La Esperanza center on Tenerife and Arinaga center on Gran Canaria are the two biggest emergency centers in the Canary Islands and were both opened in summer 2006. La Esperanza accommodated almost 200 children at the time of our visit, and Arinaga 134 children. The other two emergency centres are Tegueste (on Tenerife), which we also visited, and Arucas (on Gran Canaria).
1. La Esperanza Center
The emergency center La Esperanza is a former juvenile detention facility that was closed by judicial order in mid-2005 for its failure to meet security standards.158 The center is made up of three sections: two wings in the main building and one encampment. Two different directors are in charge, one overseeing wing one and the other overseeing wing two and the encampment section.
The center is located at 950 meters above sea level, in a secluded area surrounded by forests on the slope of Mount Teide, far from residential neighborhoods, and subject to very low temperatures in wintertime.159 Seventeen-year old Jean-Marie N. summarized the location in the following words: I am not happy here and I feel very isolated. We dont even see a car passing by I cannot understand how I am supposed to integrate in such a place.160
The section of wing one in use had a maximum capacity of 35 children as a juvenile detention center. In January 2007 it accommodated 89 migrant children.161 Wing two held 76 children in nine rooms. The staff member who accompanied us on our tour of the second wing could not tell us how many children it had been designed to hold, but the rated capacity would not have taken into account the fact that some parts of the wing were not in use.
More generally, the infrastructure in wing two was markedly worse than in wing one. The entrance to wing two is through a large, unused foyer littered with broken chairs, the ceiling stained from leaks and paint peeling off the walls. Walking through the foyer and up the stairs, we passed a set of cell doors blackened from smoke, with scorch marks on the wall around it. The staff member accompanying us told us that the cell was an unused remnant of the time when the facility was a detention center; he said that the fire had happened before the facility was converted to its current use. We had to open this part in two days, so we did what we could, he explained.162
Lakh S., age 17, provided us with details that indicate that also no substantial renovation works were carried out in wing one prior to its opening as a residential section for migrant children:
Rooms in both wings are about 18 square meters, bare, and furnished with bunk beds (for up to eight children in wing one, for eight or more in wing two). There were no storage places in the rooms where children can keep their belongings safely, other than in suitcases under their beds (the closets in wing one had broken locks). There are no desks that would enable children to study privately.
The kitchen remains unequipped and no food is prepared in the center. The meals are brought to the center by catering services twice daily (see also below, Section VII.2). There are no utensils to prepare hot beverages or to heat milk for breakfast. Electricity in the rooms is controlled centrally and all lights are switched off at 11 p.m.
The encampment section is particularly remotea 15- to 20-minute walk up the slope from the center itself. Half a dozen cabins surround several larger buildings. Children assigned to the encampment had stayed in the cabins, where they were housed in small groups, but when we visited in January 2007 the 21 children in the encampment were all housed together in one of the larger buildings in an area that had been used to store supplies. Staff and children gave different explanations of the reason for this recent change. Whatever the reason for the move, all of the children we spoke with at the encampment asked that they be allowed to return to the cabins if they had to stay at the encampment. As in the words of Abdul Q., age 17, all children complained that their large dormitory was cold in comparison to the cabins: We would like to return to the cabins because it is very cold in the dormitory. We are dying of cold.164
In all parts of the center, because windows in childrens rooms cannot be completely closed, temperatures in the rooms become very cold in wintertime.165 All children interviewed in wing one reported that they were cold at night even if they slept in their warmest clothes. Some children specifically requested more clothes or blankets against the cold. However, they were not given a second blanket even after repeated requests. Seventeen-year old Jean-Marie N. told us:
Human Rights Watch is particularly concerned by the reports of children we interviewed that indicate widespread and very severe beatings of children in wing one taking place during the last five months of 2006. According to testimony from the children, beatings were common and went unchecked, although it would appear that staff at all levels must have been aware of the alleged beatings and may have been personally implicated in a number of them.
In particular, the children described what they characterized as a punishment cell located on the upper floor, where children were beaten and locked up for periods of up to several days at a time. Children described it as a filthy, windowless and airless cell of a few square meters in which it was even difficult to breathe. Children locked up in this room had to urinate and defecate on the floor as they were not allowed to go to the toilet.
