COMMITTEE ON THE RIGHTS OF THE CHILD CONSIDERS REPORT OF FRANCE
The Committee on the Rights of the Child today concluded its consideration of the fifth periodic report of France on its implementation of the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Introducing the report, Laurence Rossignol, Minister of State for the Family, Elderly People and Adult Care of France, announced that France had ratified the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on a communications procedure without reservation. She also referred to the recent establishment of the High Council for Family, Childhood and the Elderly, which would coordinate the steering of the global childhood strategy during the first half of 2016. Education was the focus of all policies for children, she noted, with reforms adopted and increased budget allocations to strengthen inclusive and early childhood education. A Roadmap for the Protection of Children would soon be adopted, based on the need to better understand children’s needs and to develop preventive measures. Family allocations had also been increased, with a particular attention to single-parent families.
Committee Experts welcomed the 2013 reform in the education sector, but regretted its lack of implementation in practice, particularly regarding drop-out rates and the inclusion of children with disabilities. Experts raised a series of questions relating to the protection of children in the context of the current refugee crisis, including on efforts to facilitate family reunion and measures to ensure that unaccompanied children were not subjected to administrative detention. Experts asked about the protection of children who came forward with allegations of abuse by French peacekeepers in the Central African Republic. Other issues raised pertained to the age of criminal responsibility, including in the context of counterterrorism, children in detention facilities, the impact of the current state of emergency on the rights of children, as well as the prohibition of corporal punishment.
In concluding remarks, Hynd Ayoubi Idrissi, Committee Expert and Country Rapporteur for France, said that France had done a lot for the protection of children and the implementation of the Convention and welcomed the constructiveness and openness of the French delegation.
Ms. Rossignol, in concluding remarks, welcomed the expertise of the Committee and thanked it for the recommendations it would make for the better protection of the rights of children.
Benyam Dawit Mezmur, Chairperson of the Committee, concluded the meeting by welcoming the ratification by France, without reservation, of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on a communications procedure.
The delegation of France included representatives of the Ministry of Social Affairs, Health and Women’s Rights, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of National Education, the Ministry of Urbanism, Youth and Sports, the Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of Overseas Territories, the Inter-ministerial Delegation for Access to Housing of Homeless Persons, and the Permanent Mission of France to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
The Committee will next meet in public today at 3 p.m. this afternoon, when it will continue its consideration in Chamber A of the combined third and fourth periodic report of Ireland (CRC/C/IRL/3-4) under the Convention. In Chamber B, it will start its consideration of the fourth and fifth periodic report of Peru (CRC/C/PER/4-5) under the Convention, as well as its initial report under the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography (CRC/C/OPSC/PER/1) and its initial report under the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict (CRC/C/OPAC/PER/1).
The fifth periodic report of France can be read via the following link: CRC/C/FRA/5.
Presentation of the Report
LAURENCE ROSSIGNOL, Minister of State for the Family, Elderly People and Adult Care of France, introducing the report, said that in 2013, France had set up a mission tasked with the elaboration of a national strategy for childhood and adolescence, which had presented its conclusions in September 2015. The need to steer the policies had recently resulted in the establishment of the High Council for Family, Childhood and the Elderly within the Office of the Prime Minister; the creation of this Council had been provided for in the social law promulgated on 28 December 2015, which explicitly mentioned the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The Council, long demanded by social actors, provided a perennial guidance and steering of policies that cut across all ages of life. Childhood policy suffered from its political fragmentation and the compartmentalisation of its actors, and this Council would provide links between childhood actors and institutions, and would coordinate the steering of the global childhood strategy during the first half of 2016.
Ms. Rossignol announced that France had ratified without any reservation the third Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and had expanded the mandate and the means of the Office of the Ombudsmen so that it could address children’s issues. Education was the focus of all policies for children; in France, 10 years of education were free and compulsory. Schooling was a priority and the 2013 reform of school cycles in nurseries and elementary schools had adapted the school time to the biological rhythms of children and increased the time for extra-curricular activities. The 2013 education reform was guided by the spirit of the Convention and reaffirmed the principle of inclusion. National education had benefitted from the largest budgetary increase and the sector of greatest public investment, with € 90 billion annual budget since 2015. The reform also called for the creation of 60,000 new posts by 2017, together with 10,000 new life assistants for children with disabilities. Plans were in place to combat the drop-out rates, while a campaign against harassment in schools had been launched in 2013.
