As concern continues for the precarious plight of a rising number of young people throughout Europe who live as rough sleepers in the greater urban centres of our member states, the latest research on the phenomenon was presented on December 10 at the European Parliament. The report details findings of a two-year study conducted in nine EU countries and piloted by Criminal Justice Professor Kate Moss of the University of Wolverhampton. Attendee Italian MEPs Cécile Kyenge and Caterina Chinnici both spoke of the importance of forging robust synergies between policy makers, experts, NGOs and national and local governments in order to develop workable strategies of prevention tailored to ensure that children grow up with the stability which can best guarantee the integration and wellbeing which are among their most basic rights.
I took the occasion to ask Caterina Chinnici of the relevance of the conference's timing :
Ms Chinnici, how does the question of children rough sleepers challenge us on International Human Rights Day ?
On International Human Rights Day the issue of children rough sleepers challenges us, above all, to act decisively, especially in view of the 1989 Convention of the Rights of the Child and of our existing acknowledgement and common commitment to safeguard our younger and more vulnerable citizens. It is the same challenge we are posed daily by the Declaration of the Rights of the Child
How widespread is the phenomenon of children rough sleepers Europewide ?
At the moment it is easier for us to have a reliable indication of the numbers of children rough sleepers than accurate figures. Research to date has been based upon annually-released police reports on missing minors, present estimations of unaccompanied minors in Europe, recent numbers of children who runaway either from home or from some form of protected care. Certainly the figures are already cause for alarm. Significantly, this research carries the merit of highlighting the fact that here in Europe there are situations of great hardship as well. Being aware of this constitutes the first condition for then countering these realities through community policies which should always focus their attention upon children's basic rights.
Why now a conference on children rough sleepers at the European Parliament in Brussels?
The conference has been a good opportunity to invite reflection upon the developing phenomenon of children rough sleepers as an issue which, as is shown in the report, extends right across Europe, thereby alerting policy makers and other players in the field to the urgency of mobilising workable strategies and resources to discuss concrete solutions in prevention.
Are there any specific areas concerning children rough sleepers in which you see policies of intervention to be most urgent ?
A range of intervention recommendations have already been proposed but it needs to be stressed that there is no one size fits all solution as the social contexts of our different member states are not all the same. A beginning can be to review the possibilities of alternatives to the system of protected child care, beginning from an examination of the reasons why some children choose to leave these institutions and opt instead to sleep rough. Then in regard to unaccompanied minors or migrant youth, from north Africa for instance, we need to hear the recommendations of those organizations and NGOs who are hosting these youth or assisting them in processing their documents. Also, we must identify when to intervene in those families from which children are either fleeing or being evicted owing to poverty and its many associated problems.