AS (2016) CR 35
2016 ORDINARY SESSION
Thursday 13 October 2016 at 3.30 p.m.
In this report:
1. Speeches in English are reported in full.
2. Speeches in other languages are reported using the interpretation and are marked with an asterisk.
3. The text of the amendments is available at the document centre and on the Assembly’s website. Only oral amendments or oral sub-amendments are reproduced in the report of debates
4. Speeches in German and Italian are reproduced in full in a separate document.
5. Corrections should be handed in at Room 1059A not later than 24 hours after the report has been circulated.
The contents page for this sitting is given at the end of the report.
(Mr Rouquet, Vice-President of the Assembly, took the Chair at 3.35 p.m.)
The PRESIDENT* – The sitting is open.
1. Female genital mutilation in Europe
The PRESIDENT* – The first item of business this afternoon is the debate on the report titled “Female genital mutilation in Europe” (Document 14135), presented by Ms Béatrice Fresko-Rolfo on behalf of the Committee on Equality and Non-Discrimination, with an opinion presented by Ms Liliane Maury Pasquier on behalf of the Committee on Social Affairs, Health and Sustainable Development (Document 14148).
We are meant to conclude the examination of this text, including our vote, by 5.15 p.m. I remind you that the time limit on speeches this afternoon is four minutes.
I call Ms Fresko-Rolfo, rapporteur. You have 13 minutes in total, which you may divide between presentation of the report and reply to the debate.
Ms FRESKO-ROLFO (Monaco)* – Every five minutes, a little girl or a young woman is forcibly subjected to genital mutilation by her closest relatives. That is a child or a young woman, every five minutes. According to UNICEF, as of January 2016, 200 million girls and women worldwide had been subjected to female genital mutilation. Today, we believe 180 000 young women in Europe to be at risk. Behind those figures are the women, young girls and children who are subjected to this practice, the physical and psychological consequences of which are often irreparable. I have searched for some time for milder words, but as a rapporteur I have a responsibility to describe reality. I leave it to you to imagine the pain that women feel when they are tied to a tree or held to the ground and cut, often with a razor blade. It is an act of extreme violence that robs any woman who experiences it of her human dignity and shatters a child’s confidence in her parents.
The aim of the report is not to point fingers or assign blame. The complexity of FGM means that we must avoid such oversimplification. Rather, I wish to show you how the social pressure brought to bear on a family can be so strong that they perpetrate such a crime on their own children. I also feel it urgent to remind you that FGM is not a religious act, even though that is often invoked as a reason. In fact, it is an ethnic or tribal practice transmitted orally from generation to generation in order to subjugate women to men. That is why the role of religious leaders is crucial to making communities understand the absence of a link between faith and the practice of FGM.
It is also important not to stigmatise any single community; that would be a grave mistake. The origins of the practice are as diverse as the communities that practise it. Such communities may be found in Europe, North and South America, Africa, the Middle East and Asia. Nonetheless, the common traits remain men’s will and determination to control and dominate women and their sexuality in the context of marriage.
Some of our countries have already taken measures to prevent FGM and protect children. Such measures are indispensable, and I call on all member States to adopt the necessary legal measures. Nonetheless, despite all the goodwill exercised by our governments and parliaments, and particularly thanks to the implementation of the Istanbul Convention, the way ahead is hard. Social pressure in communities and its influence on the daily life of potential victims is very powerful. In some communities, FGM cannot be dissociated from the cultural or religious identity of the people concerned; to use a metaphor, it is like trying to uproot a tree. Our strategy must lie in understanding that this is not a matter of identity but rather an instrument of domination that cannot be accepted for any reason, as it violates the physical and moral dignity as well as the most basic rights of the persons subjected to it.
In spite of the bans and penal sanctions, these practices persist. When they do not take place in the corner of a kitchen in Europe, girls are sent on vacation to their parents’ country of origin to have the irreparable harm done to them. How can we fight this evil when children are subjected to it because their families are convinced that they are doing good and protecting virtue and family honour? What can we say about the medicalisation of FGM, whose goal is to make it a more banal act? I am convinced that only dialogue with communities can provide us with adequate answers to those problems. As well as legislative measures to repress the problem, we need a social answer.
Women need to be at the centre of the measures taken. The women I met often preferred to be called survivors. They have lived through horror and many of them are committed to preventive action in their own communities. They give us hope and show us the way forward, and we are obliged to admire them.
As for the men concerned, they are also beginning to take position against FGM. Their commitment and the education of young boys is going to help us to end this practice, because, let us remind ourselves, this is a traditional practice carried out by women for men.
A volunteer worker told me a story about an FGM act that was going to be carried out on a young girl who was going to be sent on holiday to her parents’ country of origin. A man – yes, a man – was able to convince the leader of the community not to carry it out. He was the only one who had that power of persuasion – from man to man. So, gentlemen, please continue to fight the good fight. It is vital for your daughters, granddaughters and women in general. In the same way, by mobilising the conscience of parents in terms of human rights and their children’s health, we can, I am sure, reduce the number of cases in Europe and throughout the world.
I welcome the excellent volunteer work that is being done, particularly by those associations that I was able to meet. They work in the field every day so as to convince women and men of the need to end these horrible practices and of the benefits that would stem from that. The associations’ work needs to be funded so that they can carry out their mission.
We are talking about the fear of losing one’s identity. Neither religion, culture nor social integration can justify this form of violence. We are talking about amputation. All women who discussed their experience said, “I am missing something.”
Before asking you to vote for this resolution on behalf of women and children’s rights, I want to say that, in writing this report, the research done with the Secretariat and the committee meetings with survivor associations will influence me for the rest of my life as a citizen, a woman, a mother and a politician.
International mobilisation is already happening on a large scale. The Council of Europe must act decisively to show that we will not drop our guard when it comes to violence against women and children. Our priority is to guarantee respect for human rights and the right to health, safety and physical integrity. We should act in such a way that, as the United Nations Secretary General, Mr Ban Ki-moon, has said, FGM should mean not “female genital mutilation”, but “finally girls matter”.
The PRESIDENT* – Thank you, Ms Fresko-Rolfo. You have six minutes left to respond to the speakers. I give the floor to Ms Maury Pasquier.
Ms MAURY PASQUIER (Switzerland)* – The Committee on Social Affairs, Health and Sustainable Development supports the report and commends Ms Fresko-Rolfo on the global approach she has taken to FGM. The approach needs to be global, because the causes, practices and challenges are multiple and the whole world is involved.
As the report demonstrates, numerous factors are involved in the practice of FGM. The mutilations cut through several human rights and have harmful consequences, both physical and psychological. I speak from my experience as a midwife. We need to prevent these acts, punish people for them and provide compensation to those affected. That has to involve the communities concerned, professionals and various State sectors, because FGM affects numerous nationals and residents in our countries.
The amendments proposed by the committee aim to strengthen the draft resolution, first by emphasising the reprehensible nature of FGM. That is the idea behind Amendment 1, whose aim is to protect girls who are subject to FGM at a very young age. But the fight against that cannot become a battle between different cultures. Without compromising our attitudes towards FGM, we need to focus on dialogue rather than stigma. That is the aim of Amendment 2. Professionals working with potential victims and their families need to be trained to deal with the issue in a tactful and appropriate way, in order to better convince them not to commit the act.
Amendment 4 seeks to require a culturally sensitive approach to encourage the victims of FGM to ask for help. As the draft resolution states, professionals in different sectors need to be encouraged to identify girls who are at threat of being subjected to FGM. They need to be able to speak out without fear of violent reactions from their family, and that is the aim of Amendment 3. We want to provide adequate legal protection.
As Ms Fresko-Rolfo notes, the Council of Europe and this Assembly in particular require that FGM be recognised as a reason for asylum under Resolution 1765 of the Istanbul Convention. That includes reasonable fear of being subjected to female genital mutilation. Amendment 5 aims to ensure that women who fear being subjected to the practice can obtain a residence permit.
The committee invites members to adopt the draft resolution in amended form, and in doing so to lift the veil on what the French writer Benoîte Groult called “the best kept secret in the world”.
The PRESIDENT* – Thank you, Ms Maury Pasquier. I now give the floor to speakers on behalf of political groups. The first is Mr İhsanoğlu.
Mr İHSANOĞLU (Turkey, Spokesperson for the European Conservatives Group) – I commend the work of the rapporteur, Ms Fresko-Rolfo and appreciate her comprehensive report. I totally agree with and wholeheartedly support its conclusion that no religious text prescribes FGM. There is no religious evidence for this harmful and humiliating practice against women and girls. No evidence can be traced to the holy texts. It is true that the practice is rooted in the pre-Islamic cultural and social customs of certain societies that took the shape of Islamic tradition through a false analogy with circumcision. If we look at a map of neighbouring countries, we will see that FGM happens in some and not in others. For instance, there is no FGM in Turkey and Azerbaijan, but it happens in countries just a few kilometres below them. The issue is complicated and generalisations are always harmful.
I support the report and the call for member States to strengthen their legislation and to develop awareness-raising information and education campaigns against FGM. I also express our appreciation of the complementary opinion of Ms Maury Pasquier.
Our efforts against FGM should be concerted with those of other international organisations. The meeting of the United Nations General Assembly on 20 December 2012 called for a global ban on FGM. The efforts of the Organisation of Islamic Co-operation (OIC), which is an umbrella organisation of the Muslim world with 57 member countries, are worth mentioning. Since 2005, the OIC has run a multi-faceted campaign against FGM. It obtained solid religious opinions to defy the erroneous concept that FGM can be justified on religious grounds. When I was the Secretary-General of the OIC, I repeatedly urged OIC member States to stop this harmful and humiliating practice. I also asked that the newly established Independent Permanent Human Rights Commission of the OIC be deeply concerned by and seized of the matter. I am glad to report that those intensive efforts have started to bear fruit and some OIC countries have started to prohibit FGM. However, I underline the importance of co-operation among international players, particularly in consideration of the possible increase in the number of cases of FGM in Europe due to increased immigration. That is all I can say on the two important reports.
Ms JOHNSSON FORNARVE (Sweden, Spokesperson for the Group of the Unified European Left) – I thank Ms Fresko-Rolfo for an excellent report. Some 200 million girls and women worldwide are living as victims of genital mutilation. Genital mutilation often leads to devastating physical and mental problems and can, among other things, lead to major complications in pregnancy and childbirth. In societies where genital mutilation is carried out, it is often seen as a necessary precursor for a girl becoming a woman, as an expression of purity and as a prerequisite for her to marry. It can also be an expression of control over female sexuality.
A lot of work must be done to change attitudes and behaviour among women and men who continue with the practice of genital mutilation. That must be done in the countries where it is practised, through international co-operation and development assistance projects, but important preventive work must also be done in those European countries that receive immigrants from countries where genital mutilation is common. In this work it is important to involve the entire community, including representatives of civil society and religious, political and traditional leaders, in creating conditions for sustainable change. I agree with the rapporteur on the importance of raising public awareness and running information campaigns in the languages most spoken by the communities practising female genital mutilation. It is also important to provide support, including financial support, to the initiatives of non-governmental organisations in this field.
It is important to strengthen girls by increasing their access to knowledge about their rights, including the right to be protected against genital mutilation. It is important to create social networks outside the family. I completely agree with the rapporteur about the urgent need to criminalise the act of subjecting a woman or girl to genital mutilation, including where it is practised by health care professionals. In Sweden, female genital mutilation is prohibited by law. If you live in Sweden, it is also illegal to have the surgery carried out abroad. It is important that all countries in Europe take action and enact laws that completely prohibit female genital mutilation. It is also important to support and help girls and women subjected to female genital mutilation. We must offer sufficient resources to provide training for health care professionals that enables them to diagnose female genital mutilation and provide appropriate care for women and girls suffering from the physical and psychological consequences of genital mutilation.