Starting in 2012, France had redeveloped the education of two- and three-year-old children, as early childhood education was one of the most important measures to combat inequality; as a result, the number of two- and three-year-old children in schooling had increased for the first time since 2002, and in 2014, more than 20 per cent of children under the age of three were in school. Also, 42,700 new places had been opened in crèches between 2009 and 2013 and an additional 45,000 places would be added by 2017. The Roadmap for the Protection of Children, which contained 101 measures, would be adopted within the coming two months. It was based on the need to better understand children and their needs, and to develop prevention measures.
Childhood policy was also closely connected to family policy: protecting parents, especially mothers, meant protecting the children. That was why the fight against poverty of families was a priority on social and family policies, particularly through a multiannual plan to combat poverty. Since 2012, family allocations had been increased by 25 per cent and particular attention was being paid to single-parent families: a fund to guarantee the payment of food subsidies would be operationalized in April 2016 and the support network for single-parent families had been set up. The annual budget for parental support had been increased from €50 to 100 million between 2012 and 2017.
Questions by the Committee Experts
JORGE CARDONA LLORENS, Committee Expert and Country Rapporteur, said that France was one of the major powers in the world, its sixth richest country and a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council – all this carried a responsibility and the Committee expected France’s full commitment to children’s rights, which were human rights. Mr. Cardona noted that France still maintained some declarations and reservations to the Convention, and asked why they were not withdrawn given that the reasons for their entering did not exist anymore. Did France intend to adopt the practice of assessing all new policies and laws for their impacts on children’s rights? The allocation of resources for children was not equitable in France, which allocated less to overseas territories and to marginalized children, which indicated that a child rights-based approach was not being applied on the allocation of budgets. The distribution of power between the national human rights institution and the Child Ombudsmen was not very clear and could be very confusing to an ordinary citizen.
France had a significant number of private sector companies which operated in all corners of the world, but corporate social responsibility was a voluntary commitment. What legislative measures had been adopted to guarantee that the activities of these companies respected the rights of children, what was the situation of the Businesses and Human Rights Plan, and could subsidiaries of French companies operating abroad be held accountable for human rights violations, particularly in relation to indigenous people? The Country Rapporteur congratulated France on its fight against harmful traditional practices, but noted the continued practice of “packing” – the wrapping of autistic children in cold and freezing blankets, which amounted to cruel and degrading treatment, and the surgical interventions on intersex children within the first two months of their lives which could interfere with their healthy development.
HYND AYOUBI IDRISSI, Committee Expert and Country Rapporteur, inquired about the coordination mechanism in the country and in particular about the role and the mandate of the newly established High Council for Children, Family and the Elderly, and its relation with other institutions. Ms. Idrissi asked the delegation to explain how the comprehensive national strategy on childhood, which the Commission on Childhood and Adolescence would soon launch, was developed; measures that were employed to disseminate knowledge about the Convention, particularly among vulnerable children such as those in detention or in hospitals; and the objectives of the ABC Equality Action Plan put in place in schools and how it addressed exclusion and discrimination.
The available data indicated that two lives were lost every day to domestic violence in France and this was an issue of great concern to the Committee. Many children were in situations of vulnerability, in which their right to life and healthy development was compromised. It was estimated that 8,000 to 10,000 children lived in slums, most of them in poverty, and the Committee Expert asked whether France had evaluated the impact of its recently completed five-year poverty eradication plan.
Replies by the Delegation
France would maintain its declaration on Article 6 of the Convention concerning the right to life which might put in question the legislation on abortions. The Defender of Rights currently received young ambassadors of rights who worked in schools, hospitals, and institutions, including those for children with disabilities. The rights of children and the Convention on the Rights of the Child were part of the compulsory school curricula. The good treatment of persons in socio-medical institutions was part of the policy and a system had been put in place to identify all cases of ill treatment. The practice of “packing” had not been practiced in France since 2008, with the exception of one project for research purposes; the High Authority on Health had developed recommendations for dealing with children with autism, and the training programme for professionals involved in dealing with autistic children would be developed in 2016. Asked whether the practice had been legally banned, the delegation said that recommendations could not be legally imposed and that was why France addressed the issue through administrative measures and training.
