Experts of the Committee on the Rights of the Child Praise Finland for Providing Free Education for Children up to Age 18, Ask about the Detention of Asylum-Seeking Children and the Criminalisation of the Sale of Children
The Committee on the Rights of the Child today concluded its consideration of the combined fifth and sixth periodic report of Finland under the Convention on the Rights of the Child and its initial report under the Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, with Committee Experts praising the State’s provision of free, compulsory education for children up to age 18, and raising questions about the detention of asylum-seeking children and the criminalisation of the sale of children.
Faith Marshall-Harris, Committee Expert and Coordinator of the Country Taskforce for Finland, commended the State’s education reform making education free up to age 18. Was it true that this measure was not available for children in Åland? Could education in Åland be made free and compulsory? What measures were in place to prevent dropouts and absenteeism?
One Committee Expert said Finland had decided to tighten its asylum policy, leading to the expulsion of children from the State. The State party had restricted the possibility of applying for asylum on the eastern border. How did the State, in this context, promote the rights of asylum-seeking children? There were reports that asylum-seeking children were detained at all ages in the name of family unification. Would the State party reconsider this practice?
Hynd Ayoubi Idrissi, Committee Expert and Rapporteur on the report under the Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, asked if the State party intended to implement legislation to criminalise the sale of children specifically. Finland did not criminalise prostitution. There were reports of exploitation of children involved in prostitution in Finland. What measures would be adopted to explicitly prohibit the exploitation of such children?
Regarding education in Åland, the delegation said steps had been taken to reform secondary school education in the region to prevent dropouts, and to introduce free education in upper secondary schools. There were plans for this to be expanded to all students.
Concerning asylum seekers, the delegation said the Government had not passed legislation allowing for border officials to close borders. The right to apply for asylum still existed. The decision to detain a foreign national was taken by border forces based on strict conditions. Detention was only used when less severe measures were not sufficient. Unaccompanied minors were only detained in exceptional circumstances. The detention of families was rare, and children were only detained to prevent separation from families.
Addressing the offences covered by the Optional Protocol on the sale of children, the delegation said that provisions on sexual offences had been reformed to lengthen sentences for offences against children. The minimum punishment was two years imprisonment. Provisions on rape covered aiding and abetting and incitement to such acts. These provisions addressed the requirements of the Optional Protocol on the sale of children.
Introducing the report, Krista Oinonen, Director, Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland and head of the delegation, said Finland had made efforts to combat all forms of violence against children through the national non-violent childhood action plan. Finland had also drawn up national action plans for the Istanbul and Lanzarote Conventions. These plans introduced measures to prevent and protect against violence, sexual exploitation and abuse; raise awareness of sexual violence against children; strengthen sexuality education; support research on treatment programmes; and organise various support groups.
In closing remarks, Ms. Marshall-Harris said that the delegation had been comprehensive in its answers. There were gaps remaining that Ms. Marshall-Harris expected that the State party would address in future.
Ms. Ayoubi Idrissi, in her concluding remarks, thanked the delegation for the explanations provided, and called on the State party to clearly criminalise the sale of children, as well as child pornography and prostitution. The delegation had shown in the dialogue the State party’s commitment to the rights of children, and Ms. Ayoubi Idrissi expressed hope that this commitment would be translated into action in developing such legislation.
Ms. Oinonen, in concluding remarks, said that the delegation’s responses expressed Finland’s commitment to the rights of the child. The dialogue had identified challenges in implementing the Convention, which would inform the Government’s future efforts. A dedicated committee would review the Committee’s concluding observations and a round-table discussion with civil society on implementing the concluding observations would be held.
The delegation of Finland consisted of representatives from the Ministry for Foreign Affairs; Parliament of Finland; Ministry of Justice; Ministry of the Interior; Ministry of Defence; Ministry of Education and Culture; Ministry of Employment and the Economy; Ministry of Social Affairs and Health; Ministry of Environment; Government of Åland; and the Permanent Mission of Finland to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
The Committee will issue the concluding observations on the report of Finland at the end of its ninety-third session on 26 May. Those, and other documents relating to the Committee’s work, including reports submitted by States parties, will be available on the session’s webpage. Summaries of the public meetings of the Committee can be found here, while webcasts of the public meetings can be found here.