Ms KOVÁCS (Serbia, Spokesperson for the Group of the European People’s Party) – On behalf of my group, I confirm that we are against female genital mutilation, which is a serious violation of women’s and children’s rights. We strongly oppose this form of unacceptable behaviour, which stems from various cultures, traditions, customs and religions.
No tradition or culture can invoke any kind of honour if it violates basic women’s rights, since every religion entails respect for life and freedom. We cannot tolerate cultural and religious traditions that keep women in a state of subordination and dependence. The practice of female genital mutilation does not only occur in some countries in Africa and Asia. Unfortunately, the activity is common even in Europe. Women and girls who are nationals of or resident in some Council of Europe member States are at risk of being subjected to genital mutilation. This issue should therefore be included within national procedures and policies to combat violence against women and children.
I congratulate the rapporteur on this excellent report. Ms Fresko-Rolfo, you managed to emphasise the problem of female genital mutilation and invested considerable efforts in suggesting specific solutions. All forms of violence against women and girls represent a serious violation of fundamental human rights. Female genital mutilation causes serious physical and mental harm and is above all a violation of the right to health. The fact that the most frequent victims of genital mutilation are young women proves that serious human rights violations against young women and girls still occur, even in the 21st century.
Furthermore, all member States of the Council of Europe must work together to tackle gender issues. They also need to develop national action plans to combat violence against women, as well as policies and programmes to reduce female poverty. Our countries must take actions and protect victims. However, the most important thing is prevention. We must further develop awareness-raising information and education campaigns, as well as training for all, including social and education services, the public, the police, the justice system, health care professionals and asylum services. It is also very important to support and finance NGOs. They play a vital role in prevention and assistance in this field and spare no effort in trying to eradicate all forms of violence against women, including female genital mutilation.
Last but not least, I stress the importance of signing, ratifying and fully implementing the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence – the Istanbul Convention. In a nutshell, particular attention should be paid to the gender perspective. That can be done by taking into account the specific situations and needs of women and girls to ensure equal opportunities and the protection of dignity.
Ms De SUTTER (Belgium, Spokesperson for the Socialist Group) – I start my speech by referring to a testimony. It is a testimony that members might have already heard in June, during the joint hearing on discrimination and violence against women refugees, which was held here in Strasbourg.
I hope members still remember the tremors in Ms Baldé’s voice when she was telling her story. She had had to flee from Ethiopia because she had suffered from violence and genital mutilation. She feared for her life, her health and her dignity and decided to flee from violence and genital mutilation. She knew that something was not right. She felt discriminated against and scared, and felt she had no other option.
Ms Baldé reminded us of the fact that FGM is not something that we can relativise or underestimate: it has a huge impact on women’s daily lives. As has been said, it has nothing to do with religion. No religious text prescribes female genital mutilation. However, many people believe this to be the case, and that contributes to the persistence of this practice. No, it is not a matter of religion but of culture. In this context, I stress that it is possible to address FGM in a culturally sensitive manner without minimising the practice, which is the purpose of some of the amendments tabled by Ms Maury Pasquier and the Committee on Social Affairs, Health and Sustainable Development. We cannot minimise this practice because we are talking about very serious mutilations like narrowing the vaginal opening through cutting, and repositioning the inner or outer labia, with or without removal of the clitoris. I know that it sounds terrible, but it is much worse than it sounds.
This does not only happen in Africa; it happens here in Europe to girls born and raised in our own countries. As the rapporteur points out, the prevalence of FGM is rising whereas, with all the legal options that exist today, the numbers should be decreasing. Many laws have changed over the past decade, but we fail to implement and reinforce them. We should have useful legal instruments in order to prosecute offenders.
The situation in our member States varies greatly. In some States, mothers allowing their daughters to be mutilated will be prosecuted; in others, not. We should increase surveillance in schools to raise awareness among the youngest girls, spread more information, and train teachers, police officers, magistrates, nurses and doctors. Remedies for FGM exist. In my country, for example, the treatment of reconstruction of the clitoris is fully reimbursed by health insurance. Women no longer have to pay for this following a report two years ago by our national health council.
Of course, prevention is better than cure, and the best protection of girls can be guaranteed only by prevention. Preventive measures need lots of funding. We also have to urge mandatory registration and judicial protection of health workers. We must urge better protection of refugees fleeing out of well-founded fear of FGM, because this fear is, in itself, as serious as the mutilation. It is recognised as a legal ground for asylum. However, even if the European Union provides three-year refugee status for these girls, some member States only give one year’s subsidiary protection. This has been shown by some research in 2006.
We should urgently try to convince countries that have not yet ratified the Istanbul Convention to do so. Article 38 of the convention says that FGM should be criminalised. I will not read it; the challenge is to put it into practice in all the countries of our Council of Europe that have ratified it. Let us not forget that the whole world has agreed to eliminate harmful practices like FGM by 2030. This is a sustainable development goal that we have to reach very soon – it is only 14 years away. Let us be serious and take FGM very seriously on our agendas. Let us support the report and the committee’s amendments, because if we do not take this seriously, who will? I give many thanks to the rapporteur for this excellent report.
Ms RODRÍGUEZ HERNÁNDEZ (Spain, Spokesperson for the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe) – I thank the rapporteurs for dealing with something which nowadays we think is not a modern subject, but this type of practice – this type of mutilation – is much closer to us than we thought. We see in the report that is not just mutilation but amputation, not simply of a physical nature but of part of the soul of these girls and women.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has given us hair-raising data showing that hundreds of millions of women in the world have suffered from this type of aggression and live with its consequences. FGM is a spontaneous act that happens in a concrete point in time, but its consequences last for the woman’s whole life. The WHO also tells us that this type of practice – this type of amputation – happens in more than 28 countries in Africa and the Middle East, and also in some Asian countries. Moreover, the European Institute for Gender Equality says that here in Europe potential victims are to be found in 13 countries, some of which are much closer to us than we might imagine. In 2012, the European Parliament said in a resolution on FGM that here in Europe more than 500 000 women have been mutilated in this way, and there is a palpable risk that more than 150 000 girls and women may yet suffer this type of aggression.
I support the rapporteur in saying that this practice does not merely violate rights to health, to safety and to physical integrity, but the basic freedom of girls and of women. It violates their intimacy in ways that they will never be able to recover from. The consequences last the victim’s whole life. Let us not forget that they can include death in many cases. It is extremely serious. The United Nations has already made a considerable effort with the first specific resolution on this subject in December 2012, but that is not enough: we need to do much more. We need to guarantee the right to dignity for these people, and a right to physical and mental integrity. We are not just talking about physical effects for girls and women – the most difficult effects to repair are the psychological effects that may be produced. The consequences are very long term. We need to make efforts to support victims so that there is a legal framework that allows for this type of crime to be prosecuted, because it is indeed a crime – it is physical mistreatment. We have to think about the implications for education: not just girls’ education, because even more important is the education of women who have suffered this type of mutilation and need to be helped with consciousness-raising campaigns and information to open their eyes so that their daughters are not treated in the same way that they have been treated themselves.
We condemn this evil that is spreading and is already present in the European Union. We need to make efforts to find solutions. We ask for a favourable vote for this report, and obviously support its conclusions. What else could we do? I thank the people who have worked on the report and recommendations, because even if many people do not want to listen to us, today’s subject is one that we have to deal with.
The PRESIDENT – The rapporteur does not wish to reply now, so I call Ms Ĺberg.
Ms ĹBERG (Sweden) – I thank Ms Fresko-Rolfo for a very important and necessary report.
Female genital mutilation is a bestial way of controlling women’s sexuality. I fully agree that the term “survivors” is better than “victims” because a lot of children do not survive the genital mutilation process. I am aware that it is not recommended to use words such as “horrendous” and “barbaric” when speaking of this crime to avoid offending and stigmatising people from the communities that practice female genital mutilation. But I believe that a spade should be called a spade. Female genital mutilation is an abominable and disgusting practice. It has been said that evil thrives when good people do nothing. The fear of offending groups in society cannot become an excuse not to act. We cannot, on the one hand, be horrified that young girls are being mutilated and, on the other, be afraid of fuelling xenophobic views and racism when we speak of female genital mutilation. In the conflict between millennia-old traditions and human rights, we must have the courage to stand up for what is good and decent.
A couple of years ago, the then Swedish Minister responsible for gender equality, Nyamko Sabuni, wanted to adopt mandatory gynaecological controls for all high-school girls. Minister Sabuni, who was born in Burundi, was heavily criticised. It was claimed that the debate about genital mutilation was beneficial for racists. Gynaecological controls were deemed a breach of personal integrity. The question is which of the two is breaching personal integrity most – gynaecological examinations or genital mutilation.
The fact that genital mutilation is still being practised in Sweden, one of the most developed and secular countries in the world, means that our measures have not been enough. Female genital mutilation has been forbidden by law in Sweden since 1982, and since 1999, it has been liable to legal punishment even if carried out outside Sweden. Despite that, only two cases have been brought to court. In the whole European Union during a 40-year period, only 50 cases have been brought to court. It is apparent that we need to take new powerful steps to prevent genital mutilation and this report is a very good step.
Ms CROZON (France)* – I thank the rapporteur for this excellent report, which provides an extremely interesting overview of female genital mutilation, setting out the images on which it is based and the levers that we have available to overcome this unacceptable and archaic violence. You are right to recall that circumcision has nothing to do with any religious belief, but relates to pre-religious customs and beliefs that are based on no scientific knowledge. Confronted with that, it is clear that education is vital. The challenge is girls’ education and increasing their level of knowledge so that as mothers, they refuse to see their own children mutilated.
The other issue is doctors’ training. I recently met a gynaecologist from Ethiopia who observed that away from large towns and hospitals, there was a real lack of knowledge about sexual and reproductive health, and beliefs that threatened the lives of women and girls. Charities are working in Africa, in particular, to break down those ancestral ideas and to train doctors working in the field, and I commend their work.
You are right to remind us that combating genital mutilation is not something that only concerns Africans. We in Europe need to adopt legal provisions not only to severely punish such practices, but – and this is more difficult – to protect effectively against the threats that are posed to some girls, for example, by preventing them from leaving the country when it is suspected that they may be subject to FGM.
You also mention sensitivity relating to asylum law and gender violence. Under the Geneva Convention, female genital mutilation is clearly a form of persecution based on the membership of a social group. Here in France, girls and young women, who are protected by us against this persecution and who benefit mainly from subsidiary protection, have been fully recognised as refugees since 2013. I was surprised to read in your report of a risk that girls or young women may mutilate themselves in the hope of gaining asylum. Perhaps I misunderstood that point, but this protection is used against the threat of mutilation, at least in my country. Parents often ask for their daughters to be protected because they refuse to subject their daughters to this practice, as is certainly the case in some regions in Mali. Girls asking for asylum need to be protected by us.
There is also concern about suspicion relating to parents. Are they really motivated by wanting to protect their children or by the desire to obtain a residence permit? That suspicion existed in France and, as a result, girls protected by the State were subject to an examination every year. When we voted on our new asylum law in 2015, we realised that there was no case that justified that suspicion. That is why we ended such examinations. The law now states that they need to be undertaken at least every three years, except if there is a serious suspicion that someone is at risk.
Ms BLONDIN (France)* – I welcome this very rich report by our colleague, Ms Fresko-Rolfo, and I welcome Ms Maury Pasquier’s opinion too. I also could not stop thinking about our colleague, Ms Marlene Rupprecht, who reported in 2013 on children’s right to physical integrity. There was a chapter on this form of mutilation in that report.
To put together this report, I know you were called on to hear painful and overwhelming accounts of people’s lives, as we were at different hearings. Paradoxically, everyone who has suffered FGM and fights it can, at the same time, go on and even prosper. This phenomenon is hard to fight effectively because it concerns mentalities and shows how strong ancestral stereotypes, particularly in Africa, as we have said, but not only there. All this is associated with the idea of purity, chastity and honour, as a social convention that preserves people from being excluded from their communities.