Answering the questions concerning the inclusion of the office of Child Ombudsmen in the Office of the Ombudsmen, the delegation explained that the Child Ombudsmen was clearly identified and worked in constant liaison with public authorities, including on public policies and on casefiles. The High Council for Family, Childhood and the Elderly had been created by the request of childhood actors and specialists; this was an arena for discussion of crosscutting issues and for setting up of comprehensive childhood and age-crosscutting policies. The Childhood section of the Council was being discussed at the moment to ensure the best representation and diversity. The creation of the High Council as a crosscutting body was recommended by the Child and Adolescent Commission which had been tasked with developing a comprehensive public policy strategy.
One of the key objectives of the Ministry of Education was to combat prejudice and all forms of discrimination in schools. “Homophobia Has No Place in Schools” was an annual campaign in schools, aimed at promoting tolerance, combatting prejudice and informing people about the respect of others regardless of their origin. Teachers were trained in the Equality Plan, and how to use it in their teaching strategies.
More than 80 per cent of ill-treatment of children occurred in families and that was why fighting domestic violence was a priority. Since the law had been adopted in 2007, significant progress had been made on how children at risk were identified and how they were helped and assisted. The figure that a Committee Expert quoted earlier, of two children dying every day from domestic violence, was based on a survey data and a projection, not hard data. A series of measures had been adopted to support medical doctors and other professionals in contact with children in detecting ill-treatment, with the understanding that the abuse of mothers also represented ill-treatment of children. All judicial rulings in cases of domestic violence had to include a ruling on the removal of parental authority.
As things stood today, the Criminal Law allowed the removal of parental authority in cases of child abuse and ill-treatment, but did not cover the siblings; the planned changes to the Criminal Law would oblige judges to rule on the removal of parental authority of siblings as well. Parental authority could also be removed in certain civil cases, for example when the safety and wellbeing of children had been jeopardized by parental continuous abuse of drugs or alcohol, or in cases of gross neglect of children. A proposal was on the table to change the law to remove parental authority in cases where a child witnessed violence in the family which was detrimental to his or her healthy development.
The 2007 Law on Domestic Violence emphasized the prevention and assessment of violence; multifunctional cells had been created at local levels which facilitated the early detection of violence at home. In 2007, the notion of sharing of information between medical and other staff bound by professional secrecy, and others, had been strengthened. The delegation stressed that prevention policies were linked to parental support and help to parents who struggled through a situation. Knowledge about the Convention by schools and other institutions where children spent time was very important in the detection of violence and abuse.
In terms of the right to be heard, children aged 13 and over had the right of veto on agreements, and the right to express their opinion on for example changing a name, adoption, etc. Children also had access to files in all proceedings that concerned them, judges had an obligation to listen to what really young children had to say, and all children had a right to legal representation and assistance. The agreement of the child was also required for medical tests and procedures.
Questions by the Committee Experts
In the second round of questions, a Committee Expert asked about the protection of children who came forward with allegations of abuse by French peacekeepers in the Central African Republic, and about the national strategy to combat human trafficking. Taking up the issue of refugee and asylum seekers, the Expert asked about the plans to increase the capacity of the reception centres for refugee and asylum-seeking children, particularly unaccompanied minors; what measures were in place to ensure that they were not subjected to administrative detention and were protected from violence; and how did France plan to establish a child-friendly and accessible procedure for asylum requests.
Another Committee Expert asked the delegation about the situation of children with disabilities and in particular their inclusion in the mainstream education system, citing excellent experiences and good practices from Denmark, Spain and other European countries. Inclusion was not only the question of resources, but a question of policy and concept – it meant adapting schools to the needs of all and accepting that the norm was diversity and variety. France must do away with the segregated class philosophy. Only 20 per cent of autistic children were in mainstream education, and this included children who only attended school one hour a day.
On children living in prisons, the law allowed imprisoned mothers to keep children with them up to the age of 18 months. France had carried out in 2013 a series of positive reforms in the education sector, but the problem remained the implementation in practice. It was reported that children from shanty-towns, or children from single-parent families experienced problems with inclusion in schools. The efforts of France to reduce the drop-out rates were impressive, but the number of students who dropped out was still rather high. What measures were in place to ensure that the 2013 school reform law was implemented in practice?
Committee Experts also raised issues concerning the adoption of children from countries not parties to the Hague Convention on the Protection of Children and Cooperation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption; the increasing trend of overmedication of children with behavioural problems; how France followed up on the decisions by the European Court for Human Rights concerning lack of respect for family life in connection to delays in issuing visas for family reunion; and what measures were being taken to address the growing refugee crisis in Europe and in France.