The Committee has before it the combined fifth and sixth periodic report of Finland (CRC/C/STP/5-6) under the Convention on the Rights of the Child and its initial report under the Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography (CRC/C/OPSC/FIN/1).
Presentation of Report
KRISTA OINONEN, Director, Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland and head of the delegation, said that since the previous review, Finland had had five Government terms, during which several legislative amendments had been made that had had an impact on the rights of the child. These rights had been promoted through policy programmes and projects. Finland had just had Parliamentary elections and was forming a new Government.
Finland had a new, progressive national child strategy, published in 2021. The strategy implemented the recommendations of the Committee and promoted unified work for the rights of the child. The first implementation plan for the strategy was adopted by the Government in 2021, and a follow-up report on the implementation of the strategy was issued in March this year. One of the measures included in the plan was a participation project for children and young people.
In September last year, the Government decided to establish a permanent national child strategy group, which promoted the implementation of the child strategy on a cross-sectoral basis. Its key duties included coordinating the work of the children’s rights network; implementing and monitoring the child strategy and reporting on it; and coordinating and monitoring the European child guarantee. In addition, the group was tasked with strengthening and promoting the collection of data on children, young people and families; training on the rights and inclusion of children; child impact assessment and child-oriented budgeting; and the inclusion of children. In this year’s budget, the Government of Åland had allocated funds for planning its own strategy for children and young people. The Committee’s concluding observations would inform this strategy.
The national child strategy supported work to combat violence against children, and Finland had also prepared specific action plans against violence. Efforts were made to combat all forms of violence against children through the national non-violent childhood action plan. Finland had also drawn up national action plans for the Istanbul and Lanzarote Conventions. The measures implemented under the Lanzarote Convention plan aimed to prevent and protect against violence, sexual exploitation and abuse; raise awareness of sexual violence against children; strengthen sexuality education; support research on treatment programmes; and organise various support groups.
Reformed provisions on sexual offences in the Criminal Code entered into force in January this year. The new legislation strengthened everyone’s right to sexual self-determination and the protection of personal integrity. The definition of rape was now explicitly based on consent. Sexual harassment was criminalised more broadly. The reform also reinforced various provisions on sexual offences against children, including online offences.
In December 2022, Parliament passed a law, which would enter into force in October 2023, that aimed to improve the protection of children in criminal proceedings and shorten the length of such proceedings. The Ministry of Justice had produced a set of training and awareness-making materials, as well as practical guidelines and tools for the consultation of children and young people. The Ministry was also piloting a new child-friendly online platform.
Finland had made major investments in both early childhood education and care and education. The right to learn development programme was implemented from 2020 to 2022. The programme aimed at securing an equal start for learning by improving early childhood education and care and to increase the participation rate for this care. The programme had invested approximately 395 million euros in education. Measures had been introduced to reduce the group sizes in early childhood education centres, and to develop services for children with special educational needs. An “equality allowance” for education had also been established. The Ministry of Education and Culture had further prepared a comprehensive, intersectoral action plan to prevent bullying, violence and harassment in childcare, schools and other educational institutions. The Government also promoted democracy and human rights education. In 2022, the Finnish National Agency for Education distributed Government grants to comprehensive schools in Finland for a pilot project on democracy and human rights education.
Laws within the Finnish jurisdiction also applied to Åland. However, in some areas, for example in education, Åland had full jurisdiction. The Act on Childcare and Primary Education entered into force in Åland in 2021. The Act promoted child participation, the right to an equal support system, sustainability and equal rights, and the wellbeing of the children. The Government made efforts to involve children in the process of developing the curricula for children.
Finland was strongly committed to the reception, resettlement and integration of refugees. Finland would consistently continue to receive refugees who were in a vulnerable position, particularly families, women and children. Finland had welcomed more than 50,000 Ukrainians during the war in Ukraine, and about 40 per cent of them were children. In addition, Finland had played an active role in supporting the situation in the Mediterranean by receiving especially vulnerable people, including unaccompanied minors. In the European Union, Finland promoted efforts to increase solidarity and responsibility sharing and to build a fair and comprehensive regional asylum policy and practices.
