This report addresses the treatment of unaccompanied migrant children in the Canary Islands after their arrival. It does not address in detail the push factors behind childrens departure from their countries of origin. Human Rights Watch did not assess or conclude whether these children have a valid claim for asylum or international protection. Instead, we look at the procedures in place to guarantee that children who do have such claims can access protection, among other aspects of entitlement, to remain in Spain.
Human Rights Watch researchers visited 11 residential centers on five islands in January 2007 and interviewed a total of 75 boys between the ages of 10 and 17 in those centers. Researchers additionally interviewed two young adults who had spent time in the child protection system in the Canary Islands as children. All interviews with children were conducted individually and in private. Interviews were conducted in Arabic and Wolof with the assistance of interpreters, and in some cases in Spanish, French, English, or Portuguese without interpretation.
In the Canary Islands we met with officials from the Child Protection Directorate, central government representatives, the Office of the Public Prosecutor, local authorities (cabildo), as well as the Canary Islands ombudsperson. In Madrid we met with officials from the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, the Office of the Prosecutor General, the Ministry of Interior, as well as the Office of the National Ombudsperson.
All childrens names have been replaced by pseudonyms. In some instances their age and the exact date and location of the interview have also been withheld to avoid the possibility of identifying the child. Some names of staff members working in residential centers have also been withheld to protect them from possible repercussion for the information shared.
All children we interviewed were in care institutions where they remained following our encounter with them. They related to us information in a confidential manner that included details about violence, ill-treatment, and abuses they were subjected to or witnessed. By doing so, they put themselves in a vulnerable position because they remained in the custody of and dependent on persons they alleged to be complicit in these abuses.
This circumstance greatly influenced our methodology in conducting this research and it demanded utmost caution in using the information given by children. In particular, it prevented us from immediately raising allegations made by children with authorities in charge, as this could have put children at serious risk of reprisal that we were unable to prevent or even monitor. We thus brought details of childrens allegations to the attention of authorities only after carefully assessing the risks entailed for these children, and in a manner in which risk of reprisal for the children was minimized. This included where necessary keeping confidential information that could lead to the identification of alleged victims or could lead alleged perpetrators to seek reprisal.
Human Rights Watch assesses the treatment of unaccompanied migrant children in Spain according to international law and standards, in particular international human rights treaties to which Spain is a party including the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (Convention against Torture),2 and relevant regional treaties such as the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (ECHR)3 and the European Social Charter. As a member of the European Union, Spain is also bound by relevant European Union directives and other legislation.
In line with international instruments, the term child refers to a person under the age of 18. An unaccompanied child is a person under the age of 18 who has been separated from his or her parents and other relatives and is not being cared for by an adult who, by law or custom, is responsible for doing so.4
This report uses the term migrant children to refer generally to children who have traveled to Spain from Morocco, West Africa, or elsewhere, regardless of their refugee or other legal status.5 Our use of the term is not intended to suggest that children have no valid asylum claim.
Children were often unable to distinguish between the Spanish National Police (Cuerpo Nacional de Policía) or local Police and the Civil Guard (Guardia Civil). Childrens use of the term police may refer to personnel from any of these law enforcement bodies unless we note that we were able to confirm the involvement of a particular law enforcement agency.
The term residential center refers to all residential care centersthe traditional care structures as well as the newly created emergency centers.
The term educator (educadores) refers to staff working in residential centers.
2 Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), adopted November 20, 1989, G.A. Res. 44/25, annex, 44 U.N. GAOR Supp. (No. 49) at 167, U.N. Doc. A/44/49 (1989), entered into force September 2, 1990, ratified by Spain on December 6, 1990; International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), adopted December 16, 1966, G.A. Res. 2200A (XXI), 21 U.N. GAOR Supp. (No.16) at 52, U.N. Doc. A/6316 (1966), 999 U.N.T.S. 171, entered into force March 23, 1976, ratified by Spain April 27, 1972; International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), adopted December 16, 1966, G.A. Res.2200A (XXI), 21 U.N. GAOR Supp. (No.16) at 49, U.N.Doc. A/6316(1966), 993 U.N.T.S. 3, entered into force January 3, 1976, ratified by Spain on April 27, 1977; Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment (Convention against Torture), adopted December 10, 1984, G.A. res.39/46, annex, 39 U.N. GAOR Supp. (No. 51) at 197, U.N. Doc. A/39/51(1984), entered into force June 26, 1987, ratified by Spain on October 21, 1987.
3 European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (ECHR), 213 U.N.T.S. 222, entered into force September 3, 1953, as amended by Protocols Nos. 3, 5, 8, and 11 which entered into force on September 21, 1970, December 20, 1971, January 1, 1990, and November 1, 1998, respectively, ratified by Spain on October 4, 1979.
4 CRC, art. 1; United Nations (UN) Committee on the Rights of the Child, Treatment of Unaccompanied and Separated Children Outside their Country of Origin, General Comment No.6, U.N. Doc. CRC/GC/2005/6 (2005), paras. 7-9. Some children reported that they arrived with adult relatives and were separated after their arrival due to the different legal regimes applicable to adult migrants. Human Rights Watch was unable to determine whether these relatives were caregivers by custom or law and therefore uses the term unaccompanied children throughout the report.
5 For a discussion of the term migrant, see generally Amnesty International, Living in the Shadows: A Primer on the Human Rights of Migrants (London: Amnesty International Publications, 2006), pp. 8-9.