The delegation was also asked about the amendment of the law to introduce an age of criminal responsibility and to remove the discriminatory treatment of children aged 16 to 18 compared to the treatment of children under the age of 16, while a Committee Expert urged France not to miss the golden opportunity which presented itself in the current draft proposal for the establishment of proper, well-staffed and well-resourced juvenile courts. Every year, more than 5,000 children were detained for one reason or another, but separate juvenile detention facilities were lacking, and children had to rub shoulders with adult convicts and criminals.
Concerning the administration of justice in the context of terrorism, the Committee was told that minors arrested on charges of terrorism were processed and charged under the anti-terrorism law, which was at odds with rules of administration of juvenile justice. France had an obligation to protect children and promote the system that favoured corrective measures over penal measures.
An Expert noted that the French health system faced limitations and challenges, particularly in overseas territories, where there had been cases of HIV/ AIDS and tuberculosis. Experts sought information regarding the outcome of policies that aimed at increasing access to health services and reducing by half the difference in the mortality rate between metropolitan France and its overseas territories. Experts also expressed concerns about healthcare funding and staffing being reduced.
Concerns were also raised regarding discrimination against children from the Roma communities in the area of health. Experts were concerned about the situation of intersex children, who received unnecessary surgical intervention after their birth. They asked about mental health services to prevent suicide, particularly for children belonging to sexual minorities, as well as policies to prevent and combat drug addiction and access to contraceptives in school. On the issue of breastfeeding, Experts regretted the small number of healthcare centres that provided training to new staff.
Regarding the involvement of children in armed conflict, Experts inquired about the minimum age for enrolment, and asked what had been done to counter the provision of arms or war materials to conflict areas were children were being targeted, particularly Syria.
Regarding the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, Experts were concerned that the sale of children was not explicitly categorized as a crime.
Response from the Delegation
The issue of intersex children had recently come to the Government’s attention, the delegation said, and the Government still had not completely explored all avenues accessible to deal with all its aspects. A recent court decision in France had recognized a neutral gender, in addition to male and female, triggering further debate on that issue.
Reservations made by France to article 30 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child were based on the principle of equality of all citizens before the law and on the principle of indivisibility as set in the Constitution of France. Those principles implied non-discrimination and provided all citizens with full protection in that respect, including indigenous citizens from oversea territories. Populations there were fully respected and their cultural identity protected.
A plan had been adopted to strengthen access to education for local communities in oversea territories, taking into account the specific features of culture and language, and to strengthen the links between education and the labour market. Another priority was to encourage initiatives by young people that would improve their social integration.
A bill would be adopted to extend the delay for birth registration up to eight days when long distances from civil registry justified it. That draft had been accepted by the Senate and would be discussed by the National Assembly. That would facilitate issues relating to late birth registration, particularly in oversea territories.
A Charter adopted in 2012 on the protection of children in the media was signed between the audio-visual council and representatives of the media. Awareness raising was done with press groups on the impact that over-sexualized advertising could have on children. An annual campaign by that same council had been conducted to raise the awareness of children and parents on those issues, and actions had been taken to train professionals working with children and young people. Furthermore, a recent law imposed strict limitations on beauty contests for children under 13.
On digital issues, the Government was acting at the educational level. Children had to pass internet certificates at school. Furthermore, teachers had to themselves be trained on new technologies. Parents were also targeted, with initiatives to encourage internet providers to provide better information and training on parental control.
On concerns voiced regarding the right to privacy, and data held by schools on parents, a delegate said that the challenge was to ensure that parents knew what their rights were and what they could do if they did not want such data to be contained on school databases. The Conseil d’Etat had recently ruled that the collection of such data should not infringe on the children’s right to privacy. There was effective remedy and effective oversight for parents that wished their data to be removed from school databases.
On corporal punishment, the Minister recalled that the criminal code prohibited all violence against children, including at school. With regard to corporal punishment by parents, the civil code provided the basis for prohibiting corporal punishment. There was a difficult debate in France on whether a criminal law was required to ban corporal punishment and over-interfere with the family life. The overwhelming majority of France’s population was against the adoption of such a law. The Government was however working on other fronts to raise public awareness on education without violence.
