As we celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child tomorrow, the reality for many children around the world falls far short of the guarantees outlined in the treaty.
Children fleeing abusive situations in their home country and migrating without their families are among the most vulnerable. Some come to Europe, including France, hoping for a better life, only to find that here too, their rights are not respected.
In France, unaccompanied migrant children are pushed back at the French-Italian border, are falsely labelled adults and denied services by authorities, and made to live in shabby hotels or worse, in squats, even when recognized as children. These children are denied fundamental rights, such as protection and education. Human Rights Watch has exposed this situation, outrageous in a country like France, in reports on Calais, Paris, and the Hautes-Alpes region, and the French Ombudsman condemned it this week in his annual report on the rights of children.
The title of his report speaks for itself: “Childhood and violence: the part played by public institutions.” The Ombudsman considers that the failure of the institutions to take into account the best interests of the child constitutes a form of institutional violence. As many children have told us during our research, and as confirmed by the Ombudsman, procedures to determine the age of children often disregard the trauma these children have suffered in their home country and on their migratory journey. Far from the spirit of benevolence and the benefit of the doubt that, according to French and international law, should guide the procedure, evaluators seem to routinely conduct biased interviews and consider those who claim to be children first as liars and not as particularly vulnerable people entitled to special protection.
According to the Ombudsman, even when “unaccompanied minors [are] taken into the care of the child protection services, [they] do not receive the same treatment as other children in care” – who themselves suffer from the deficiencies highlighted in the Ombudsmen’s report. This constitutes serious discrimination against unaccompanied migrant children who should be considered first as children in need of protection and not reduced to their immigration status.