Children often bear the brunt of crises, but are rarely the first to speak out.
Around the world, the end of year festivities are usually filled with magic, hope and peace. Just before the end of last year, a powerful earthquake shook the Croatian towns of Petrinja, Sisak, Glina and nearby villages, bringing this joyful season to an abrupt and brutal end. The multiple quakes had a devastating impact on the lives of 70,000 people, of which 13,750 children, leaving many homeless during a cold winter and amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, where the safest place to avoid contamination is one’s home.
Children often bear the brunt of crises, but are rarely the first to speak out. This has also been the case after the December earthquakes in Croatia. According to official data, a total of 58 school and university buildings were affected by the earthquakes. Most of the 21 schools in Petrinja, Glina and Sisak, providing learning to 5,658 students, are now unusable due to the damage. The Croatian Government and the European Commission reacted promptly to mitigate the immediate impact of the tremors. The authorities want to ensure that schooling continues - where the epidemiological conditions permit classes should continue and preparation are underway for the rebuilding of infrastructure. Again, the EU and its member states acted in remarkably swift solidarity. 14 countries made offers of assistance within 24h of Croatia’s request – and Slovenia was the first to deliver much needed housing containers on the same day.
Yet, children continue to be affected both by the damage the earthquake has had on their homes during the winter season, but also because of the lack of services and the closure of their schools. Schools are key to the long-term development of a child, not only from an educational point of view. They are safe places, they often provide the one warm meal a day, especially for children from vulnerable backgrounds. We have personally seen how volunteers, national and European civil protection are helping to address the consequences of this devastating earthquake and helping those in need, including the children.
The majority of the victims of humanitarian crisis worldwide are children. Humanitarian crises have damaging long-term physical, psychological and social consequences for children. They are especially vulnerable when they have suffered the loss of their homes or members of their families, their basic support system or when they are forced to flee violence and conflict. Child protection and support to children in conflict and crisis is therefore a key priority for the European Union, inside and outside its borders. The immediate response must ensure a minimum level of continuity for access to basic services, healthcare, shelter and education. All of this was highlighted once again after the earthquakes in Croatia.
In a few weeks’ time, the European Commission will adopt an EU Comprehensive Strategy on the Rights of the Child, which seeks to strengthen the equal access to rights, protection and support for all children, regardless of background, origin, gender and residence status. The strategy will be our roadmap for the coming years and we will ensure that it entails concrete actions and initiatives, which will have a tangible and positive impact on children’s lives. The strategy will also propose measures to increase the support to and the protection of children affected by humanitarian crises and natural disasters.
While we cannot prevent natural disasters from happening, we can put in place preventive measures that will mitigate their impact, especially on the most vulnerable of our society, whose lives might be irrevocably changed should we fail to respond in an adequate manner. This responsibility to act lies on the shoulders of all political leaders, including our own.
- Publication date
- 25 January 2021
- Directorate-General for Communication