Testimony of Jean-Marie N., age 17
One day an educator asked a stupid question of a boy, and the boy didnt reply well. As a result he was taken upstairs into a prison roomtheres a punishment room where children are beaten, upstairs. Lots of children passed through this room. One boy one day asked whether he could go back to his country; afterwards he was taken upstairs into the punishment room. One boy got into trouble with the educators. That day the educator took him to the shower and beat him up. There was blood in the boys mouth and his clothes were full of bloodhis shirt could not be used anymore.167
Testimony of Lakh S., age 17
For example they threw cigarettes to the ground and asked a boy to pick it up; when he refused to do so they took him upstairs where he was punished and his money was also cut. Another day an educator smoked a cigarette, threw it out, and told the boy to pick it up. The boy refused. The educator then complained [the boy was beaten] the boy had blue bruises everywhere . There was no blood but he was injured.168
Testimony of Salem L., age 17
Theres a punishment cell upstairs. Children were locked up for three to four days sometimes. They received food during that time but they had no permission to go to the toilet. It happened very often that children were taken upstairs. Four boys especially always got locked up; they were always the same.169
Testimony of Papis F., age 17
The boys were beaten up there [in the punishment cell]. I heard screams for about two to three hours coming from upstairs. Five boys were locked up in the cell from 4 p.m. to 9 a.m. They received food and breakfast but there is no toilet in that room.170
Testimony of Lamine P.
I was never taken upstairs [to the punishment cell] but others were; they were beaten and locked up, sometimes up to two, three or four days.171
Children reported feeling a pervasive climate of fear in the center whereby they felt they could be severely punished for the slightest offense. Jean-Marie N. recounted, One boy once called his family because his mother was sick. He could not be called back as he was scared that his phone would be confiscated if staff caught him using his mobile phone. So he kept his phone switched off and could not be called.172 Papis F. recalled, One boy was beaten up Its because he used a mobile phonethere was a categorical ban to use mobile phones. The director said that no one was entitled to use their mobile phones. The same was true about eating candies.173
Jean-Marie N., indicated that although some educators were concerned about childrens treatment in the center they were apparently powerless to change anything: Some educators had pity on us but they couldnt do anything as they were afraid themselves.174
In September 2006 approximately 100 children escaped as a group from the center in protest, and were immediately taken back by the police who were called to respond.175 Seventeen-year-old Jean-Marie N. recalled their departure:
2. Arinaga Center
Arinaga center is a former dormitory of a technology institute, located in an industrial area outside Las Palmas de Gran Canaria. The center, with a capacity for 90 children, accommodated 134 children at the time of our visit.177 According to childrens reports, it is regularly overcrowded. Several children reported that there were times with well over 200 children in the center (the highest figure we heard was 269178) and that they had had to sleep in the kitchen during that time. Seventeen-year-old Moussa N. said, They put mattresses on the floor for everybody and we slept in the kitchen. It was a difficult period and a very nervous situationthe educators became very nervous over any little thing.179 Nasir A. told us that he had to sleep on a carpet in the kitchen.180
Human Rights Watchs scheduled visit to Arinaga emergency center was delayed for one week from the authorities side. Children reported that in the weeks preceding our visit intense renovations had taken place.181 Fourteen-year-old Malik R. told us that before your visit, the center smelled very bad.182 Yussef A., age 17, described the previous situation similarly: We slept in the kitchen previously under the tables; that was before. Then they sent the [sub-Saharan African] children to [mainland Spain] and now they changed everything; the center stank completely before.183 Abduileh K., age 15, described a flurry of activity preceding our visit:
Children at Arinaga center reported serious levels of violence perpetrated by other children as well as by staff working at the center. Several children had physical marks of violence, including scars, on their bodies. Children told us that younger boys were particularly subject to violence, and some children reported that one staff member had sexually harassed them.
Testimony of Nasir A.