Despite the ban on this practice, throughout the world, 200 million women have been mutilated in this way, 53 000 of whom today live in France. Because of the brutality of this mutilation, the physical consequences are extremely serious and can lead to death, as your report says, and nor should we underestimate the psychological trauma. Our Assembly, like the United Nations, has condemned these practices on many occasions. I pay tribute to the remarkable work that the World Health Organisation and UNICEF have done in the countries that are most deeply concerned, both to help victims and to try to evolve people’s thinking through education. I welcome all the work that has been done by medical teams – they are unfortunately not yet numerous enough – on repairing the harm done, especially the team led by Dr Foldčs.
We realise that dealing with FGM is a very long-term process that will require action in many different areas. France has strengthened its action plan, first of all, in terms of punishing this crime. The 2013 law has strengthened the protection of minors and the sanctions against people who participate in this act of mutilation. Someone responsible for mutilation and the person responsible for a mutilated child can be prosecuted for violence leading to mutilation or a permanent infirmity. They can be punished with 10 years in prison and a fine of up to €150 000. Those fines and sanctions may be increased.
The lifting of professional secrecy in cases of sexual mutilation is also important. The trial of a Guinean couple in France was much discussed, but prosecution is not enough. We need to raise awareness and increase information. The authorities have strengthened their partnerships with associations that offer victims material and psychological support and that help them try to become part of society and the working world once again. Like the report, I emphasise the need to work closely with the relevant communities and the men of those communities, without whom mentalities will not change.
Ms HETTO-GAASCH (Luxembourg)* – I congratulate and thank Béatrice Fresko-Rolfo for her comprehensive report. She worked with great commitment and empathy. I hope with all my heart that it will raise awareness in our countries and guarantee that the issue is adequately dealt with.
Despite growing awareness, female genital mutilation continues. The practice is a violation of the rights of girls and represents an obstacle to their development and a violation of their physical integrity. It not only causes pain and suffering but is contrary to the rights to health, to not be exposed to violence, injury, abuse, torture and cruel and degrading treatment, and to the right to protection against harmful traditional practices. Alongside raising awareness of the risks, we must make every effort to provide young women with specialised medical care. We need well-trained health workers, committed gynaecologists, informed social workers, and politicians who are prepared to condemn such practices.
In Luxembourg, FGM is considered a serious mutilation that is premeditated in principle in that there is at least parental consent. Severe mutilation as a form of voluntary bodily injury is therefore a criminal offence. Severe penalties are in place and the doctor or person who practises FGM can be punished with a prison sentence of two to five years and a fine of €500 to €5 000 if it results in serious mutilation. The sentence increases to five to 10 years if it is premeditated. In such cases, parents or grandparents can be sentenced to 15 to 20 years in prison and a fine of €3 000 to €50 000. A doctor who practises FGM on a girl younger than 14 is liable to a sentence of 10 to 15 years and the girl’s relatives can be sentenced to life imprisonment. Every article of the Istanbul Convention has been analysed in Luxembourg to check which provisions are not yet covered by Luxembourg’s laws.
I want to focus on something that is important to me. If we want to end this practice, we need to involve men, which is vital for guaranteeing equal opportunities. We heard Mr Niang talking about the “Men Speak Out” project in Belgium and he confirmed that men need to be involved in this battle. The practice of FGM is based on the belief that men will only marry women who have been circumcised or infibulated, so it is up to them to end their preference for their future wives to be mutilated.
Ms GÜNAY (Turkey)* – We thought that the practice of FGM has been consigned to history. Nevertheless, it is an important topic and women are the primary victims. I thank Ms Fresko-Rolfo for her excellent work. We support her report and the draft resolution.
Sexual mutilation is mainly practised in Africa and the Middle East, which is why we have been unable to curb it thus far. That requires further thought. We must fight against these practices, which are tantamount to torture. FGM is viewed as a religious practice but we need to put that notion aside. Many girls are victims of this practice, but we know that it existed in the pre-Islamic era in Africa and that some religious leaders wanted customs and practices to continue when they switched religions, so they linked them to Islam. That is the mentality in countries where people think that such mutilations belong to Islam, but it is certainly not in Islamic law or in the Koran, which of course forms the basis of Islamic law. It is not in the words of the Prophet or in any other religious texts. There is nothing that endorses such practices. It does not exist in Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Azerbaijan, Turkey, Iraq or any of the other Gulf countries.
FGM is often carried out with unsterilised instruments, endangering the lives of young women. Millions of young women from across Europe find themselves facing that threat. The draft resolution and the report are important because the practice is a complete violation of the rights of women and children.
Ms HEINRICH (Germany)* – Millions of women and girls are subjected to acts of torture that can lead to extreme pain, shock, bleeding, tetanus, inflammation, urine stasis, incontinence, fistulae, infertility, risks during childbirth and even death. This subject is one of the most dreadful things that I have encountered in my political life – I think many colleagues would say the same – which is why I am so grateful to Béatrice Fresko-Rolfo for her important report. We have to redouble our efforts against these systematic physical injuries that affect more and more girls and women in European countries.
However, that is not the only reason to fight it. We need to consider three things. First, we must ensure that FGM is no longer a taboo subject and bring it into the mainstream. Ms Fresko-Rolfo quite rightly points out that FGM has nothing to do with religion – Islam or Christianity – but the prejudice is often used against Muslims. If we are to lift the taboo, it is important, as Ms Günay said, that Islamic representatives speak out against the practice. We also need to determine exactly how many women and girls have been affected in our countries. Mandatory reporting by medical practitioners is absolutely crucial. The United Kingdom is in the vanguard when it comes to data gathering and also has mandatory reporting for teachers, doctors and midwives. In Germany, doctors have to decide for themselves whether to break patient confidentiality to help girls or women who have already been cut or are at risk, but that is insufficient.
Secondly, we have to use the law to ensure that FGM does not remain unpunished and to establish clearly that tradition cannot be used as an excuse by perpetrators or families, or, certainly, in a law-based State.
Thirdly, all prevention programmes – as has been mentioned repeatedly – and awareness-raising campaigns must involve men, fathers, brothers and community leaders. It is important for children to know what their rights are and that they do not have to look at their bodies or sexuality as a taboo. FGM is not a women’s matter; rather, it is an expression of control over women’s sexuality. It is also a serious violation of physical integrity and, by extension, a human rights violation. The brutality with which the life of millions of women is destroyed is unacceptable. In all our countries, we should focus more on the issue in order to protect women and girls better.
In our weeks at the Parliamentary Assembly, we have rarely been more in agreement. Petra De Sutter also said that it would be a very good thing for us to have a report that listed the various initiatives throughout the member States of the Council of Europe. We need to work towards the sustainable development goals and, as part of that, eliminate FGM altogether. If we all pull together, we will make progress.
(Sir Roger Gale, Vice-President of the Assembly, took the Chair in place of Mr Rouquet.)
The PRESIDENT – Since Ms Santerini, Ms Blanchart and Ms Rodríguez Ramos are not present, so I call Ms Schneider-Schneiter.
Ms SCHNEIDER-SCHNEITER (Switzerland)* – Once again, we are talking about how to deal with foreign traditions and cultures. Such conflicts involve the role of women and include issues such as wearing the hijab or similar clothing, the forcible marriage of young girls, Muslim girls being forbidden to take swimming lessons, or this terrible custom of FGM. We are always talking about what women are or are not allowed to do, or should or should not do. Decisions are made by the girls’ husbands, fathers and brothers: they judge how women are supposed to behave, what clothing is appropriate for them, and how they are supposed to live their lives. Women, therefore, must be mutilated so that they may be good wives, using the justification of their culture and their religion.
Throughout the world, more than 200 million women and young girls have undergone FGM. We cannot imagine the pain that all such women experience. What kind of doctors are they who do this horrible thing, and consider that FGM is part of modesty, honour or emotional balance for women? In fact, women are mutilated in the most brutal possible way in order to bring them to heel.
In Switzerland, FGM is considered serious injury to the body and is forbidden. It can be punished by up to 10 years in jail, even if the girl has given consent to FGM, and so can anyone who carries out FGM, participates in it, or is part of the planning. Although Switzerland has quite strong penalties for FGM, the practice is on the rise, because women are emigrating from countries in which FGM is a practice. In Switzerland, roughly 15 000 women are estimated to be affected already by FGM, or in danger of it. Mostly they come from Eritrea, Somalia, Ethiopia and Egypt, and apparently circumcisers from those countries also travel to Switzerland to carry out the mutilations in dark corners of people’s homes. Four out of five gynaecologists and two thirds of all midwives have had contact with women who have had FGM.
We must not accept this mutilation of women’s bodies. We must do everything we can think of to ensure that FGM is banned throughout the world. FGM is a deep and powerful violation of human rights and an abuse of women’s self-worth. To prevent FGM, we need much more than a ban; we need better international strategies. Furthermore, we need men, and not only men in this Chamber, but men who are prepared to make a commitment on the subject. Look at the speakers list today: we have a man in the Chair, but only one single man has taken the floor today. We need men who consider it a point of honour to get involved in the debate – where are they?
The report is increasingly important. I thank the rapporteurs, and the subject of the report must absolutely be followed up on by the Council of Europe. We need to go on fighting this fight.
Baroness MASSEY (United Kingdom) – I am grateful to the rapporteur for calling attention again to the horrors of FGM. As she and others have said, this is an act of violence against women and indeed against children, in that most cases of mutilation are carried out during childhood, sometimes even on babies.
The rapporteur calls attention to the need for prevention as a key strategy for eradication. Many of our problems are the same throughout Europe: the difficulty of prosecutions; the challenges to involving all those in particular communities, men as well as women; and disassociating the practice of FGM from religion, culture and gender stereotypes. I am aware of the committee’s concern for prevention and for victim support through, for example, the Daphne programme or the Lifelong Learning and Youth in Action programmes.
Campaigns in the United Kingdom are constantly being thwarted despite strategies such as the introduction of FGM protection orders, an FGM mandatory reporting duty, outreach work and the launch of a national prevention programme with NHS England. In the UK, 170 000 women are estimated to have undergone the FGM procedure. Our first ever recorded figures for FGM, published only in July, show that between 2015 and 2016 there were 5 702 new cases. How do those cases slip through the net?
A recent report by the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee attracted headlines such as “National Scandal of Failure to Protect Girls from FGM”. The report says that the failure to mount a successful prosecution is a lamentable record that will deter people from coming forward to report cases. We have had only one FGM prosecution brought to trial since 1985, and both defendants in that case were cleared last year.
Last year, doctors, nurses and teachers were given the duty to report FGM cases involving girls under the age of 18. That can be a very difficult thing to do and, in any case, the crime has already been committed. Midwives are also a key group in the United Kingdom. They have developed their own resources for awareness raising and training. They would agree that prevention of the crime is vital, and that to do it effectively, prosecution must be seen to happen and, in communities, attitudes to the rights of women and children must be enhanced through education and health initiatives, and awareness raising. They also insist that a whole new culture of unacceptability, with strong deterrents, is needed to prevent the crime of FGM in the first place.
I again congratulate the rapporteur on an excellent report.
Ms WURM (Austria)* – I welcome the efforts of Ms Fresko-Rolfo of Monaco most warmly. I cannot emphasise enough the importance of FGM as an issue.
Worldwide, more than 200 million women and girls are victims of female genital mutilation. Even girls and women in Europe, including my country, are victims of this cruel ritual, a ritual with no religious basis – quite the contrary. It is an initiation ritual that dates back 5 000 years, and it has terrible consequences.