Questions by Committee Experts
FAITH MARSHALL-HARRIS, Committee Expert and Coordinator of the Country Taskforce for Finland, congratulated the State on the development of the national child strategy, legislation and action plans addressing sexual harassment and violence, and for the State’s ratification of the Optional Protocol on the individual communications procedure.
A Committee Expert asked whether the State planned to incorporate the Convention in national legislation. How did the State intend to promote child participation in Government procedures? What progress had been made in promoting the rights of Sami children? Did the State party intend to align its anti-discrimination legislation with the State’s Equality Act?
Had the national child strategy been adequately financed? There was apparently no central coordinating body for the strategy. Would such a body be established? Had the State developed a tracking mechanism for the use of resources for children across the State? Had the State defined targets for supporting vulnerable children? The Committee was concerned about the allocation of resources to the Ombudsman for Children and its independence. It was welcome that there had been an increase in the number of complaints from children to the Ombudsman. How was child-friendly education material disseminated?
The Committee commended Finland for its long-term commitment to development assistance. What child rights impact assessments were carried out regarding international development assistance? The Committee noted the implementation plan for the business and human rights strategy. Was there a monitoring mechanism for improving the accountability of businesses regarding children’s rights?
The Committee welcomed the non-violent childhood action plan. How was the plan coordinated? Would there be regular assessments of implementation? Was the plan adequately funded? Could the delegation provide more information on targeted measures addressing disadvantaged children, violence between children, online abuse and the Barnahus project? How many Barnahus would be developed in the next few years? Did the State plan to provide the legal basis for the operation of Barnahus?
One Committee Expert said Finland had a robust body of laws, policies and mechanisms, including those provided by the Ombudsman, to protect against discrimination. However, in provinces such as Åland, there were concerns about discrimination against adolescents and young people. What measures were in place to prevent discrimination against children and adolescents? How effective were anti-discrimination policies involving civil society? How did the State coordinate actions to support Roma children? Was data collected on discrimination and hate speech?
The Expert welcomed the adoption of various legislation and programmes promoting the best interests of the child, such as the Social Welfare, Custody, Paternity and Maternity Act. To what extent could judicial officials and parents make decisions on behalf of children? What budget was dedicated to services relating to the rights of national and foreign children residing in the State, including immigration services, and how did the State monitor these services?
Finland had decided to tighten its asylum policy, leading to the expulsion of children from the State. What protection and international cooperation strategies had the State adopted to guarantee the safety of unaccompanied children?
Finland’s 2023 law on transgender people did not address transgender adolescents. What measures were in place to protect the rights of such adolescents? It was notable, however, that the suicide rate had reduced in Finland. What measures were in place to prevent suicides, including in Åland?
What projects were in place to support communication with children in judicial settings? How were children who were victims of abuse informed of their rights and supported in accessing justice? What measures were in place to promote the participation of minors in government and all areas of society?
Finland reportedly lacked a national programme to support and monitor the development of child welfare and parenting conditions. What measures were being taken in this regard? Did the Government support non-governmental organizations to conduct research in this area and disseminate best practices? Could the delegation provide data on drug and alcohol abuse by parents? What impact had a new law on substance abuse had?
In child custody disputes, did the State promote the right to co-parenting when there was no domestic violence? What was the average time taken to settle a child custody dispute? The number of out-of-home placements had reportedly increased between 2018 and 2020. Could the delegation provide data on the number of children in child welfare and alternative care? Were some Åland children placed in foster care outside of Finland? What were the State’s deinstitutionalisation and family reunification strategies? What measures were in place to ensure that children deprived of liberty did not lose contact with their parents?
Another Committee Expert said birth registration legislation was comprehensive, but Finland deported migrants with children born in Finland without duly registering their children as Finnish? What was the State doing to address this situation? Were children able to independently decide on their religious status before the age of majority? Did parents need to indicate their religion when registering for school? Did classes address minority religions, and could children opt out of religious classes?
Almost all children in Finland had access to smartphones. What measures were in place to protect children’s privacy online? Were children included in the development of legislation related to online privacy? How did Finland’s legislation address online child “influencers”? Was their activity considered child labour? Were there any good practice examples regarding online measures to support children with disabilities? How was the State addressing online gaming addiction?
