Barnahus as a model for an integrated approach to child protection

The Vice President of the European Commission for Democracy and Demography, Dubravka Šuica, expresses her support for the Barnahus model and the Council of Baltic Sea States’ efforts to prevent and fight violence against children.

Guest article by Dubravka Šuica, Vice-President of the European Commission for Democracy and Demography since 2019.

Half of all children worldwide, from babies to teenagers, are victims of various forms of violence each year. Many children tell us about the violence they are experiencing, a violence that has many forms. We have seen evidence of physical and psychological violence or violence related to socio-economic exclusion and poverty.  

Yet, violence is preventable, and we must work together. Upholding children’s rights is a priority of the European Commission. The EU Strategy on the Rights of the Child proposes concrete tools and ways forward.  

In May 2022 we adopted the Better Internet for Kids Strategy to ensure that every child is protected, empowered and respected online. Sexual abuse of children can take multiple forms, both offline and online. In order to combat this scourge, we proposed a Council regulation on preventing and combating child sexual abuse. This legislation would facilitate a coordinated approach across the many actors involved with safeguarding and supporting children. The creation of a European centre to prevent and combat sexual abuse would not only facilitate research and exchange of best practices among member states. The centre can support the broader implementation of the Barnahus model.  

In March 2022, the European Commission presented a directive on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, which entails significant child protection provisions.  

In the civil law area, the Brussels IIB Regulation entered into force in 2022 to better protect children in cross-border custody cases with simplified procedures. In December 2022, the Commission proposed a horizontal legislative initiative to support the mutual recognition of parenthood between member states.  

Going forward, we have started to work on an initiative to strengthen integrated child protection systems. It will call on all relevant authorities and services to cooperate in a system that puts the child at the centre. In our view, an integrated child protection system should be multidisciplinary and involve all relevant authorities at all stages of child protection so that no child falls between the cracks. The Commission will pursue consultations in 2023 in view of presenting this initiative in early 2024. 

The Barnahus model is considered as a model for an integrated approach. Through funding that is aimed at structural reform, the Commission has helped member states to set up the Barnahus in close cooperation with the Council of Europe. Our Citizens, Equality, Rights and Values program has funded several projects, including from the Council of Baltic Sea States.  

Moreover, the Internal Security Fund supports a project under the umbrella of Barnahus to ensure that child victims of online sexual violence receive suitable and comprehensive assistance. Today’s discussion will also feed our reflections on integrated child protection systems.  

Child protection is central to the European Union support to children fleeing the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine. In the Council Conclusions on the Rights of the Child, member states reiterated Europe’s full commitment to protecting children’s rights, notably in armed conflicts, trafficking in human beings, illegal adoption, crises or emergency situations, including climate change or natural disasters.

I warmly welcome the Council of Baltic State’s efforts, the United Nations, international organisations, member states, civil society and stakeholders for their close cooperation, especially during these trying times. The implementation of the Barnahus project is inspirational for all of us.

Let us ensure that we do everything in our collective power to lift children up and enable them to thrive in a violence-free life.