Allow me to give an example. Damaris, a girl from Kenya, told a newspaper, “They told me that I would not feel any pain.” Immediately after that, she was subjected to female genital mutilation. Some people call it “cutting the rose”. She was 11 years old at the time. She is now 15 and has a three-year-old daughter. She recalls, “I was round at my aunt’s house, and she and my uncle told me that it was time. I really did not know what was going to happen, but they said that I just had to bear it.” The beliefs behind these rituals are often based on the idea that FGM makes girls clean and ready for marriage. Such cleanliness is achieved if a girl remains quiet during the ritual. Damaris said, “They told us that we would bring shame on our whole family if we cried or screamed. They said that we should be quiet and stare at the floor.”
There is no more blatant violation of human rights than this. Ms Fresko-Rolfo and Ms Maury Pasquier, we must act. We must do everything that we can to ensure that this mutilation – this violation of the dignity of so many women – is ended.
The PRESIDENT – That concludes the list of speakers. I call the rapporteur, Ms Fresko-Rolfo. You have six minutes remaining.
Ms FRESKO-ROLFO (Monaco)* – I thank my colleagues for their support. I agree with Mr Ihsanoğlu that religion must be dissociated from this practice. No religious text imposes it. Ms Johnsson, Ms Kovács and Ms De Sutter talked about prevention, education and the training of professionals. We must work together – that is our main strength here – to strengthen oversight in schools and increase young people’s awareness of this matter.
Ms Rodríguez Hernández talked to us about physical and psychological amputation, and that is exactly the right term to use. FGM is physical and psychological mutilation for life. We must understand the impact that it has on young girls and the women that they become. They are at risk of haemorrhage, chronic pain and urinary tract infections, not to mention the greater risk of mortality, particularly in childbirth. You asked an important question about control. Some countries accept the need for paediatricians to carry out check-ups on children. Although my gynaecologist is in Monaco, my paediatrician is in France and they just have a look to make sure that everything is all right. When I talked about that in England, I was told, “We cannot do that because it would violate people’s private lives.” I do not know what the right approach is. Should we have a ban? Should we make it easier for that sort of check-up to take place, while protecting people’s private lives? I do not know the answer. It is up to each government to decide what it wants to do to put a stop to FGM.
Ms Crozon talked about the report and mentioned female asylum seekers who undertook FGM for that reason. It was a huge shock to me to learn that certain websites in African countries suggest to women who want to go to Europe that if they undergo excision, they will get asylum more easily. It is horrible. It affected me greatly, which is why I put it in the report.
Let me answer Ms Blondin and Ms Hetto-Gaasch together. Prosecution is not enough, and we need to work on prevention. Dear Françoise, you talked to me about your legislation concerning serious mutilation. That shocks me, because any mutilation of the genitals of a young girl is serious and has serious consequences. I ask you to ask your government and parliament to act on those lines and regard all mutilation as serious.
Baroness Massey, I thank you and your delegation for the welcome that you gave me in the United Kingdom, where I received answers to very many of my questions. You were there as well, President. My visit to London and my meetings with the police, those involved in foreign affairs and the health authorities were extremely constructive for the report. I saw just how much you had done, including providing anonymity for victims, establishing reporting mechanisms, developing relationships with parents and setting out how professionals should act. I found all those things important and instructive. The conclusion I drew from my trip to London is that although the legal and prosecutorial framework is important, there has to be dialogue with communities. A policeman told me that. Before we set up all the punitive measures, we must try to establish dialogue with people and teach them that they can end such practices themselves. That was a positive result. We need dialogue, dialogue and more dialogue.
Ms Wurm talked about constraint, and that is exactly the right word to use. The girls and young women we are discussing are obliged to submit to these barbarous practices.
The PRESIDENT – Thank you, Ms Fresko-Rolfo. Does the Chairperson of the Committee wish to speak? You have two minutes.
Ms CENTEMERO (Italy) – In 2001, the Parliamentary Assembly adopted Resolution 1247, which called on member States to criminalise female genital mutilation and to publicly declare the practice a violation of human rights. Fifteen years have passed, and thanks to the resolute action of States, international organisations and civil society organisations, more and more attention has been given to this harmful practice. Legislation, action plans and awareness-raising activities have been adopted and implemented. However, despite these efforts, the number of women and girls who are victims of female genital mutilation keeps growing.
The report prepared by Ms Fresko-Rolfo reminds us that the fight against female genital mutilation needs our support, as parliamentarians, through the legislation we adopt and the resources we allocate to prevention and support services for women and girls. The report also shows clearly that no State can claim to be immune from cases of female genital mutilation. These women and girls live in our countries. They are our fellow citizens, and it is our duty to protect them from violence.
The Committee on Equality and Non-Discrimination unanimously approved the draft resolution in September. Now is your chance, as members of the Assembly, to support this crucial text and ensure that we play our part in the fight against female genital mutilation. I therefore warmly invite you to support the draft resolution.
The PRESIDENT – The Committee on Equality and Non-Discrimination has presented a draft resolution to which six amendments have been tabled. They will be taken in the order in which they appear in the Compendium and the Organisation of Debates. I remind colleagues that speeches on amendments are limited to 30 seconds.
I understand that the Chairperson of the Committee on Equality and Non-Discrimination wishes to propose to the Assembly that Amendments 1, 3 and 5 to the draft resolution, which were unanimously approved by the committee, should be declared as agreed by the Assembly. Amendments 6 and 2 were also unanimously agreed by the committee but they are subject to sub-amendments that will be considered in the usual manner. Does anyone object?
As there is no objection, I declare that Amendments 1, 3 and 5 to the draft resolution have been agreed.
Amendments 1, 3 and 5 adopted.
We now come to Amendment 6, which is, “In the draft resolution, after paragraph 5.2, insert the following paragraph: ‘further elaborate the implications of such education, in order to raise awareness among victims and their families of the fact that, contrary to their beliefs, female genital mutilation is not an issue of honour but an act of violence against women and girls, and an act against the human right to health;’”.
I call Mr Bildarratz to support Amendment 6. You have 30 seconds.
Mr BILDARRATZ (Spain)* – The reason for the amendment has to do with making sure that we give the proper weight to awareness-raising. This should not be something that is linked to honour; rather, it should be linked to violence and health care. It is very important for women and girls that it is perceived in this way.
The PRESIDENT – I have been informed that Ms Fresko-Rolfo wishes to propose an oral sub-amendment on behalf of the Committee on Equality and Non-Discrimination, as follows: “Delete the words ‘further elaborate the implications of such education in order to.’”
In my opinion, the oral sub-amendment is in order under our rules but if 10 or more members object to it, they should make their presence known. Are there any objections? As that is not the case, I call Ms Fresko-Rolfo to support her oral sub-amendment. You have 30 seconds.
Ms FRESKO-ROLFO (Monaco)* – I am happy with the substance of the amendment as proposed but I did not really understand what kind of education was being referred to. That is why I preferred the idea of deleting the words until “in order to” and leaving the idea of raising awareness among victims and their families. I think raising awareness among victims and families should stay in there but we would remove education.
The PRESIDENT – Does anyone wish to speak against the oral sub-amendment? That is not the case. What is the opinion of the mover of the main amendment, Mr Bildarratz?
Mr BILDARRATZ (Spain)* – Obviously, education is very important to us so we are talking about education within the system as well as education more generally within the family. You might call it awareness-raising but it is education, basically. We are talking about education wherever it occurs. It can be within the family as well. We believe it must be part of an educational process.
The PRESIDENT – I simply need to know whether you are for or against the sub-amendment.
Mr BILDARRATZ (Spain) – I am in favour.
The PRESIDENT – Thank you. What is the view of the committee?
Ms CENTEMERO (Italy) – The committee approved the sub-amendment unanimously.
The PRESIDENT – The committee is in favour. I will now put the oral sub-amendment to the vote. The vote is open.
The oral sub-amendment is adopted.
We will now consider the main amendment as amended. Does anyone wish to speak against Amendment 6, as amended? What is the view of the committee?
Ms CENTEMERO (Italy) – The committee was in favour.
The PRESIDENT – I now put Amendment 6, as amended, to the vote.
The vote is open.
We now come to Amendment 2, which is, “In the draft resolution, paragraph 5.9, after the words "detect female genital mutilation", insert the following words: ‘and how to address it in a culturally sensitive manner without diminishing the seriousness of the practice,’”.
There is also an oral sub-amendment. I call Ms Maury Pasquier to support Amendment 2 on behalf of the Committee on Social Affairs, Health and Sustainable Development. You have 30 seconds
Ms MAURY PASQUIER (Switzerland)* – The committee fully supports the objective of training all professionals likely to encounter FGM, regardless of which sector they are active in. We talk about addressing this in a culturally sensitive manner because we want to make the work of health professionals more effective.
The PRESIDENT – I understand that Ms Fresko-Rolfo wishes to propose an oral sub-amendment on behalf of the Committee on Equality and Non-Discrimination as follows: “Delete the words ‘and how to address it.’”
In my opinion, the oral sub-amendment is in order under our rules. Do 10 or more members object to the oral sub-amendment being debated? That is not the case, so I call Ms Fresko-Rolfo to support her oral sub-amendment. You have 30 seconds.
Ms FRESKO-ROLFO (Monaco)* – The same holds true here as well. This is not a substantive sub-amendment. I did not like the term “problem”, which is reductive in view of the scale of the violence inflicted on these women. It is important to preserve the idea of being culturally sensitive – you are quite right on that score – but “addressing the problem” is not a form of words I like.
The PRESIDENT – Does anyone wish to speak against the oral sub-amendment? That is not the case.
What is the opinion of the mover of the main amendment?
Ms MAURY PASQUIER (Switzerland)* – I am in favour of it.
The PRESIDENT – And what is the view of the committee?
Ms CENTEMERO (Italy) – The committee approved the sub-amendment unanimously.
The PRESIDENT – I will now put the oral sub-amendment to the vote. The vote is open.
The oral sub-amendment is adopted.
We will now consider the main amendment as amended. Does anyone wish to speak against Amendment 2 as amended? That is not the case. What is the view of the committee?
Ms CENTEMERO (Italy) – The committee approved the amendment unanimously.
The PRESIDENT – I shall now put Amendment 2, as amended, to the vote. The vote is open.
We now come to Amendment 4 and I call Ms Maury Pasquier to move it on behalf of the Committee on Social Affairs, Health and Sustainable Development.
Ms MAURY PASQUIER (Switzerland)* – As we had already suggested this idea of being culturally sensitive in paragraph 5.9, which dealt with the training of health care professionals, we suggest that in paragraph 5.10 care for women and girls suffering from the physical and psychological consequences of this mutilation should also follow a culturally sensitive approach. In that way, we improve the prospects for women breaking the silence and accepting treatment. I know that another committee is keen on this. This is for the victims, to try to make sure that we reach the women and girls concerned.
The PRESIDENT – Does anyone wish to speak against the amendment? That is not the case.
What is the opinion of the committee?
Ms CENTEMERO (Italy) – The committee is unanimously against.
The PRESIDENT – The committee is unanimously against. I shall now put the amendment to the vote.
The vote is open.
Amendment 4 is rejected.
We will now proceed to vote on the draft resolution contained in Document 14135 as amended. The vote is open.
The draft resolution in Document 14135, as amended, is adopted, with 67 votes for, 1 against and 0 abstentions.
Congratulations and thank you for your hard work.
Ms SANDBĆK (Denmark) – I made a mistake. I voted against, as I thought it was a vote on the last amendment. Obviously, I wanted to vote in favour of the report.
The PRESIDENT – Thank you for clarifying your position. That is now a matter of record.
2. Harmonising the protection of unaccompanied minors
The PRESIDENT – The next item of business this afternoon is the debate on the report titled “Harmonising the protection of unaccompanied minors in Europe” (Document 14142) presented by Mr Manlio Di Stefano on behalf of the Committee on Migration, Refugees and Displaced Persons with an opinion presented by Mr Valeriu Ghiletchi on behalf of the Committee on Social Affairs, Health and Sustainable Development (Document 14174).
I call Mr Di Stefano, rapporteur. You have 13 minutes in total, which you may divide between presentation of the report and reply to the debate.
