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A denial of rights amid affluence

Reva Klein on a plea to the European Union to monitor its children's welfare.

The European Union is ignorant of the state of its children, according to a new report by the charity NCH Action for Children.

A dearth of data makes it impossible to collate figures on those who are living in poverty, are excluded from schools, have mental health problems, are homeless, commit particular crimes or come from ethnic minorities.

The paucity of data points to the low political priority given to the children of Europe - there is not one reference to children in the European Union treaties.

The report, "Children in Europe", joins the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in calling for hard information and comparative data from common indicators across the union.

What researchers do know is culled from a variety of national and Europe-wide sources. And the picture that emerges is of a Europe which, while affluent, allows many children to be discriminated against and to be denied "basic social, economic, health and education rights. In the most serious cases, they are routinely subjected to violence and abuse.

The children at the bottom of the European league tables are those from ethnic minorities, travellers and asylum-seekers.

While the experiences of these groups are very different, they share the common denominator of vulnerability to the rise in xenophobia and racism across Europe in the past decade.

The education systems' relationship to ethnic minorities is noted in the report.

Many of the large numbers of children in the EU who leave school before the official leaving age come from ethnic minority communities and economically disadvantaged families.

The UK is singled out, in addition, as having disproportionate numbers of black children being excluded from schools.

Britain and Ireland are named as the European league leaders for sending the greatest proportion of young people to prison. While the national crime rates of 14- to 21-year-olds show England and Wales as having lower juvenile crime figures than the Netherlands, Portugal and Spain, this country had 5,300 young offenders in prison in June 1994, compared to 25 in Portugal and 65 in Spain.

Britain appears to hold a dubious distinction in another crucial area. While the rate of teenage pregnancies has gone down in all other European countries over the past 10 years, the UK has seen a slight increase, making this country the European leader. Some 3 per cent of all 15- to 19-year-olds give birth in this country, which works out at five times more than in the Netherlands. However, the pregnancy rate for under-16s is falling.

The report, which covers a wide range of categories, calls for a transnational study to be initiated by the European Commission to analyse data in all the major areas of children's lives, including "the impact of social exclusion on the lives of children and young people in the EU. Evidence from member states indicates a lack of awareness of children's needs and of a co-ordinated approach to the multiple disadvantages they encounter."

"Children in Europe" is available from NCH (formerly National Children's Homes) Action for Children, 85 Highbury Park, London N5 1UD (0171 226 2033) priced Pounds 25.

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