Responses by the Delegation
The delegation said an act had been introduced that brought the Convention into force within national legislation. Ratified human rights treaties were binding in domestic law. The State party ensured that all treaties being ratified were aligned with domestic legislation. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs provided training to its personnel on human rights treaties. The Optional Protocol on the individual communications procedure was becoming well-known in Finland, with 21 communications submitted to the Committee. The Government continued to work to raise awareness about it. Several indicators had been developed regarding the national child strategy and action plan, which were disaggregated by age and population group.
The Ombudsman was an independent body. It held annual discussions with the Government, but the Government did not steer the Ombudsman in any way. The Ombudsman determined how to use its resources.
The Government had developed projects to collect data on hate speech and raise awareness of the issue. Training had been developed to increase the capacities of Government staff to tackle hate speech. The police produced a report on hate speech each year. Judges and members of the judiciary received training on the Convention and national legislation related to the rights of the child. The Ministry of Justice had recently appointed a working group to analyse means of making the justice process more fluid. It had submitted proposals for expediting justice proceedings that were under consultation until June this year.
An action plan for preventing gender-based violence was in place. This plan contained 32 measures, most of which had been implemented. The remaining measures would be implemented this year. An awareness-raising campaign conducted last year promoted how bystanders could prevent gender-based violence. A school education programme promoted safe dating.
The Imprisonment Act promoted contact between detained persons and family and friends. Contact could be made by phone or video connection, and children of detained persons could visit detention facilities.
The action plan against bullying had been implemented in schools around Finland, and there had been legislative amendments to strengthen protections of school children against harassment. Children who bullied or harassed other students could be suspended from school for two days. The Government had also introduced measures to increase the safety of journeys to school. A website on preventing bullying had been launched and guidelines for preventing bullying for education professionals had been produced.
Religion classes were organised in the majority religion of the region, but education in other religions could be provided if there were three or more pupils who followed that religion. The Government was working on reforming its religious education programme.
The Ministry of the Interior had developed training for case workers on how to interview children and on how to consider the best interests of the child. Specially trained police officers carried out interrogations of children. A representative was always appointed without delay for unaccompanied minors, who also had access to legal support. Legislation had been introduced to promote family reunification for children of migrants.
There were no special regulations addressing sex change procedures for intersex children, however, measures had been introduced to strengthen the right to self-determination for intersex children. A working group was developing guidance documents for parents with children of indeterminate sex. Measures had also been introduced to promote transgender children’s right to self-determination. Parents who abused substances had the right to rehabilitation services.
A steering group had been established to coordinate the non-violent childhood action plan. An interim review of implementation of the plan had been recently carried out. There was no separate funding for the implementation of measures under the plan; these were funded through the budgets of implementing stakeholders. Young people were consulted in developing the plan. A project was in place to implement the Barnahus model permanently. Barnahus satellite units were being developed to ensure that Barnahus covered all of Finland.
The Government was working to implement the child custody law in collaboration with non-governmental organizations and Government-funded “welfare services counties”. A guideline had been developed on reporting on children’s situations in welfare. Support material for custodians of children had been developed. Children were consulted relating to the amendment of the Child Welfare Act. Data was also being collected on welfare services and interventions, and an informational portal was being developed. A 2021 study had indicated that awareness-raising measures had led to an increase in knowledge of children’s rights regarding welfare. The number of children taken into care was over 500.
Finland’s development policy was human rights based. All international development projects underwent a human rights assessment before adoption. Development cooperation aimed to prevent violence against women and girls and promote the rights of children. Evaluation of the gender impact of all of Finland’s development policies was underway and would be completed in 2023.
The Government of Åland had developed an action plan promoting the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons until 2025. It had also developed a localised action plan for preventing school violence and bullying and suicide among pupils. There were plans to establish a new service for children with mental health problems in the region. Family counselling was available in Åland, and a tool had been developed that supported family reunification. Åland had been developing local Barnahus. Non-denominational religious education was provided in Åland schools, which provided knowledge about world religions and encouraged children to reflect on their role in society.
Questions by Committee Experts
One Committee Expert asked if the State intended to develop a new national plan on disability. There were around 100 children who required long-term institutional care. What were the challenges regarding removing these children from institutions? How did the State promote inclusive education? Some educators were reportedly unwilling to instruct children with disabilities.