Mr DI STEFANO (Italy) – It is important that the Assembly works on the subject of unaccompanied minors. It has not done so since 2011. I took over this report after the excellent groundwork done by Mr René Rouquet in 2015, when the problem of children going missing arose in the public consciousness because it was communicated by Europol and world media, so I decided to add the missing children dimension to the report. This subject was recently discussed at an exchange of views in Paris in September with Europol.
Let me give some figures to help us understand the scale of the issue. In June this year alone, 30 000 minors applied for asylum, and almost 90 000 unaccompanied minors applied for asylum in the European Union in 2015. The present migration and refugee crisis has generated new problems of child protection, in particular in view of the large numbers of unaccompanied children who go missing.
The gravity of the situation has revealed many shortcomings in national policies which relate to the treatment of all unaccompanied children: guardianship issues, the way children’s rights and aspirations are taken into account, and age-assessment procedures, which we talked about yesterday in our committee at a round table discussion. Existing international standards are unequally implemented and transposed into national regulatory frameworks, and there is consequently an urgent need to harmonise procedures involving unaccompanied migrant children from their arrival in Europe to their integration or return, and to step up international co-operation at all levels. All policies and systems must always proceed from the consideration of children first and foremost as children; that must be the first guiding principle for any measures of care and treatment.
Too many countries treat migrant children in the same way as adults, either through wilful negligence, ignorance of the consequences or lack of means to ensure special treatment. The latter applies especially to the reception conditions of unaccompanied migrant children, who are often put in the same poor accommodation as adults, who do not all have the best intentions. We saw this when we visited the reception centres on the Greek islands this spring.
In preparing this report, it became clear that the problems encountered by migrant minors are the same for lone children, but are aggravated by the absence of adults who can serve as protective intermediaries during the different stages of the journey towards integration or humane return. Children need specific communication and explanations at the level of their understanding; they should be heard and accompanied throughout the process of their asylum claim.
This is where the role of guardians comes in, which is stressed in the report. Well-trained guardians can provide the necessary accompaniment. They should have sufficient time to devote to each child and be granted access to all the stages of reception and integration.
The report takes stock of the current situation of unaccompanied migrant minors and of those who go missing, and proposes concrete measures for improving procedures and co-operation aimed at helping these children fleeing their homes to find the better lives they seek. I am sure this Assembly is very conscious of the problem we are talking about, and I am sure it will support the report.
The PRESIDENT – Mr Jónasson, who is the second vice-chairperson of the Committee on Social Affairs, Health and Sustainable Development, will present the committee’s opinion. You have four minutes.
Mr JÓNASSON (Iceland) – There is not much to add to the very comprehensive report prepared by our colleague, Mr Di Stefano. I will, however, say a few words on behalf of the Committee on Social Affairs, Health and Sustainable Development in my capacity as its second vice-chairperson, and in the absence of our rapporteur, Mr Ghiletchi.
Our committee considers that the Committee on Migration, Refugees and Displaced Persons has submitted an excellent text on a very complex matter: the protection of unaccompanied minors in Europe who arrive in great numbers in the current flow of refugees and migrants into our continent. The issue was once again all over the press in the discussions about closing the “Jungle” refugee camp in Calais in northern France, where many unaccompanied minors can be found trying to reach the United Kingdom, some of them seeking to join their families there.
We all agree that unaccompanied minors are among the most vulnerable groups of migrants. Without protection from relatives or other accompanying adults, they are regularly threatened by human trafficking, sometimes for the purpose of sexual abuse and exploitation, sometimes for domestic slavery, or they suffer from physical and psychological neglect.
Although the Committee on Social Affairs, Health and Sustainable Development was in favour of the main report submitted by the Committee on Migration, Refugees and Displaced Persons, we considered that the text was not yet explicit enough regarding some of the dangers children face. Some of these threats were studied in depth by my committee in the framework of the ONE in FIVE Campaign to stop sexual violence against children in the past five years. Our committee therefore suggested a few amendments for further strengthening the text. The proposed changes mainly referred to the following areas: the protection of children against sexual abuse and exploitation; the recovery of victims from physical and psychological hardship; the counselling and psychological support needed by many children; and the avoidance of their suffering re-traumatisation.
Finally, our committee’s amendments also included a recommendation aimed at setting up specially dedicated institutions in every country to be in charge of supervising welcome, accommodation and asylum procedures for unaccompanied minors and ensuring that they are followed in an uninterrupted chain from the moment of arrival in a given country until their final asylum decision and placement.
In addition to my role on the Committee on Social Affairs, Health and Sustainable Development, I am also a signatory to some of the individual amendments tabled to the report. Since my committee’s amendments were considered favourably by the Committee on Migration, Refugees and Displaced Persons, I do not think that we need discuss them in further detail.
THE PRESIDENT – Thank you, Mr Jónasson. I am delighted that I did not have to try your patience today in the way that I did on Tuesday.
We now move to the speakers for political groups. I call Mr Villumsen.
Mr VILLUMSEN (Denmark, Spokesperson for the Group of the Unified European Left) – On behalf of my group, I underline the importance of this issue. Millions of people are forced to flee their homes. Just outside the border of Europe, a terrible civil war is taking place in Syria. Daesh and the Assad regime are committing terrible war crimes. Our aim should be to prevent war and ensure that no one is forced to flee their home, but as long as people are, we have a common responsibility to take care of them.
The most vulnerable are unaccompanied minors. I agree with the rapporteur that standards are in place to manage the situation, but I also agree that those standards are not always met. Allow me to point out that the rights of the child include not being put into a detention centre. Unfortunately, that is occurring. It violates the legal framework of the Council of Europe, but it is occurring. I participated in the ad hoc visit to Greece, where despite great efforts by the Greek authorities, a humanitarian crisis is taking place, inside the European Union. Unaccompanied minors are in detention centres, behind barbed wire. I take this opportunity to appeal to you. We need action, not just words. Greece cannot handle the situation alone. We can and must do something. Through family reunification and the redistribution of children in camps, the crisis can be solved. It is not an impossible task if we take it upon ourselves collectively.
Dear rapporteur, you have produced a good report. Let us vote it through, but let us also go home and take action to give the most vulnerable of the vulnerable a helping hand. Let this report be the first step, not just in words but in concrete action.
Mr KÖCK (Austria, Spokesperson for the Group of the European People’s Party)* – This report on unaccompanied minors and missing children is extremely important. We absolutely must get to grips with the issue. In particular, Brian Donald’s hard-hitting media report six months ago showing that 10 000 minors have gone missing in Europe caused us to wake up and take notice. That is why it is good that we now have a comprehensive report on the various ways in which we can help those children. That is what this is about, after all: making sure that children who flee do not fall into the hands of criminal organisations.
There are a whole host of reasons why children go missing. For instance, they can disappear from camps to go to relatives or try to return home, or their circumstances might change. A good number of them die, and we have seen it happen. Often, however, they fall victim to sexual abuse, slavery or a whole host of other crimes. That is why we must do everything in our power to prevent that from continuing. We must ensure that people work more effectively together and raise standards so that they are uniform across all member States. We must also ensure that we include all the various voluntary organisations. As we know, these children are not hiding in the forests; they are out here among us. That is why we must all work together.
We in Austria have opened our doors to the Committee on Migration, Refugees and Displaced Persons and other institutions, and we think it would be a very good thing if other member States followed suit so that we can get an idea of how things are being dealt with in all member States. At the same time, we must realise that we need to tackle the root cause of the problem, which is people trafficking, a billion-dollar industry that exploits men, women and children. As we have heard today, we must help those countries in which children embark on their journeys.
We need to raise awareness of the fact that such journeys are perilous. Traffickers do a lot of advertising, because they want to make money from these people to fund their businesses. Let us try to raise awareness on the Internet, for example. What we see frequently in Austria is that people arrive without papers, but with mobile phones. We need to put an end to undesired migration and ensure that people have the prospect back home of organising their migration legally. We must do whatever is in our power to tackle the problem.
This is an extremely good report, and I am sure that it will receive the backing of all groups; it certainly has that of my own. The important thing, however, is that the report is put into practice in all member States. That is what we should work on.
Mr SCHENNACH (Austria, Spokesperson for the Socialist Group)* – On behalf of my group, I thank the rapporteur clearly and explicitly. We are putting our finger on a particularly painful wound – the unaccompanied minors who are disappearing inside the borders of the European Union. As of January, 10 000 had gone missing, and we suppose there must be considerably more by now. How is that possible? It is possible because in most member States, there are no legal regulations. Many people do not even know the phrase “missing children”. I thank the committee for unanimously approving all the amendments that I contributed. The idea is to talk about children’s rights and to take an action-oriented approach. If we wait too long, it will not be possible to find, help and support these children. A lot of time could be lost when the executive could be acting. We need to work with Europol and Frontex.
Only four member States of the Council of Europe use the term “missing foreign minors”, while some are not even familiar with it. In some member States, a missing foreign child is not a high priority. The rapporteur has mentioned children who are declared missing after the fact. If we differentiate between domestic children and asylum-seeking children, I am not surprised that there are criminals behind these disappearances. This is about forced labour, violence, exploitation of children, forced prostitution and other crimes. We do not know any names, but we should act together.
Some asylum-seeking children are simply taken off the list of missing people if they do not turn up after a while. We should not be surprised that many children go missing in such circumstances. Another member State has decided to draw the line at the age of 15, but most missing children are between the ages of 14 and 17, so only a very small group of missing children are searched for in that country.
On registration, one member State does quite a lot, but it has decided that there has to be a wait before taking action when children go missing, so time is lost. I remember Austrian officials finding a seven-year-old girl in the big refugee camp in lower Austria. Her mother had died somewhere along the way in the Balkans and the child had simply carried on marching with the group. Three weeks later, she was found. That was a happy ending, but there are 10 000 children who are not in good hands. We need to define the terms together.
Finally, only 10 member States have a definition of human trafficking of children. We need action, because it is children who are most vulnerable. For that reason, I thank the rapporteur for the report.
Mr van de VEN (Netherlands, Spokesperson for the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe) – On behalf of ALDE, I congratulate Mr Di Stefano, the Rapporteur of the Committee on Migration, Refugees and Displaced Persons, on his excellent and moving report on harmonising the protection of unaccompanied minors in Europe. ALDE endorses the draft report and draft resolution.
Children need protection. Unaccompanied minors on the move need additional protection in many ways. The recent migrant and refugee crisis in Europe is testimony to the fact that the challenge of supporting unaccompanied minors has become critical. The best interests of these children have to be safeguarded, and not only at the moment at which they seek asylum. They need to feel personally secure.
ALDE agrees with Mr Di Stefano that the protection of unaccompanied migrants does not necessarily require a new or revised international legal framework. We concur that there is an urgent need to harmonise procedures involving unaccompanied migrant children – from when they arrive in Europe to their integration or their return to their loved ones – and to step up international co-operation at all levels. On behalf of ALDE, I once again thank Mr Di Stefano for his commitment in delivering his excellent report.
Lady ECCLES (United Kingdom, Spokesperson for the European Conservatives Group) – This is an excellent report on a complex, difficult and, in many respects, tragic subject. When thinking about the tens of thousands of unaccompanied children who apply for asylum in Europe every month, we have to remind ourselves that, although the numbers are almost unimaginable, each one is an individual with their own background, experience and needs.
When unaccompanied children arrived at the border of the first European country that they reach, they will have been through many experiences. All of them will have been new and many will have troubled them. When trying to find ways of alleviating the plight of these children, we have to work towards practical solutions that are within the reach of those who are responsible for bringing them about. I hope that action plans will be based on awareness of what is actually happening on the ground.
This is the point in a child’s journey when the country concerned takes responsibility. The report gives examples of the extremes in the treatment that they receive, from the child being transferred to a reception centre where they have their first interview and are allotted to their own legal adviser, to unlawful detention in inappropriate surroundings. Of course, there are many variations between those extremes.