The educator grabbed me by the throat very violently while he was blocking the door with the other hand. He strangled meit lasted for about 30 seconds. I dont tell anybody what happened. If I tell the truth nobody would believe me. I dont want to talk about anything else going on in the center (starts crying)
Testimony of Ahmed A., age 17
Had I known Id live like this I would have stayed in [my country]. [Name withheld] wants to rape the smaller boys. Its the worst thing I have ever seen in this center. He is always after one small boy. I am too ashamed to tell you, but everybody knows. Everybody is scared to talk to the educators. We are scared of [him].186
Testimony of Serijme N., age, 17
There is violence by educators as well. They bump into children, or they take them by the throat and throw them against the wall. [Name withheld] takes children by the throat.187
Testimony of Moussa N., age 17
One day I got angry and one educator wanted to hit me and took me behind the center but the other children helped me. That educator is hitting childrenhe hits them very seriously, all nationalities. It is not clear why.188
More generally, many children felt that staff members failed to stop or prevent violence amongst the children themselves and in some instances even encouraged fighting, as the following typical accounts reveal:
Mohamad G. told us that he was singled out and particularly subjected to violence, with nobody to help him. One boy used to protect me but he escaped from the center. I have nobody to take care of me and protect me. I sometimes sleep outside the center to escape the abuses, he told us.194
Children reported that xenophobic remarks are common in the center. Seventeen-year-old Yussef A. told us, There is a lot of racism in the center. Few of the educators are good; the majority of them are racist.195 Serijme N. said, Two educators are aggressive; they continue to work here. [Name withheld] speaks badly about Africa, for example during breakfastif children ask for more sugar, [he] says that there is nothing in Africa but famine. It hurts us a lot to hear that.196
Arinaga is not the only center where peer violence is a frequent occurrence, nor is it confined to the emergency centers. Mohammed K., age 17, told us that there was no protection from violence in Llanos Pelados (a CAME, now closed) and that he left the center as a result:
Unsurprisingly, children in different centers reported that conditions in centers were especially tense and violent when facilities were overcrowded. Thirteen-year-old Ahmad S., at Playa Honda CAME/CAI, explained to us, There are only conflicts when the center is overcrowded. If theres too many children staying here the center is out of control and there are conflicts between children. I am the youngest; at my arrival there were lots of conflicts.198 Amadou N., age 17, told us, There were lots of children in Tafira center [Fondillo CAME/CAI]. There were disputes and thefts and fights among children. Two or three children usually attacked a child with stones. Three of them attacked me once and wanted to get my money . I was hit by a stone in the head; they took my money.199
While children staying at CAMEs generally enjoyed full freedom of movement and simply had to keep staff informed about their whereabouts, children in emergency centers were significantly restricted in their freedom of movement. The gate is always locked; only when we go to Las Palmas it is opened. I feel like a prisoner, 17-year-old Moussa N. reported.200 Generally, children in emergency centers were only able to leave their center once or twice during the week for a few hours, and on some weekends. On the other days, were always in the center, we cannot leave on our own . I would like to be able to leave also on other days; its difficult to always stay in the center, we were told by Yunus S., age 17.201 Were kept like in a prison here, said 12-year-old Mohammad I.202
Human Rights Watch found the gate of Arinaga center chained and padlocked on an unannounced visit. Children reported that the gate was locked 24 hours a day. The compound and building are surrounded by a high fence and children were not allowed to leave the compound unless in company of center staff. One staff member was assigned to monitor the fence in the back of the building to check that no children attempted to escape. We were also told that the gate of La Esperanza center had been constantly locked and guarded until the end of 2006.
These restrictions at emergency centers leave children with limited access to outside recreational activity. At Arinaga center, trips to a sports ground nearby during the week stopped altogether when the center introduced a new educational program, one week prior to Human Rights Watchs visit. Fifteen-year-old Abduileh K. described the new restrictions:
Jean-Marie N., at La Esperanza, told us:
States must recognize childrens right to rest and leisure, to engage in play and recreational activities appropriate to the age of the child and to participate freely in cultural life and the arts.205 Leave regimes that limit childrens freedom of movement to a restricted compound area and that resemble prison-like conditions are not conducive to childrens well-being and their social development, and hardly comply with their best interest.
In the case of unaccompanied children in care it can be reasonably argued that some limitation in childrens freedom of movement is in response to these childrens particular vulnerability, risk of being trafficked, their age, and thus is in their best interest. The head of the Child Protection Directorate (in effect the childrens guardian) explained that limitations on leaving the center are for the sole purpose of protecting children.206 Maria José Ortega from the Prosecutors Office in Las Palmas similarly noted, These centers are open centers and theres no vigilance needed of any type. If there are restrictions to leave it is for the sake of protecting children.207
Yet Human Rights Watch found very different regimes in place for the same group of children, which questions the validity of the explanations given by authorities. While children housed in CAMEs enjoy extensive freedom of movement, this is not the case for children in emergency centers. Furthermore, restrictions in place were blanket restrictions that negatively impacted on childrens right to recreational activity and that were not tailored to special needs of certain groups of children. For example, we found no different regimes in place for younger children who could be considered more vulnerable and therefore subject to special protection and rules. The limitation of childrens freedom of movement therefore was not based on any rational criteria but instead was determined by the type of center a child had been assigned to.
