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Making Germany Child-Friendlier

DW staff (jp)
February 17, 2005

The Cabinet has approved a plan to make Germany one of Europe's most child-friendly countries by 2010. Key aspects include education, healthcare and prevention of violence.

The plan foresees children being a natural part of societyImage: Bilderbox

Just weeks after a study conducted by the Institute for Social Work and Education in Frankfurt revealed that one in five children live in poverty in Germany, Minister for Family Affairs Renate Schmidt (photo) has unveiled a scheme designed to make the nation child-friendlier.

Literaturfestival Familienminister Renate Schmidt in der Grundschule
Image: AP

"Children are our social legacy," she said in Berlin Wednesday. "They need the best conditions possible as they grow up."

Time for a mentality shift

That's where the "National Plan of Action for a Child-Friendly Germany" comes in.

Schmidt pointed out that Germany rates conspicuously poorly on the European scale of child-friendliness. While her new agenda, drawn-up in response to the UN World Summit for Children in 2002, might not include what she described as "spectacular innovations," she said she hoped it would bring about a shift in the prevailing mentality.

Weihnachtsmann aus Schokolade
Image: dpa Zentralbild

While Schmidt has already announced funding for aspects of the scheme such as improving children's eating habits and stressing the importance of physical exercise, her main priority is simply to make Germany look more favorably upon the young generation.

"Society has to start thinking that having children is a normal and a smart move," announced Schmidt.

Not used to children

According to the minister Germany isn't necessarily anti-children, it's just not used to them. While the average number of children per family in France and Ireland is two, it's just 1.3 in Germany.

"Germany has become a country that's forgotten what children are like," she stressed. "Children are no longer taken for granted as part of our lives. And no wonder, when only the minority of households includes children under 18."

A six-point plan

The mainstay of the six-point scheme is education. As Schmidt pointed out -- and as the last Program for International Assessment (Pisa) study proved -- social background largely determines educational opportunities and therefore employment chances in Germany.

Englischunterricht für Drittklässler in Nordrhein-Westfalen
Image: dpa zb

"We can't afford to let this happen any more," Schmidt said. Her strategy includes improving pre-school care, with, for example, better training for kindergarten staff, and providing whole-day schooling across the country. The underlying principle is that better child-care allows parents to combine family and career responsibilities.

Another top priority is taking measures to protect juveniles from violence. "Nothing is more horrifying than violence towards children," said Schmidt.

Schmidt also plans to initiate consciousness-raising campaigns against alcohol and tobacco and promoting healthy diets. "The fact that one third of 15-year-olds regularly drink and smoke is a worrying statistic," she said. Further issues that need to be addressed included the widespread use of computer games, the popularity of fast food and the tendency to watch television rather than practice sport -- resulting in obesity among one fifth of Germany's children.

Crucial to the campaign, said Schmidt, is making sure that children are actively involved in policy-making. A Web site has been set up by the Ministry for Family Affairs specifically for this purpose, and provides young people between the ages of 8-12 with information about children's rights and political associations.

"We need to make Germany a country where children's noise isn't considered more of a disturbance than traffic noise," Schmidt said.

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