What happens to them depends on local circumstances. If they are treated with understanding, spoken to in their own language, feel secure and become less disoriented, they will be more likely to settle. If, on the other hand, none of that applies, they will run away and join the disturbing numbers of missing children.
The report lists in its conclusions the international standards to be achieved, including on border controls, reception facilities, social work, medical care and education, all of which are so important. Each country will be grappling with the challenge. Those with comparatively low numbers of unaccompanied migrant children and that have well-established provision for their own junior population will find it easier to cope. Those faced with very large numbers arriving at their borders and that have less well developed infrastructure will find some of the problems that they are presented with almost insurmountable. It is important, though, to remember that any placement for a child is properly assessed as suitable for that individual. Quite rightly, high standards are set, but it has to be understood that the burden created by these waves of unaccompanied children is a great deal heavier to bear for some States than for others.
The PRESIDENT – That concludes the list of speakers for the political groups. Mr Di Stefano does not wish to reply at this stage, so we move to the main list of speakers. I call Ms Buliga.
Ms BULIGA (Republic of Moldova)* – This is an extremely sensitive issue and one from which the Republic of Moldova has, unfortunately, not been spared. We, along with other European countries, are aware of certain shortcomings in national laws that jeopardise minors. That is why we need to deal with the issue without delay and to achieve the desired result.
Moldova ratified the international Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1989. Our country has not been able to fully respect all children’s rights since then, but through the years we managed to reduce the number of children in residential institutions. We have also expanded the existing legislative framework and set up public local authority services supported by external partners in such a way as to ensure that unaccompanied minors who reach Moldova do not remain without any form of protection or without access to assistance from the competent authorities.
Having said that, in recent years Moldova has made progress when it comes to protecting children’s rights and their families. We have diversified social services for children in difficult circumstances. At the same time, parliament adopted a law on the integration of foreigners in Moldova. It governs the process for integrating foreigners into Moldova’s economic, social and cultural life. The idea is to prevent and combat social marginalisation while ensuring that we can adapt them to conditions in Moldovan society and that they can become financially independent.
Another important step forward in protecting children was the creation of a unit for the rights of children and a migration and asylum bureau under the aegis of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. It has concluded an agreement with local authorities to create a partnership of solidarity that increases the effectiveness of the assistance for children and foreign unaccompanied minors who have arrived in Chişinău. We often have children coming from Syria, Ukraine, Pakistan, Afghanistan and some African countries. They have found a secure and peaceful home in Moldova – a place where they can shelter from war in their countries of origin. They benefit from high-quality education, a permanent home and the medical treatment they need. All children, without exception and regardless of their race, religion, nationality, age and gender, should enjoy the same rights.
Ms CROZON (France)* – Thank you, rapporteur, for your excellent work, which demonstrates the scale of the drama unfolding in Europe. In one year, the number of unaccompanied minors requesting asylum in the European Union has increased sevenfold. According to Europol, more than 10 000 children have disappeared, and that figure is probably an underestimate. I am ashamed to be confronted by this situation, which we have a collective responsibility for.
Let us recall the image of one child, little Aylan, who fired public opinion and drove States to acknowledge that we need to show solidarity in our response to refugees. We then had the programme of relocation from Greece and Italy, which is not working well. Just last week in my town, I was confronted by this issue. We talked about the places for relocation, which have been frozen and need to be freed up. The failure of our asylum system contributes to the fact that migrants continue to take to the roads and cross our borders towards those countries that they want to reach: Germany, Sweden and the United Kingdom.
We have allowed the situation to happen, and it is fatal for these children. Many of them have lost their families to conflicts or on the road or crossing seas. They are easy prey for human traffickers. They are exploited as beggars, domestic slaves and prostitutes, and some are forced into marriage. How would we react if in one year, 10,000 little French, Italian or Polish children were reported missing, or if 10,000 little Germans, Hungarians or Slovakians fell into the hands of these networks? They would become a key priority for our security policies. That is why the rapporteur is right that we cannot consider these unaccompanied minors as migrants. We need to consider them as children.
We need to understand that it is not our responsibility to manage the flows, but that we need to protect these children and to do so as soon as they are identified, without trying to Dublinise them. We need to combat trafficking networks and find host families. We need to provide the necessary care and school places. We need to protect these children. We do not need to do anything more than that, but we need to do nothing less than what we would provide for our own children. The problem is that these policies cost money. Concern about those costs means that we cast suspicion on those children. We subject them to bone testing and other practices, and that leads to children fleeing from reception centres. We have 100 000 children to protect. Our idea of Europe is at the heart of this.
Ms CERİTOĞLU KURT (Turkey)* – In the debate on migration, the plight of unaccompanied minors has not come to the fore, because the main discussion has been on adult migrants. I do not think we have taken sufficient account of the plight of minors, and that is why this report is so very important. In this Assembly, it is absolutely right that we look at protecting the rights of these minors. We need to remind national authorities of their duties.
It was only at the beginning of 2016, when Europol started talking about the figure of 10 000 minors having gone missing, that the international community started to wake up and take notice. Many of those minors have applied for asylum in Europe. A good number of asylum applications come from children, but they need specific safeguards. The measures in place are not sufficient. We should regard minors first and foremost as children and only after that as migrants. That is what we do with migrants in Turkey. Some 1 million of the 3 million Syrian refugees being hosted in Turkey are children. Turkey has spent $12 billion on looking after refugees in our country, and only $500 million has been provided by the international community in assistance. I point that out in passing, but it is why we need to see an increase in the level of international solidarity. Unaccompanied minors in Turkey are paid for by the ministry of family and social policies.
We need social support and family assistance programmes, as well as psychological care for children who have been abused, along with a whole raft of measures to protect them. When we are confronted by unaccompanied minors, we must also take account of the fact that these migrant refugee children have special needs. We must take account of problems relating to their education. We also need to provide language learning and ensure that they can take advantage of specific tailor-made programmes. There is so much to do. We need to train civil servants who work in the public institutions dealing with those children. As the report points out, we also need to try to expand our legislation across Council of Europe member States.
The PRESIDENT – I cannot see Mr Kürkçü, so I call Mr Tilson.
Mr TILSON (Canada, Observer) – Thank you for this opportunity to speak about harmonising the protection of unaccompanied minors in Europe. As mentioned by the rapporteur in his comprehensive report, the growing number of missing unaccompanied minors has emerged as a new challenge for Europe.
Canada shares Europe’s concern about the growing number of missing unaccompanied minors and the importance of co-ordinated action to ensure their protection. However, Canada’s geography and policies on matters such as refugee settlement and family reunification differ from those in Europe. This affects the volume of asylum claims and the scope of the issue of missing unaccompanied minors, which for Canada is comparatively not as great. It is similarly difficult to assess the exact number of unaccompanied minors who go missing in Canada, since statistics collected by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada do not specify whether minors are unaccompanied. The department estimates that in 2007 6 698 children under the age of 18 made a refugee protection claim in Canada.
In Canada, unaccompanied minors are protected through legislation. The issue of the best interests of the child was first considered by the Supreme Court of Canada in 1999. The court indicated that when dealing with children, any decisions made by immigration officers must be made in a manner that is sensitive to the interests of the child, and must ensure that children are an important factor in decision making. As a result, the requirement to consider the best interests of the child was enshrined in the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and its regulations in the sections dealing with humanitarian and compassionate considerations. While the legislation does not distinguish between accompanied and unaccompanied minors, operational guidelines for immigration officers and tribunal members are in place to deal with unaccompanied minors making refugee claims in Canada.
When these children enter Canada, their point of contact with the Canadian refugee system is through the Canada Border Service Agency. CBSA officers decide whether the unaccompanied minors who arrive in Canada are eligible to make a refugee claim in Canada. Eligible unaccompanied children are referred to the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada. The IRB is an independent administrative tribunal that makes decisions on immigration and refugee matters in Canada. At the IRB, child claimants are treated differently from adult claimants. For instance, a designated representative is appointed to each child, and their credibility threshold is lowered, as their age and mental development may prevent them from recalling past events or communicating their experiences.
These are some of the possible measures that can be taken to protect these vulnerable children. I very much appreciate today’s important discussion on how we can work together to harmonise these and other procedures in future.
Mr WELLS (Canada, Observer) – Thank you for this opportunity to speak about harmonising the protection of unaccompanied minors in Europe. I thank the rapporteur, Mr Manlio Di Stefano, for his March 2016 report on this global issue.
From 18 to 26 April 2016, I visited Strasbourg and Bratislava as a member of the Canada-Europe Parliamentary Association. During these trips, I met the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Mr Nils Muižnieks, and the Special Representative on Migration and Refugees, Mr Tomáš Boček. I gained a greater understanding of the overall migration situation in Europe through my participation in these meetings, learning, for example, that 50% of migrants are children, many of whom are unaccompanied minors.
The rapporteur’s concern about the growing number of missing unaccompanied minors in Europe, many of whom are orphans, is shared by Canada, as is the need for increased international co-ordination to ensure their protection. As mentioned in his report, Europol determined that 10 000 children were missing in January 2016. The Parliament of Canada, like the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, has previously examined the subject of unaccompanied minors, particularly through its standing senate committee on human rights. In its 2007 final report, the committee examined the application of the Convention on the Rights of the Child to the situation of migrant children in Canada and made similar recommendations to those outlined by the rapporteur. Among other things, the report emphasises the need to put in place effective measures to ensure that potentially separated children at the border are identified and protected, such as ensuring that migrant children are returned to their country of origin only when relatives are found and after determination of whether compelling humanitarian and compassionate grounds exist to allow the child to remain in Canada.
The report also recommended including the parents of separated children on applications for permanent residence to facilitate future family reunification, and training immigration and border services officials so that they are fully aware of children’s rights and know how to communicate effectively with children of different cultural backgrounds. Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Protection Act stipulates that minors should be detained only as a last resort after taking other applicable criteria, including the best interests of the child, into consideration. According to the federal enforcement procedures on detention of minor children, special considerations such as anticipated length of detention, availability of alternative arrangement, and type of detention facility are applied in relation to the detention of minors. Importantly, in addition to these legislative and regulatory measures, child-sensitive training is provided to border officials so that they know how to approach minors who may be wary of authority figures and reluctant to have their photographs or fingerprints taken.
On behalf of Canada’s delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, thank you again for the opportunity to participate in today’s important discussion on best practices and procedures involving missing unaccompanied children in Europe. We look forward to working together towards the common goal of identifying meaningful ways in which we can harmonise these procedures internationally in future.
Ms HOFFMANN (Hungary)* – At the present time in Europe there are many issues to resolve. Opinions and positions are often very different depending on people’s vision of the world and on the political convictions that they hold, but there is one issue that everyone agrees on, and that is that we cannot remain indifferent to the destiny of minors, or children, above all when they are in an unusual situation without their families, outside their country, unable to communicate because they do not know the language of the place where they have ended up, and often ill. We must protect them and provide them with all the necessary support.
I thank the rapporteurs for drawing the attention of us all, in all 47 countries of the Council of Europe, to this issue, which we must resolve. The situation is severe and reminds me of the Second World War, when thousands of children were spread out through Europe without their families or any kind of guidance, and who were sometimes subject to violence, became ill, or even died. We know many sad stories. The difficulties that we are confronted with are no less than those. In the majority of cases, these children do not know their real identity – their nationality or their exact date of birth. They do not have the necessary documents to identify themselves. They are without their parents, or their parents do not want to co-operate with institutions. They may be ill. They have a right to their personal freedom. They cannot be held in reception centres or orphanages, so they are free to leave the establishments that are there to help them. That is why there are problems in registering these children when their fate is unsure from one day to another.