How was Finland addressing increases in mental health problems amongst adolescents? Did students have access to counselling in schools. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex adolescents were reportedly twice as likely to attempt suicide in Finland than in other Nordic countries. What measures were in place to prevent this? Was the State party monitoring the use of psychotropic drugs amongst adolescents? Was there concern that professionals were overprescribing? Reportedly, a high percentage of children lived in households affected by substance abuse. What preventive programmes were being implemented to address these problems? What sexual and reproductive education was provided in schools? Were parents or religious bodies contesting this education?
How was the State supporting Sami children’s right to a healthy environment, and involving them in planning of environmental policies?
A significant percentage of families received a supplemental income. Were these families living below the poverty line? Why had there been five to seven per cent cuts in benefits in recent years? Children of low-income households had more problematic life trajectories and faced high levels of discrimination. What measures were in place to promote the inclusion of these children in society?
FAITH MARSHALL-HARRIS, Committee Expert and Coordinator of the Country Taskforce for Finland, commended the State’s education reform making education free up to age 18. Was it true that this measure was not available for children in Åland? Could education in Åland be made free and compulsory? What measures were in place to prevent dropouts and absenteeism? Did the municipalities have sufficient funding to make free education a reality? Was human rights education a mandatory subject in schools, and did teachers receive training in human rights?
Was the State encouraging teachers to support children with minority backgrounds? There was a substantial knowledge gap between migrant children and local children. The knowledge level of migrant children was reportedly lower than that of their parents. What was the State doing to address this issue? There were disparities in funding for education across regions. Was there sufficient funding for teachers in Roma and Sami communities? The Early Childhood Education Act had recently been amended, but this legislation did not provide children the right to receive education in sign language. Could legislation be amended to provide this? Were municipalities providing free or affordable leisure activities to all children?
The State party had restricted the possibility of applying for asylum on the eastern border. Border guards’ mandates had been expanded to allow them to close borders totally. How did the State in this context promote the rights of asylum-seeking children? There were reports that asylum-seeking children were detained at all ages in the name of family unification. Would the State party reconsider this practice? The Expert called on the State party to stop applying pre-trial detention to children.
Measures had not been implemented to stop providing arms to countries in which child soldiers were recruited. Would the State party consider this? What progress was being made to repatriate children of Finnish nationals born in situations of armed conflict such as Syria?
Committee Experts then asked questions regarding the State party’s report on the Optional Protocol on the sale of children child prostitution and child pornography.
One Committee Expert congratulated the State party’s various measures implemented to institutionalise the Optional Protocol. Data on the sale of children, child marriage, trafficking, illegal adoptions and child sexual abuse had not been provided. What progress had been made on collecting this data? Which stakeholders were involved in developing indicators? What initiatives had been implemented to prevent child marriage and child trafficking? Several awareness-raising and training initiatives on the Optional Protocol were in place. How were these monitored? How did the Government coordinate actions of local governments and civil society to combat the abuse of children? How did the Government identify and provide support to child victims of trafficking?
Another Committee Expert asked why there had been a delay in the submission of the State party’s report under the Optional Protocol, which had been due in 2012. The Committee had developed guidelines on the enforcement of the Optional Protocol. Did the State party intend to implement legislation to criminalise the sale of children specifically? Finland did not criminalise prostitution. Would the State party implement such legislation? There were reports of exploitation of children involved in prostitution in Finland. What measures would be adopted to explicitly prohibit the exploitation of such children? Finland had also not criminalised child pornography. Would it consider reviewing the penalty for child pornography and make efforts to block it? What measures were in place to prevent and combat the exploitation of children in tourism and travel? Could the Optional Protocol be used as a legal basis for extradition?
Responses by the Delegation
The delegation said children in internment camps in north-east Syria were subjected to serious violations of their fundamental rights, and Finland needed to implement active measures in response to repatriate those children. Since 2019, 26 Finnish children and nine mothers had been repatriated, while unfortunately 10 Finnish citizens remained in the region. It was not possible to separate children in camps from their mothers against their will, as there were no child protection authorities in these camps to make assessments. A remote paediatrician and distance education had been provided for the remaining children.