Regarding the Central African Republic and the allegation of sexual assault against children by French military personnel, the authorities were determined to fully investigate and prosecute those allegations and had taken initial steps as soon as they heard about them. The prosecution was still underway and therefore still subjected to secrecy. Measures had been taken by the United Nations Children’s Fund to ensure that no reprisals were made against the victims. Regarding prevention, increased attention had been given to the training of military personnel before they left for oversea military operations.
With regard to corporate social responsibility, a delegate explained that the legislation had been improved to ensure that French companies with subsidiaries abroad were more transparent with regard to their respect of international conventions and standards, particularly regarding child labour. Such companies had to appoint a mechanism mandated with monitoring respect of international standards.
The main difficulty was to monitor companies that were outsourced and did not directly answer to French companies. A bill was tabled to ensure that international standards were indeed respected by outsourced companies in third countries, with a penalty mechanism and high fines. It was up to Parliament to act and table this bill to receive a second reading.
With regard to trafficking, a delegate said that young victims required specific protection as they had often taken part in illegal activities themselves. The 2014-2015 National Plan against trafficking contained measures to strengthen the protection of minors, including special support, and the establishment of specialized groups chaired by local authorities charged with elaborating a better response to organized crime. A pilot project had been conducted in the city of Paris to better protect children forced into criminality by traffickers.
On child migrants and asylum seekers, a delegate said that the high number of unaccompanied minors falling under the authority of the local authorities had resulted in overburdening in some places. In reaction, the State had ratified a protocol to set up a solidarity system that ensured that children received better reception upon arrival on the French territory. The high number of unaccompanied children in 2015 required the system to be enhanced, and required further training and standardized assessment criteria for better support to minors.
In no way could a foreign unaccompanied minor be placed in retention, a delegate said. Retention was for foreigners under expulsion procedures, which could not be applied to a minor. Minors could be retained exceptionally when the expulsion concerned members of their families, but only in extreme cases and for no longer than 48 hours.
A law granted refugee status to little girls that risked to be subjected to female genital mutilation if sent back to their country of origin. With regards to the specific situation in Mayotte, where one quarter of the population was there irregularly, efforts had been made to align migration policies there with international standards.
On the issue of deinstitutionalization, a delegate noted the momentum towards better support to and inclusion of children with disabilities. Progress still needed to be made towards deinstitutionalization, he admitted, notably through accompanied inclusion. The trend to create inclusive services had increased, with now 42 per cent of children with disabilities receiving such support. Specialized classes existed for children with disabilities, and 79,000 children and adolescents received teaching in those classes. The decision had been taken to migrate those classes from specialized schools to mainstream schools.
In response to questions on the involvement of children in armed conflict, a delegate said that children over 16 could be enrolled in training activities but could not be authorised to take part in hostilities.
With regard to the provision of arms or war material to other countries, a body was charged with assessing the compatibility of the sale of arms with United Nations Security Council resolutions, the Arms Trade Treaty and other provisions of international law. No arms were being sold in Syria as violations of international law were being perpetrated there.
Concerning the juvenile justice system, a delegate explained that up to the age of 13, children were subjected to only educational measures. The French system was fully in line with the spirit of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, although it did not strictly implement its letter.
The principle that underpinned the juvenile system was providing alternatives to detention. Detention was the exception, and the education possibility had to be preserved in any case. Measures applied were decided on a case by case basis, depending on the situation of each juvenile offender. There were currently around 700 children in detention, a delegate said. Those children were held separately from adults.
With regard to minors prosecuted for terrorist acts, there was no extraordinary regime for minors, and regular laws and protections applied.
The current state of emergency put in place as a result of recent terrorist attacks in France allowed for measures that did not particularly impact children; these measures were controlled by the administrative courts.
On health issues, a new campaign was recently launched to strengthen awareness on contraception for each woman and girl child. The results of policies to combat addiction to drugs were currently being evaluated.
HYND AYOUBI IDRISSI, Committee Expert and Country Rapporteur for France, said in concluding remarks that France had done a lot for the protection of children and the implementation of the Convention. She hoped that further replies would be provided to the Committee, and welcomed the constructiveness and openness of the French delegation.
LAURENCE ROSSIGNOL, Minister of State for the Family, Elderly People and Adult Care of France, in concluding remarks, welcomed the expertise of the Committee and thanked it for the recommendations it would make for the better protection of the rights of children.
BENYAM DAWIT MEZMUR, Chairperson of the Committee, concluded the meeting by welcoming the ratification by France, without reservation, of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on a communications procedure, before summing up the main issues of concern raised by Committee members.
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