The situation is no different in my country, Hungary. We want to take an active part in protecting refugees who are minors. In that context, I would like to make some corrections relating to the report. In 2016, minors have spent, on average, 11.8 days in Hungary, not three. Contrary to what is in the report, 86% to 88% of them were reported as missing, taking into account the rules that exist in the country, not 90% to 95%. Generally speaking, we are a transit country and these children do not want to remain there. Contrary to what is written in the report, since August 2015 an unaccompanied minor needs to be allocated a tutor within eight days and does not have to wait five weeks. The majority of unaccompanied minors are treated by health care professionals in Hungary. We need flexible targets that can be modified quickly to take the changing situation into account.
Ms SCHOU (Norway)* – This report highlights and brings much-needed attention to the terrible situation of unaccompanied minors – the most vulnerable group of all. I therefore thank the rapporteur for a timely and important report.
The numbers in the report are mind-boggling: 30 000 unaccompanied minors arrived in Europe only this June and there was a total of 90 000 last year. But the most worrying thing is that the trend is not reversing, and that is likely to continue. Norway has received a high number of unaccompanied minors compared with the number of inhabitants. Of the more than 10 000 children who applied for asylum in Norway in 2015, 51% were unaccompanied minors. That is four times more than in 2014. They come from different countries with different stories and have different reasons for leaving their home countries. What they have in common is a long, hard and dangerous journey with too many traumatic experiences. Most of the unaccompanied minors who come to Norway will be granted asylum. It is therefore crucial and only natural for us to do what we can to make them feel safe, help them integrate and become good and active citizens in future.
In order to better harmonise national routines and provide better services, the Norwegian Government has proposed a new law on specialised care centres for unaccompanied minors. I greatly welcome that proposal, which also opens the possibility for unaccompanied minors to live with a family. For some that will be a better solution than a care centre. However, as the rapporteur points out, the protection of unaccompanied minors also requires careful registration of identity and age, efficient asylum application procedures and the ability to protect them from trafficking. Furthermore, it requires access to health services, education and care from responsible adults. It is clear that all that would benefit from better harmonisation of routines across Europe, as well as the better sharing of information and experiences between our countries.
Before finishing, I point out one aspect of the situation that I wish the resolution would have addressed – that is, how to change the trend. How can we prevent thousands of minors from embarking on such dangerous journeys all alone? Could we better co-ordinate our policies to that end? That does not mean we can escape our humanitarian responsibilities or compromise on our international obligations – far from it. It only means that we should strive to use everything possible in our efforts to stop minors from embarking on these dangerous journeys, separating them from their families and risking exploitation and abuse.
Mr LE BORGN’ (France) – No cause is worthier than that of children. It is what we fight for, here and in our parliament, to try and make sure that the world of tomorrow that we are building for them, and which we will leave them, is better than the world we live in today. Is it right that children who are fleeing war, starvation, fear, death, destitution, suffering and chaos, and who are separated from their parents and families, find themselves alone on the most perilous of journeys, at the mercy of danger and, at times, even worse? Children require protection, assistance, education and care.
In 2015, close to 90 000 unaccompanied minors requested asylum in European Union countries. I am sorry to say that nothing suggests those numbers are likely to drop off in 2016. These children are all our children, which is why we are duty-bound to protect them first and foremost. It is shocking that more than 10 000 children, according to Europol’s figures, have disappeared since they arrived in reception centres over the past two years.
Mr Di Stefano’s report has the merit of reminding us of our commitments here in the Council of Europe and of what we have achieved, as well as, sadly, of what we have failed to achieve. It has also shone a light on all the shortcomings in our national policies, particularly when it comes to making sure that we do justice to the rights and aspirations of children in respect of guardianship, access to social services, education, evaluating their age, and detaining them – a practice that still happens in many member States of the Council of Europe, notwithstanding the conventions that we have signed up to.
Some will say that they do not have the resources and will talk about the seriousness of the crisis in order to duck their responsibilities, but those arguments are without merit. They are simply a reflection of a lack of political will, symbolised by the absence of the coherent transposition into national legislation of European and international agreements.
In my country, some political forces – those on the extremes – want to put an end to family reunification and to stop migrant children joining their parents. That right is set out in Article 22 of the international Convention on the Rights of the Child. That is why we have to make sure that we have close co-operation among national police forces to track down missing children. We have to fight an unwavering battle against criminal organisations and the mafia, to which children fall victim. In parallel, we have to fight for the children’s rights that I have talked about, and I put a question in this very Chamber to the Secretary General.
Finally, this is all a matter of political determination to ensure that all unaccompanied minors who arrive in our countries benefit without delay from properly adapted housing as well as access to health care and an effective right to education. We have to put an end to the detention of children – not tomorrow, but right now, because detaining children is an absolute disgrace. Do not forget the psychological, personal and emotional distress that they feel. They may have been on the road and on the move for years, so we cannot allow political calculations to colour our judgment, because all children need to have their dignity and integrity respected. Our overriding concern must be to respect the rights of the child, as well as being governed by our consciences.
The PRESIDENT – That concludes the formal list of speakers, but we have time in hand so, before I call the rapporteur, does anybody wish to speak? Mr Kiral, you have the floor.
Mr KIRAL (Ukraine) – As the father of three children, I speak on this subject not only rationally, but emotionally. I hope that some of the information that I received from my authorities and their experiences can benefit the overall European context.
According to Eurostat data, 88 000 unaccompanied minors were recorded as seeking asylum in the European Union in 2015 – 51% were from Afghanistan and 16% were from Syria. Furthermore, 40% were registered in Sweden, 16% in Germany, 10% in Hungary and 9% in Austria. By way of comparison, between 2008 and 2013 the average inflow was around 11 000 or 13 000 a year, so the increase is about sevenfold – and the same goes for the challenges.
Bureaucrats in immigration, asylum workers and officials are the first point of contact for children. We are all human and if those officials behave like humans, with their different tempers, moods and characters, with their own children giving them a hard time at home and with problems at work or with friends or family, the children may undergo stress unless the officials have received proper training. The procedures are another concern. It is unacceptable for children to go through a lengthy registration process. Excessive regulations should be lifted when appropriate and tacit admittance must be allowed where possible. The child should have immediate access to all services with checks being done later. When children are pursuing refugee status, they must have priority over adults. Immigration officers, who should receive proper training, including psychological training relating to children, should follow separate procedures for children. Children do not always reveal the truth and officers sometimes take the information they are provided with as fact.
There must be a wide range of opportunities for the successful and smooth integration of children into our societies, including proper care and mentoring, to avoid discrimination and double standards. Access to education must be provided in a regular school setting. In most countries, municipalities support secondary education and pay for schools and teachers. However, as we were told by a mayor of Athens, the challenges include legislative and financial constraints and avoiding the creation of ghettos. Proper state programmes may help to supply municipalities with the necessary resources and guidelines to address such issues.
What urgent measures do our Governments need to take? The relevant bodies need financing. Border control and interior institutions need relevant training on rapid response procedures to detect unaccompanied children and to provide the necessary care. We need to create mobile response groups containing psychologists that can work in partnership with relevant children’s authorities to provide emergency care after detection. Information must be made available in different languages. As instructed by the United Nations recommendations, proper statistics should be compiled and processed to ensure that work is being done on prevention.
There is also another idea. Why not think about a specialised, standardised international training course that could draw on the experience of many member States of the Council of Europe? It could even be institutionalised within the Council of Europe and could provide training to relevant authorities and officials who work with children and unaccompanied minors in our member States. That is worth exploring.
(Ms Palihovici, Vice-President of the Assembly, took the Chair in place of Sir Roger Gale.)
The PRESIDENT – I call Mr Di Stefano, the rapporteur, to respond to the debate. You have nine minutes.
Mr DI STEFANO (Italy) – I thank all the speakers for their contributions. I also thank the Committee on Social Affairs, Health and Sustainable Development for its opinion and amendments, which add value to the text.
Everyone is generally in agreement that actions should speak louder than words. It is time to act and that is why we are presenting this report today. I agreed with Mr Villumsen when he said that detention of children is a violation of the legal framework of the Council of Europe and that is why we need to speak against the detention of children in our own countries. Mr Köck was right to say that children must be guided away from criminality, which leads to what Mr Schennach said about finding children before someone else does.
It is important that people understand what is going on. We should open the doors of our migration centres to make people appreciate the reality of the situation. Ms Buliga said that Moldova has started a process of integration, which I welcome. We should share that best practice with all member States. I agreed with Ms Crozon that the failures of our system are often fatal for migrant families, so we need to focus on that. We also need to focus on the horror of the age assessment system, which sometimes neglects children’s dignity. We need to make statements in our countries about that. We need to make our politicians understand that it is their duty to face the challenge of how to care for unaccompanied children, which is not always in the spotlight. We always talk about the problem of immigration but never the solution.
I agree with Mr Tilson that it is difficult to get real figures on the number of children who go missing. Europol stressed that point in the last meeting in Paris. Communication between Europol and national police forces is not always good. Many colleagues mentioned the frightening figures that we have seen, and those figures are why this argument immediately cropped up in public opinion. I thank Mr Tilson and Mr Wells for their insight into the Canadian process for dealing with children. As I said, we need to take best practice back to our own countries. I also welcome the additional information from Hungary.
I thank colleagues for supporting the report, which I hope will receive wide approval. I also thank the committee, the secretariat and the chairperson, Ms Gafarova, for their great support.
The PRESIDENT – Does the chairperson of the committee wish to speak?
Ms GAFAROVA (Azerbaijan) – Of all the tragedies of the current migrant and refugee crisis, the plight of the hundreds of thousands of uprooted children arriving in Europe is the most heart-breaking. We have all seen pictures of children travelling great distances by sea and land, with or without their parents. When they arrive at their first destination, we know that their journey and their hardship are not over. They have to overcome the same obstacles as adults: terrible living conditions, confusing procedures and long asylum processes in a foreign country. This report draws attention to the specific challenges of the reception and possible integration of migrant children, and the dangers of trafficking and exploitation that they face, as well as the newly emergent problem of how to avoid children going missing, or to trace them when they are missing.
I thank the rapporteur, Mr Di Stefano, for his work. He has managed to present a comprehensive overview of the situation, with a focus on practices and particular problems in certain member States. He has also drawn together best practice in order to promote the best guidance and policies, which will help States to improve the protection of lone migrant children.
I trust that the Assembly will not only support all the recommendations made in the draft resolution, but that members will look closely at the treatment of migrant minors in their countries and do all they can to encourage implementation of the measures proposed. I also draw attention to the last recommendation in the text, which urges the European Union to implement the European Parliament’s proposal to allow migrant children’s asylum applications to be processed in the country in which they find themselves, so that they are not obliged to travel even further, given the policy of return to the first country of entry.
The PRESIDENT – The debate is closed.
The Committee on Migration, Refugees and Displaced Persons has presented a draft resolution to which 13 amendments have been tabled. They will be taken in the order in which they appear in the Compendium and the Organisation of Debates. I remind you that speeches on amendments are limited to 30 seconds.
I understand that the Chairperson of the Committee on Equality and Non-Discrimination wishes to propose to the Assembly that Amendments 3, 4, 5, 1, 2, 8, 10, 11, 12, 6 and 13 to the draft resolution, which were unanimously approved by the committee, should be declared agreed by the Assembly. Amendment 9 was also unanimously agreed by the committee, but as it is the subject of a sub-amendment it will be considered separately in the usual manner.
Does anyone object? As there is no objection, I declare the amendments agreed.
Amendments 3, 4, 5, 1, 2, 8, 10, 11, 12, 6 and 13 to the draft resolution are adopted.
We come to Amendment 9, tabled by the Committee on Social Affairs, Health and Sustainable Development, which is, in the draft resolution, paragraph 8.2.2, after the words “dedicated accommodation,” to insert the following words: “protection against any form of violence and abuse (including sexual abuse and exploitation and human trafficking),”.
I call Mr Jónasson to support Amendment 9 on behalf of the Committee on Social Affairs, Health and Sustainable Development. You have 30 seconds.
Mr JÓNASSON (Iceland) – The amendment proposed by the committee is self-explanatory, and it was unanimously agreed in the Committee on Migration, Refugees and Displaced Persons.