Finland had conducted research on violence against children through the “school health survey”. The most recent survey found that the number of children experiencing domestic violence had increased in some regions since 2013. One in three children had experienced violence at the hands of their parents. The non-violent childhood action plan, the Istanbul and Lanzarote Conventions action plans and other action plans had been developed in response to this situation, aiming to prevent violence in the home and at school, raise awareness of safety skills, and prevent sexual abuse.
Early interventions regarding violence and harassment were being mainstreamed, and models of child upbringing without violence were being promoted. Non-governmental organizations had provided digital security training workshops. The intermediate review of the non-violent childhood action plan indicated that good progress had been made in 88 of its 93 measures. A guideline on investigating violence against children had been developed. A child advocacy centre was also being established to provide specialised support to victims of sexual violence who were over 16.
Municipalities were obligated to cooperate to monitor the wellbeing of the population, including children. Municipalities were required to prepare a wellbeing report and plan for children that considered financial planning. Free online training modules had been developed on the rights of the children for all professionals working with children. Children had been surveyed regarding the use of public funds.
There were around 17,000 children in out-of-home care in 2021, around 11,000 of whom had been placed in kinship care. Measures had been developed to define and assess the best interests of the child in child welfare assessments, which took into account the United Nations guidelines for alternative care.
Poverty rates were low in Finland, and the Government was working to further lower the poverty level amongst families. Families with immigrant backgrounds had higher poverty rates and lower education levels. Finland aimed to reduce the number of people in poverty by 100,000 over the next few years. The level of social security benefits had increased since 2020. These included benefits for families, such as the child maintenance allowance, education benefits and additional unemployment benefits for families with children. The State had developed projects to address online gaming addiction.
The Disability Services Act had been revised to promote the inclusion of persons with disabilities in society and provide them with high quality services. The revised act would be adopted later this year. Services for persons with disabilities were being provided by the 21 wellbeing service counties to promote equality. There were provisions promoting community-based alternative care for persons with disabilities. Legislation was in place that stipulated health care professionals’ obligations to treat persons with disabilities. If there were suspicions of misconduct, objections could be submitted to the health care unit or supervisory authorities. A regional administration was in place to supervise health care professionals, and pharmacies had a duty to report if they suspected oversubscription of medicine.
The same social and health care services were offered to Sami people as to the rest of the general population. Financial and social support was provided to the Sami population, and this support had been increased in 2021. Lapland wellbeing service county was responsible for developing Sami language health care support across the country and for monitoring the availability and quality of Sami language health care services. A western wellbeing service county had a similar responsibility for Swedish language health care services. The act on organising health and social services had been amended this year to ensure that undocumented migrants had access to health care services.
Five suicide prevention projects were ongoing in different areas of Finland. Updated data was needed on suicide amongst adolescents. The State had strengthened suicide helplines. An action plan was in place to prevent substance abuse. The age limit for tobacco use had been increased to 20 years, and increased regulations of alcohol advertising had been introduced. Special measures had also been introduced to prevent substance abuse amongst pregnant mothers. Universal health care clinics and the health information subject in schools provided sexual education.
The school health survey found that 3.9 per cent of students were absent from school every week. The action plan for the prevention of bullying included measures to prevent absenteeism. Education providers were required to intervene in cases of student absenteeism. Ten million euros per year was devoted to training of education staff, which included training on preventing bullying and promoting inclusion.
A steering group had been established to promote human rights education in schools and increase the training of teachers on human rights. The steering group had conducted a survey on human rights education and provided education materials on the rights of the child. In the near future, demographic trends would rapidly change in some municipalities. This was why several comprehensive schools had recently closed. A research project on the impacts of demographic change had been carried out. A project had also been developed to promote leisure activities amongst young people, to which 10 million euros in Government grants had been allocated.
The Government had developed a distance learning programme for Sami education that had been successful. Over one million euros had been invested in the project thus far, and investment would continue. The Government was supporting the education of Roma children in Roma language as part of the national Roma policy. A study had been carried out into the education of Roma children, which had found Roma children were performing well in schools but there were lower participation rates for Roma children in early childhood education. Measures were being introduced to boost the number of Roma language teachers in early childhood education.
Criminal investigations of children were required to be conducted urgently to prevent pre-trial detention of children.
