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Call for child rights in German constitution

September 20, 2017

Advocacy groups in Germany want the next government to incorporate the rights of children and teens into the country's constitution. They say failure to protect younger generations could have dangerous results.

A little boy sitting on the floor
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/. Pleul

UNICEF in Germany used Children's Day on Wednesday to pressure the next ruling coalition to anchor children's rights in the country's Basic Law, or Grundgesetz.

"Parliaments, administrations or courts must take greater account of what their decisions mean for the youngest [citizens]," UNICEF chairman in Germany, Jürgen Heraeus, told the Passauer Neuen Presse.  

Germans vote in a parliamentary election on September 24, with Chancellor Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) expected to gain the greatest share of votes ahead of the Social Democrats (SPD).

Heraeus warned that although most of the parties had touted their commitment to protecting children during the campaign, the real test was whether they would follow through. "After election day, the interests of children will soon be treated as low priority again," he said.

A young boy looks into a bin
UNICEF says child poverty in Germany has risen in recent yearsImage: picture-alliance/Joker/W.G. Allgöwer

Family Affairs Minister Katarina Barley from the SPD has also called for including child rights in the Basic Law, noting on Tuesday that "the interests and rights of children have not yet been adequately considered everywhere in Germany."

Opponents to such a change argue that all people, including children, are equally covered by the Basic Law and don't need specific mention.

Child poverty increasing

According to UNICEF's Heraeus, child poverty in Germany is increasing - mainly due to the arrival of around 300,000 refugee children whose families have taken time to find their feet, and the fact that many single parents are surviving on little support over an extended period of time.

He pointed out that in some cities - such as Berlin, or in western Germany's industrial Ruhr area - up to 35 percent of children live in households that rely on unemployment benefits. "These children need to have a fair chance and be made to feel that they are needed," he said.

He stressed that it was crucial for local and federal governments to work together to ensure the consistent quality of education, from kindergartens to secondary school, across the country.

UNICEF's call for greater recognition of children's rights was echoed by aid groups the German Child Protection Agency and the German Children's Fund, which this week presented a five-point action plan for overcoming child poverty.

Child poverty germany

Expanding voting rights?

In the build-up to Sunday's election, there have also been calls for younger Germans to be given more of a say in politics. 

Social Democrat Raed Saleh, a senior member of the city-state parliament in Berlin, this week proposed lowering the voting age to 16 or 17 for local referenda and plebiscites in Berlin, as well as granting voting rights to foreigners without a German passport. Such a reform, he told the Berliner Morgenpost on Monday, would mean a large part of Berlin's inhabitants - almost 700,000 people - would no longer be excluded from decisions affecting everyday life in the city.

The SPD's candidate for chancellor, Martin Schulz, has also suggested lowering the voting age from 18 to 16 for federal elections. While the initiative has been backed by the Greens and the Left party, it hasn't found much support in the CDU. Peter Altmaier, chief of staff at the German Chancellery, on Monday told Spiegel magazine he found the idea of 16-year-olds having the right to vote "chilling."

Much of Germany celebrates Weltkindertag or World Children's Day on September 20, although the UN's Universal Children's Day falls on November 20. Some in parts of Germany that used to belong to the communist east still mark the Soviet-era day set aside for youths, June 1.

nm/msh (AFP, KNA)