Work in the framework of the Council of Europe Strategy for the Rights of the Child (2016-2021) continues with some readjustments in working methods and in the calendar of meetings. Responding to the concerns raised by the negative impact on children of the COVID-19 and the crisis management measures, the Children’s Rights Division has opened a dedicated webpage facilitating access to key standards, guidance and practical tools for parents and frontline professionals to communicate with children, to prevent harm encountered in online activities and respond to their increased vulnerability, in particular to violence.
In their statement released on 8 April, the Chair and the Vice-Chair persons of the Committee that monitors the Council of Europe Convention on the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse (the Lanzarote Convention) have called its 46 State Parties to continue upholding children’s rights in line with the convention, which requires them to take specific measures to protect all children and to prevent and respond to sexual violence at all times, everywhere. They call States to make sure that children are confined in safe environments and that helplines and other reporting and child protection systems are fully operational. They also warn against the increased vulnerability of children to sextorsion, grooming and other information and communication technologies (ICT)-facilitated violence.
The Steering Committee for the Rights of the Child (CDENF)
The selection of experts contributing to the Steering Committee for the Rights of the Child’s subordinate committee and working group up has progressed. With respect to the Committee of Experts on the rights and best interests of the child in parental separation and in care proceedings (CJ/ENF-ISE), the process of selection of experts jointly with the European Committee on Legal Co-operation (CDCJ) is expected to be shortly completed and the workplan is being developed. The CDENF’s Working Group on responses to violence against children (CDENF-GT-VAE) has now been set up and will start its substantive work, with two reports in preparation: the first one exploring mechanisms for professionals to report violence against children and relevant legal duties, and a second one on measures aimed at preventing peer violence and sexual abusive behaviour by children. While taking into account the COVID-19 situation, meetings are planned to be held in the second half of the year, and where necessary online. Information on this work can be found via the updated webpage related to the “Children’s Rights Committee”.
Phase II of the project on Combating violence against children in Ukraine started officially on 1 April 2020 with an inception phase to ensure that the project addresses all relevant priority needs while the launching and local staff recruitments are slightly delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Once the team will be in place, national stakeholders will be contacted to provide feedback and approve project priorities for the prevention and protection of children against sexual abuse and the promotion of the rights of the child in the digital environment and child-friendly justice. The project is implemented in the framework of the Council of Europe Action Plan for Ukraine.
The regional project to End online child sexual exploitation and abuse@Europe (EndOCSEA@Europe), co-financed by the End Violence Fund made further positive progress with the support of its 10 focus countries (Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Georgia, Republic of Moldova, Montenegro, Serbia, Turkey and Ukraine). Methodologies were established to produce reviews of training materials for judges and prosecutors and gap analysis which can be used by any country. Accordingly, reviews and gap analysis were developed for the 3 pilot countries (Armenia, Azerbaijan and Ukraine) and will soon be shared to discuss recommendations. A draft of the pilot training module on OCSEA for law enforcement and the judiciary is ready to be tested in pilot countries to ensure its relevance and practical use prior to its publication. All activities and deliverables of the project will be adapted to ensure additional support to beneficiaries with measures to address increasing risks of OCSEA in the context of covid-19.
With the financial support of the European Union Structural Reform Support Programme, a phase II project was launched in December 2019 in close collaboration with the Slovenian Ministry of Justice to Support the implementation of Barnahus in Slovenia. A first Barnahus in Slovenia will be set up by 2021 to coordinate parallel criminal and child welfare investigations, and to provide support services for child victims and witnesses of sexual abuse. The project currently supports the drafting of a specific law regulating the establishment and operation of Barnahus and will shortly launch a research on the phenomenon of child sexual exploitation and abuse in Slovenia. Upcoming capacity building and training will focus on improving skills and resources to carry out forensic interviewing and forensic medical examinations of child victims as well as to strengthen the role of legal professionals and the procedures used in Barnahus. Plans are being adjusted in response to the increasing risks of sexual violence against children at home and online in the context of the COVID-19 restriction measures.
During the period of containment, the Children’s Rights Division is dedicating precious time to finalise the production of the following publications:
A Handbook on Children’s Participation for Professionals
A child-friendly version of the Council of Europe Guidelines to respect, protect and fulfil the rights of the child in the digital environment (CM/Rec(2018)7)
A “digital parenting” guide
A Handbook for policy makers on the rights of the child in the digital environment (equally following up on CM/Rec(2018)7)
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