours a day, their kids would be abandoned in another way in another member state. A lot of issues have to be tackled before the situation of those children can be changed”, – says Mrs. Tuite.


Neither responsible nor irresponsible

“In this respect the Commission’s powers are very limited. What the EU can do is exchange perspectives under the method of coordination, which is a specific procedure for the Commission where every year there is a report from each country of what they have done about the specific issue. Then those reports are shared between member states and from this they can learn different practices and decide what to do”, – explains Policy Officer Stavinoha.

Notwithstanding the fact that the State has no right to interfere the future plans of families, which must be free to choose to leave the Country with or without their children, the prevention of any negative effects of migration on the youngest members of society must be the primary focus of any intervention by the Social Welfare Services.

Nevertheless, during the Euro Child Annual Conference several key elements for success have been identified. One of them is that Europe must be prepared to back local, national and regional authorities in their efforts.


More promises than actions

After Romanian member of the European parliament Rovana Plumb tabled a question on the situation of the children whose parents are working abroad in March of 2009, it resulted in a motion for a resolution, which was adopted by a large majority in the European Parliament. Due to the fact, Commissioner Vladimir Špidla stated his position to the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs, expressing the view that the situation of euro-orphans is sufficiently alarming to require action. He promised that he would therefore submit studies on the matter by the end of 2009. He added that the Commission would, in cooperation with the EURES network, make every effort to help children that are left behind in their country of origin by means of projects to support the role of the family.

According to Mr Lazlo Andor, the Commissioner for Employment, Social affairs and Inclusion, an invitation to tender (‘Study on the social impact of emigration and rural-urban migration in central and Eastern Europe’) was issued in summer of 2010, and covers 25 countries. Under point 3 of the Terms of Reference, ‘social policy responses to support those “left behind” (spouses, children, elderly, those less qualified, etc.)’ are mentioned explicitly as points of special note for the compilation of the 25 national reports. The study is expected to be published in spring of 2012.