International law stipulates that every child has the right to protection from physical or mental violence. Under Article 19 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, children are to be protected from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation, including sexual abuse, while in the care of parent(s), legal guardian(s) or any other person who has the care of the child.208
Both the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment prohibit cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment209 as does the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).210
The European Court of Human Rights has on several occasions examined situations in which children in carein both state care, and foster carehave been victims of ill-treatment, and has set out very clearly the obligations on states in relation to children in care.211 In reminding states that ECHR Article 3 requires them to take measures designed to ensure that individuals within their jurisdiction are not subjected to torture or inhuman or degrading treatment, including such ill-treatment administered by private individuals, the Court has held that [t]hese measures should provide effective protection, in particular, of children and other vulnerable persons and include reasonable steps to prevent ill-treatment of which the authorities had or ought to have had knowledge 212
The court has also held that the right to privacy, protected by Article 8 of the ECHR, also imposes positive obligations to protect the physical and moral integrity of an individual from other persons.213
Although children in care are not considered to be deprived of their liberty, but rather under the guardianship of state authorities, the conditions of their care and the treatment to which they are exposed in care can give rise to violations of the states obligation to protect children from any inhuman or degrading treatment. When assessing material conditions in which children are cared for, account has to be taken of the cumulative effects of those conditions over time and the state of health of the children. The nature of the disciplinary regime imposed on the children also needs to be taken into account.
Human Rights Watch is concerned that the material conditions to which the children are subjected, including low quality of food and confiscation of food (see Section VII.2, below), and the low temperatures, when coupled with practices such as the use of a punishment room for children may rise to the level of inhuman and degrading treatment. In particular the detention of children in a punishment room for periods of up to a few days at a time could constitute arbitrary detention.214
An in-depth 2006 UN study on violence against children highlights that children in residential care are vulnerable to violence from their peers, particularly when conditions and staff supervision are poor. Contributing factors are the lack of privacy, frustration, overcrowding, and a failure to separate particularly vulnerable children from older, more aggressive children. The report concludes that the mixing of various levels of vulnerability increases childrens risk of being subject to violence.215 In the emergency centers Human Rights Watch visited, only in Tegueste were the sleeping areas for younger children separated from those of older children and located closer to the staff room. In all four centers children are not separated during daytime activities. Younger children themselves told us that they felt unsafe around older, bigger children.
The Convention on the Rights of the Child recognizes childrens entitlement to special care and protection and states obligation to ensure that institutions, services and facilities responsible for the care or protection of children shall conform with the standards established by competent authorities, particularly in the areas of safety, health, in the number and suitability of their staff as well as competent supervision. In all actions concerning children, the best interest of the child shall be a primary consideration.216
158 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Manuel Campos, prosecutor, Prosecutors Office, Tenerife, April 30, 2007. When the center was a detention facility, it was known as Nivaria.
159 Temperatures at night fall below 5°C during winter, http://personal.telefonica.terra.es/web/meteolaesperanza (accessed February 15, 2007).
160 Human Rights Watch interview with Jean-Marie N., La Esperanza center, January 20, 2007.
161 Wing one has seen a recent change of directors. Its first director, appointed at the opening of the center in August 2006, was transferred to head another center at the end of December 2006.
162 Human rights Watch interview with staff member, La Esperanza center, January 20, 2007.
163 Human Rights Watch interview with Lakh S., La Esperanza center, January 20, 2007.
164 Human Rights Watch interview with Abdul Q., La Esperanza center, January 20, 2007.
165 The windows in the rooms are made of unbreakable glass and consist of three parts. The central part is immobile and perforated for airing purposes. Two slides on both sides of the window could be shifted horizontally to cover the perforated part. Human Rights Watch was told that these slides had been removed by staff for security reason when La Esperanza was a juvenile detention center because they could easily be taken off and used as weapons.
166 Human Rights Watch interview with Jean-Marie N., La Esperanza center, January 20, 2007.
167 Human Rights Watch interview with Jean-Marie N., La Esperanza center, January 20, 2007.
168 Human Rights Watch interview with Lakh S., La Esperanza center, January 20, 2007.
169 Human Rights Watch interview with Salem L., La Esperanza center, January 20, 2007.
170 Human Rights Watch interview with Papis F., La Esperanza center, January 20, 2007.
171 Human Rights Watch interview with Lamine P., La Esperanza center, January 20, 2007.
172 Human Rights Watch interview with Jean-Marie N., La Esperanza center, January 20, 2007
173 Human Rights Watch interview with Papis F., La Esperanza center, January 20, 2007.
174Human Rights Watch interview with Jean-Marie N., La Esperanza center, January 20, 2007.
175 B. Sagastume, E. Calvo, One Hundred Children Escape in Protest From a Center in Tenerife (Cien menores extranjeros se fugan en señal de protesta de un centro de Tenerife), ABC.es (Madrid), http://www.abc.es/hemeroteca/historico-30-09-2006/abc/Nacional/cien-menores-extranjeros-se-fugan-en-se%C3%B1al-de-protesta-de-un-centro-de-tenerife_1423545588060.html (accessed April 2, 2007).
