The bulk of the Council of Europe's efforts in this field are focused on enhancing children's citizenship and rights in society by facilitating their participation in different organisations, leisure activities and community work. Two training manuals, Compass for young people and Compasito for children offer them, as well as teachers and other youth workers, a variety of opportunities for practising young people's human rights (Council of Europe, 2003, 2007a). A "European Portfolio for youth leaders and youth workers" aims at increasing the recognition of non-formal education, learning and youth work (www.coe.int/youth). Participation, to be meaningful, has to have a purpose, and young people's involvement should lead to outcomes and results either right away or shortly thereafter. To enhance children's access to decision making, the Council of Europe (2005b) suggests taking action to make schools a place where young people experience democracy. Further, it suggests initiating a political campaign to lower the voting age to 15. While these instruments have young people in general as their target group, the Council of Europe's attention often goes to children in marginal situations.
The situation of children in the vast number of immigrant families in Europe has been of major concern to the organisation. The 2006 Social Forum initiated a discussion as to what extent pluralism can be institutionalised, and how diversity can play a constructive role in reforming social policy (Council of Europe, 2006a). On a more detailed level, recommendations have been developed on specific aspects of children's lives, such as providing pre-school children with adequate language skills, integrating newly arrived children of migrants into the educational system, and ensuring a successful transition from school to the labour market. The Committee also discussed how member states can promote the financial independence of migrant parents and facilitate their participation in parental activities in kindergartens and schools (Council of Europe, 2008a).
The following examples will illustrate efforts towards children and young people in more specific situations:
Although the list of examples is far from exhaustive, it is comprehensive enough to demonstrate some important points regarding the implementation of children's rights as citizens. First, the examples show the discrepancy between the well-developed legal framework and sophisticated academic discourses on children's rights on the one hand and the reality of children's lives on the other. These rights are still absent in the daily life of many children, and the initiatives mentioned in the previous paragraph aim at implementing children's rights on a relatively elementary level, such as guaranteeing their access to fundamental education and health services. Second, the examples demonstrate the necessity for implementing children's rights among specific groups and in a range of arenas.
Although the Council of Europe fills an important gap here by developing standards for children's rights, there is no guarantee that member states will implement its recommendations. Third, while the UNCRC grants children and young people the formal right to be heard in matters that concern them, whether society will take any notice of their opinion is far from clear. The lack of real opportunity to have a say in social and political matters is one of the themes running through all research on young people's social rights (Wyness et al., 2004, Clark et al., 2005). The Council of Europe's suggestion for lowering the voting age to 15 is likely to a controversial issue in this regard, challenging the member states' readiness to give children and young people a say beyond tokenism.
Clark, A.; Ktolark, A. and Moss, P. (Eds.), (2005) Beyond listening. Children's perspectives on early childhood services, University of Bristol: The Policy Press.
Council of Europe (2000) 'Recommendation Rec (2000) 4 E 03 February 2000 on the education of Roma/Gypsy children in Europe'.
Council of Europe (2003) Compass. A Manual on Human Rights Education with young People, Strasbourg: Council of Europe Publishing.
Council of Europe (2005b) Synthesis Report on the Work of the Council of Europe's Directorate of youth and Sport in the field of Youth Participation and Democratic Citizenship between 2003 and 2005 and an analysis of current trends in youth participation and recommendations for future actions, Strasbourg: Council of Europe Publishing.
Council of Europe (2005d) 'Recommendation Rec (2005) 5 on the Rights of Children Living in Residential Institutions'.
Council of Europe (2005c) 'Recommendation Rec (2005) 4 E 23 February 2005 to member states on housing conditions of Roma and Travellers in Europe'.
Council of Europe (2006a) Achieving social cohesion in a multicultural Europe – concepts, situation and developments. Trends in social cohesion, No 18, Strasbourg: Council of Europe Publishing.
Council of Europe (2006c) 'Recommendation Rec (2006) 5 of the Committee of Ministers to member States on the Council of Europe Action Plan to Promote the Rights and full Participation of people with disabilities in societies (2006-2015)'.
Council of Europe (2006d) Rights of children at risk and in care, Strasbourg: Council of Europe Publishing.
Council of Europe (2006b) 'Rec (2006) 10 E 12 July 2006 on better access to health care for Roma and Travellers in Europe'.
Council of Europe (2007a) Compasito. Manual on human rights education for children. Strasbourg: Directorate of Youth and Sport of the Council of Europe.
Council of Europe (2008a) 'Recommendation CM/Rec (2008)4 of the committee of Ministers to member states on strengthening the integration of children of migrants and of immigrant background'.
Council of Europe (2008b) Recommendations and Guidelines to promote community living for children with disabilities and deinstitutionalisation, as well as to help families to take care of their disabled child at home. Strasbourg: Council of Europe.
Wyness, M.; Harrison, L. and Buchanan, I. (2004) 'Childhood, Politics and Ambiguity: Towards an Agenda for Children's Political Inclusion', Sociology, 38, 1. pp. 81-99.
Sandbaek, M. (2008). The Council of Europe's policy to promote children's rights – achievements and challenges. International Journal of Child and Family Welfare,11, 4. pp. 146-147.