The PRESIDENT – I have been informed that Mr Di Stefano wishes to propose an oral sub-amendment, on behalf of the Committee on Migration, Refugees and Displaced Persons, which is, at the end to insert the following words: “, avoidance of immigration detention in any situation, as promoted by the Parliamentary Campaign to End Immigration Detention of Children.”
In my opinion, the oral sub-amendment is in order under our rules. However, do 10 or more members object to the oral sub-amendment being debated? That is not the case, so I call Mr Di Stefano to support his oral sub-amendment.
Mr DI STEFANO (Italy) – The sub-amendment reintroduces something to the text about the detention of children, as was stressed earlier in the debate. It reinstates a reference that we lost at the committee meeting in Paris in September.
The PRESIDENT – Does anyone wish to speak against the amendment? That is not the case.
What is the opinion of the mover of the main amendment? I call Mr Jónasson.
Mr JÓNASSON (Iceland) – In favour.
The PRESIDENT – What is the opinion of the committee?
Ms GAFAROVA (Azerbaijan) – The committee was unanimously in favour of the oral sub-amendment.
The PRESIDENT – I will now put the oral sub-amendment to the vote.
The vote is open.
The oral sub-amendment is adopted.
We will now consider the main amendment.
Does anyone wish to speak against the amendment, as amended? That is not the case.
What is the opinion of the committee?
Ms GAFAROVA (Azerbaijan) – The committee was unanimously in favour of the amendment.
The PRESIDENT – I will now put Amendment 9, as amended, to the vote.
The vote is open.
Amendment 9, as amended, is adopted.
I understand that Mr Bildarratz wishes to withdraw Amendment 7.
Mr BILDARRATZ (Spain)* – The aim of Amendment 7 was to supplement Amendments 8 to 10 and ensure that minors could always have a guardian to look after their rights. According to the author of the report, this message could be included in paragraph 8.1.3. We agree with that. I would like to withdraw the amendment, as long as no member of the Assembly declares that they are against.
The PRESIDENT – Does anyone wish to move Amendment 7? That is not the case.
Amendment 7 is not moved.
We will now proceed to vote on the draft resolution contained in Document 14142, as amended.
The vote is open.
The draft resolution in Document 14142, as amended, is adopted, with 43 votes for, 0 against and 1 abstention.
3. Next public business
The PRESIDENT – The Assembly will hold its next public sitting tomorrow morning at 10 a.m. with the Agenda which was approved on Monday morning.
The sitting is closed.
(The sitting was closed at 6.15 p.m.)
1. Female genital mutilation in Europe
Presentation by Ms Fresko-Rolfo of report of the Committee on Equality and Non-Discrimination in Document 14135
Presentation by Ms Maury Pasquier of report of the Committee on Social Affairs, Health and Sustainable Development in Document 14148
Speakers: Mr İhsanoğlu, Ms Johnsson Fornarve, Ms Kovács, Ms De Sutter, Ms Rodríguez Hernández, Ms Ĺberg, Ms Crozon, Ms Blondin, Ms Hetto-Gaasch, Ms Günay, Ms Heinrich, Ms Schneider-Schneiter, Baroness Massey and Ms Wurm
Replies: Ms Fresko-Rolfo and Ms Centemero
Amendments 1, 3, 5, 6 as amended and 2 as amended, adopted
Draft resolution, as amended, adopted
2. Harmonising the protection of unaccompanied minors
Presentation by Mr Di Stefano of report of the Committee on Migration, Refugees and Displaced Persons in Document 14142
Presentation by Mr Jónasson of opinion of the Committee on Social Affairs, Health and Sustainable Development in Document 14174
Speakers: Mr Villumsen, Mr Köck, Mr Schennach, Mr van de Ven, Lady Eccles, Ms Buliga, Ms Crozon, Ceritoğlu Kurt, Mr Tilson, Mr Wells, Ms Hoffmann, Ms Schou, Mr Le Borgn’ and Mr Kiral
Replies: Mr Di Stefano and Ms Gafarova
Amendments 3, 4, 5, 1, 2, 8, 10, 11, 12, 6, 13, and 9 as amended, adopted
Draft resolution, as amended, adopted
3. Next public sitting
Appendix / Annexe
Representatives or Substitutes who signed the register of attendance in accordance with Rule 12.2 of the Rules of Procedure.The names of members substituted follow (in brackets) the names of participating members.
Liste des représentants ou suppléants ayant signé le registre de présence, conformément ŕ l’article 12.2 du Rčglement.Le nom des personnes remplacées suit celui des Membres remplaçant, entre parenthčses.
ĹBERG, Boriana [Ms] (BILLSTRÖM, Tobias [Mr])
ANDERSON, Donald [Lord]
ARENT, Iwona [Ms]
ARIEV, Volodymyr [Mr]
BADEA, Viorel Riceard [Mr] (TUDOSE, Mihai [Mr])
BARILARO, Christian [M.] (ALLAVENA, Jean-Charles [M.])
BARNETT, Doris [Ms]
BARTOS, Mónika [Ms] (CSÖBÖR, Katalin [Mme])
BEREZA, Boryslav [Mr] (SOBOLEV, Serhiy [Mr])
BERNACKI, Włodzimierz [Mr]
BILDARRATZ, Jokin [Mr]
BİLGEHAN, Gülsün [Mme]
BLONDIN, Maryvonne [Mme]
BRASSEUR, Anne [Mme]
BRUYN, Piet De [Mr]
BUDNER, Margareta [Ms]
BULIGA, Valentina [Mme]
CATALFO, Nunzia [Ms]
CENTEMERO, Elena [Ms]
CERİTOĞLU KURT, Lütfiye İlksen [Ms] (MİROĞLU, Orhan [Mr])
ČERNOCH, Marek [Mr] (BENEŠIK, Ondřej [Mr])
CHRISTOFFERSEN, Lise [Ms]
CIMOSZEWICZ, Tomasz [Mr] (POMASKA, Agnieszka [Ms])
CROZON, Pascale [Mme] (BAPT, Gérard [M.])
DI STEFANO, Manlio [Mr]
DJUROVIĆ, Aleksandra [Ms]
ECCLES, Diana [Lady]
EVANS, Nigel [Mr]
FAZZONE, Claudio [Mr] (BERNINI, Anna Maria [Ms])
FISCHER, Axel E. [Mr]
FISCHEROVÁ, Jana [Ms] (ZELIENKOVÁ, Kristýna [Ms])
FRESKO-ROLFO, Béatrice [Mme]
GAFAROVA, Sahiba [Ms]
GARCÍA ALBIOL, Xavier [Mr]
GIRO, Francesco Maria [Mr]
GONÇALVES, Carlos Alberto [M.]
GOPP, Rainer [Mr]
GORROTXATEGUI, Miren Edurne [Mme] (DOMENECH, Francesc Xavier [Mr])
GOSSELIN-FLEURY, Genevičve [Mme] (LONCLE, François [M.])
GRECEA, Maria [Ms] (STROE, Ionuț-Marian [Mr])
GRIN, Jean-Pierre [M.] (HEER, Alfred [Mr])
GÜNAY, Emine Nur [Ms]
HEINRICH, Gabriela [Ms]
HETTO-GAASCH, Françoise [Mme]
HOFFMANN, Rózsa [Mme] (VEJKEY, Imre [Mr])
HOLÍK, Pavel [Mr] (MARKOVÁ, Soňa [Ms])
HONKONEN, Petri [Mr] (ANTTILA, Sirkka-Liisa [Ms])
HÜBINGER, Anette [Ms]
HUNKO, Andrej [Mr]
İHSANOĞLU, Ekmeleddin Mehmet [Mr]
JAKAVONIS, Gediminas [M.]
JANIK, Grzegorz [Mr] (TARCZYŃSKI, Dominik [Mr])
JANSSON, Eva-Lena [Ms] (KARLSSON, Niklas [Mr])
JOHNSSON FORNARVE, Lotta [Ms] (GUNNARSSON, Jonas [Mr])
JORDANA, Carles [M.] (ZZ...)
JOVANOVIĆ, Jovan [Mr]
KALMARI, Anne [Ms]
KERESTECİOĞLU DEMİR, Filiz [Ms]
KIRAL, Serhii [Mr] (SOTNYK, Olena [Ms])
KLEINBERGA, Nellija [Ms] (LAIZĀNE, Inese [Ms])
KÖCK, Eduard [Mr] (AMON, Werner [Mr])
KOSTŘICA, Rom [Mr]
KOVÁCS, Elvira [Ms]
KYRIAKIDES, Stella [Ms]
LE BORGN’, Pierre-Yves [M.]
LE DÉAUT, Jean-Yves [M.]
LEYDEN, Terry [Mr] (COWEN, Barry [Mr])
LOGVYNSKYI, Georgii [Mr]
LOMBARDI, Filippo [M.]
MASSEY, Doreen [Baroness] (SHERRIFF, Paula [Ms])
MAURY PASQUIER, Liliane [Mme]
MILEWSKI, Daniel [Mr]
MILTENBURG, Anouchka van [Ms]
MULARCZYK, Arkadiusz [Mr]
MULLEN, Rónán [Mr] (CROWE, Seán [Mr])
MÜLLER, Thomas [Mr]
MUNYAMA, Killion [Mr] (HALICKI, Andrzej [Mr])
NICOLETTI, Michele [Mr]
NIKOLOSKI, Aleksandar [Mr]
OBRADOVIĆ, Marija [Ms]
OBREMSKI, Jarosław [Mr] (WOJTYŁA, Andrzej [Mr])
OHLSSON, Carina [Ms]
ÖNAL, Suat [Mr]
PACKALÉN, Tom [Mr]
PALIHOVICI, Liliana [Ms] (NEGUTA, Andrei [M.])
PALLARÉS, Judith [Ms]
PANTIĆ PILJA, Biljana [Ms]
POSTOICO, Maria [Mme] (VORONIN, Vladimir [M.])
REISS, Frédéric [M.] (ZIMMERMANN, Marie-Jo [Mme])
RODRÍGUEZ HERNÁNDEZ, Melisa [Ms]
ROUQUET, René [M.]
SAVCHENKO, Nadiia [Ms]
SCHENNACH, Stefan [Mr]
SCHNEIDER-SCHNEITER, Elisabeth [Mme] (FRIDEZ, Pierre-Alain [M.])
SCHOU, Ingjerd [Ms]
SCHRIJVER, Nico [Mr]
ŠEPIĆ, Senad [Mr]
SILVA, Adăo [M.]
SPADONI, Maria Edera [Ms] (ASCANI, Anna [Ms])
SUTTER, Petra De [Ms] (VERCAMER, Stefaan [M.])
THIÉRY, Damien [M.]
TRUSKOLASKI, Krzysztof [Mr]
UYSAL, Burhanettin [Mr] (BABAOĞLU, Mehmet [Mr])
VALEN, Snorre Serigstad [Mr]
VAREIKIS, Egidijus [Mr] (SKARDŽIUS, Arturas [Mr])
VEN, Mart van de [Mr]
VILLUMSEN, Nikolaj [Mr]
WIECHEL, Markus [Mr] (NISSINEN, Johan [Mr])
WILK, Jacek [Mr]
WURM, Gisela [Ms]
XUCLŔ, Jordi [Mr]
ZINGERIS, Emanuelis [Mr]
Also signed the register / Ont également signé le registre
Representatives or Substitutes not authorised to vote / Représentants ou suppléants non autorisés ŕ voter
CORREIA, Telmo [M.]
HIGGINS, Alice-Mary [Ms]
TORNARE, Manuel [M.]
Observers / Observateurs
DOWNE, Percy [Mr]
SIMMS, Scott [Mr]
TILSON, David [Mr]
WELLS, David M. [Mr]
WHALEN, Nick [Mr]
Partners for democracy / Partenaires pour la démocratie