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Children's Rights in EU External Action: Beyond Charity and Protection, Beyond Instrumentalisation and Conditionality

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The inclusion of children in EU external action, though welcome in principle, has failed so far to avoid the pitfalls of instrumentalisation – by invoking children's rights to serve other goals; charity – by only setting up development projects for children; protection – by focusing exclusively on offering protection to children in situations of crisis or violence; and conditionality – by using the observance of children's rights as a condition for aid or trade. While instrumentalisation, charity and protection may apply to EU policies in general, the criticism of conditionality is more specific to external action. An alternative starting point is then proposed, i.e. that of children's rights obligations incumbent on the EU itself rather than on third countries, in order to move beyond instrumentalisation and conditionality. It is believed that the emerging concept of transnational children's rights obligations may provide a useful conceptual framework in this regard. These transnational obligations are based on the acceptance of a shared responsibility for children's rights, and oblige powerful actors minimally to abstain from violating children's rights.

Affiliations: 1: University of Antwerp Law Research School, UNICEF Chair in Children's Rights;, Email:


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