176 Human Rights Watch interview with Jean-Marie N., La Esperanza center, January 20, 2007.
177 Human Rights Watch interview with Gloria Gutiérrez González, January 31, 2007. A report by the Prosecutors Office in Las Palmas mentions that the centers capacity is 60 children. Letter and report by Maria José Ortega Mariscal, child protection prosecutor (fiscal de la sección de menores protección), to Human Rights Watch, June 1, 2007.
178 Human Rights Watch interview with Serijme N., Arinaga center, January 2007 (exact date withheld).
179 Human Rights Watch interview with Moussa N., Arinaga center, January 2007 (exact date withheld).
180 Human Rights Watch interview with Nasir A., Arinaga center, January 2007 (age and exact date withheld).
181 The center had also been visited by the European Commissioner for Health, Markos Kyprianou, at the end of January 2007.
182 Human Rights Watch interview with Malik R., Arinaga center, January 2007 (exact date withheld).
183 Human Rights Watch interview with Yussef A., Arinaga center, January 2007 (exact date withheld).
184 Human Rights Watch interview with Abduileh K., Arinaga center, January 2007 (exact date withheld).
186 Human Rights Watch interview with Ahmed A., Arinaga center, January 2007 (exact date withheld).
187 Human Rights Watch interview with Serijme N., Arinaga center, January 2007 (exact date withheld).
188 Human Rights Watch interview with Moussa N., Arinaga center, January 2007 (exact date withheld).
189 Human Rights Watch interview with Mohamad G., Arinaga center, January 2007 (age and exact date withheld).
190 Human Rights Watch interview with Nasir A., Arinaga center, January 2007 (age and exact date withheld).
191 Human Rights Watch interview with Yussef A., Arinaga center, January 2007 (exact date withheld).
192 Human Rights Watch interview with Zubir F., January 2007 (exact date and location withheld).
193 Human Rights Watch interview with Abduileh K., Arinaga center, January 2007 (exact date withheld).
194 Human Rights Watch interview with Mohamad G., Arinaga center, January 2007 (age and exact date withheld).
195 Human Rights Watch interview with Yussef A., Arinaga center, January 2007 (exact date withheld).
196 Human Rights Watch interview with Serijme N., Arinaga center, January 2007 (exact date withheld).
197 Human Rights Watch interview with Mohammed K., Fuerteventura, January 23, 2007.
198 Human Rights Watch interview with Ahmad S., Playa Honda center, January 25, 2007.
199 Human Rights Watch interview with Amadou N., Gran Canaria, January 17, 2007. Tafira center is now known as Fondillo center.
200 Human Rights Watch interview with Moussa N., Arinaga center, January 2007 (exact date withheld).
201 Human Rights Watch interview with Yunus S., La Esperanza center, January 20, 2007.
202 Human Rights Watch interview with Mohammad I., Arinaga center, January 2007 (exact date withheld).
203 Human Rights Watch interview with Abduileh K., Arinaga center, January 2007 (exact date withheld).
204 Human Rights Watch interview with Jean-Marie N., La Esperanza center, January 20, 2007.
205 CRC, art. 31.
206 Human Rights Watch interview with José Luís Arregui Sáez, Santa Cruz de Tenerife, January 19, 2007.
207 Human Rights Watch interview with Maria José Ortega, prosecutor, Prosecutors Office, Las Palmas, January 22, 2007.
208 CRC, art. 19.
209 ICCPR, arts.7, 24. Convention against Torture, art. 16.
210 ECHR, art. 3: No one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
211 See Z. and Others v. the United Kingdom, ECHR 2001-V; D.P. and J.C. v. the United Kingdom, Judgment of October 10, 2002; E. and Others v. the United Kingdom, Judgment of November 26, 2002.
212 Z. and Others v. the United Kingdom, para. 73; D.P. and J.C. v. the United Kingdom, para. 109; E. and Others v. the United Kingdom, para. 88.
213 See the X. and Y. v. the Netherlands, Judgment of March 26, 1985, Series A no. 91, p. 11, § 22, and Costello-Roberts v. the United Kingdom, Judgment of March 25, 1993, Series A no. 247-C, p. 61, § 36.
214 Arbitrary detention is prohibited under Article 5 of the ECHR and Article 9 of the ICCPR.
215 Pinheiro, World Report on Violence against Children, p. 189.
216 CRC, arts. 3, 20.