An action plan was in place to prevent trafficking of children. The Barnahus project also incorporated information on child trafficking in its training modules. A national referral mechanism to promote the identification of victims of trafficking was being developed and would be introduced in 2024.
Provisions on sexual offences had been reformed to lengthen sentences for offences against children. The minimum punishment was two years imprisonment. Provisions on rape covered aiding and abetting and incitement to such acts. These provisions addressed the requirements of the Optional Protocol on the sale of children.
Public funded legal aid was available to asylum seekers throughout the process of assessing asylum requests. United Nations treaties could function as the basis for extradition if there was no other relevant agreement. An indicator framework on extradition of asylum seekers was being developed.
Average processing times were around seven months for contested custody cases. The Adoption Act had detailed provisions regulating adoptions that protected the best interests of the child. The wishes and views of the child were taken into consideration to the extent possible.
Finland’s arms exports were based on case-by-case considerations, considering relevant international laws.
The Government had not passed legislation allowing for border officials to close borders. The right to apply for asylum still existed. The decision to detain a foreign national was taken by border forces based on strict conditions. Detention was only used when less severe measures were not sufficient. Unaccompanied minors were only detained in exceptional circumstances. The detention of families was rare, and children were only detained to prevent separation from families. Social workers met with children in detention. A new policy had been developed to hear children under 12 more systematically. Each reception centre had in-house social workers who were trained in providing children with necessary support. Child soldiers were provided with support and treated as victims of trafficking.
The police continued to improve the investigation of online child sexual abuse. Training on identifying such abuse was provided in police academies. Non-governmental organizations submitted tips regarding online abuse that the State investigated. There was no legislation on influencer marketing, but there were detailed regulations on how children could work. Persons under 15 years of age could only engage in light work, which included content creation. Campaigns were in place to raise awareness of online abuse of children.
Follow-Up Questions by Committee Experts
One Committee Expert said that aggravated rape of a child carried a sentence of seven years imprisonment. Was this sufficient? Did the State have legislation combatting offences relating to travel or tourism?
FAITH MARSHALL-HARRIS, Committee Expert and Coordinator of the Country Taskforce for Finland, said there was a large number of stateless persons in Finland. Could protections be strengthened by increasing the speed of assessment of stateless persons? There was no legislation prohibiting pre-trial detention of children. Would the State party develop such legislation, and was it considering alternatives to detention for children? Audio-visual recordings were reportedly not available at all police stations. Was the State party addressing this? How did the police service protect the privacy of children? Ms. Marshall-Harris asked why the majority of Sami people did not live in their homeland.
Another Committee Expert asked whether home schooling was a possibility in Finland, and under what circumstances. Despite increases in financial benefits for single guardians, there had been a large loss of income for guardians. Were the increases sufficient? The Expert called for exact data to be collected on children born with foetal alcohol syndrome to be collected.
One Committee Expert asked for updated figures on children in alternative care. Was there a strategy for returning these children to their parents? Were figures available on domestic violence cases? How did adolescents obtain information on their parents?
A Committee Expert expressed concern on the lack of child rights assessments conducted regarding the State budget. There were plans to increase spending in defence, which could lead to cutbacks in policies supporting children. How did municipalities process reports of child abuse? Which organizations were responsible for responding? Did interviews of child victims happen immediately after reports were received?
Responses by the Delegation
The delegation said that it was important to safeguard Swedish language education and cultural production. Municipalities were required to provide information in minority languages. Investments in Swedish language communications, including online information, had increased.
Consultations with children had been conducted at schools on climate policy. A new youth group had also been established to promote the participation of youth in climate issues. Draft legislation on complaints regarding climate issues had been developed this year. Children had the possibility to lodge such complaints. All Finnish municipalities were required to prepare climate plans. Consultations for the new National Climate Act had included consultations with Sami people. A specific climate action plan for the Sami region was also being developed.
Legislation on early childhood care had been reformed in 2018, and new provisions addressing special education were introduced in 2022. These entitled children to sign language interpretation in early childhood education and care. The Act on Early Childhood Education and Care also included provisions to protect children from bullying and harassment. An education model had been piloted to strengthen social skills and prevent bullying in early childhood education. A national programme to implement this model was underway until 2024.
Grants were awarded to develop models for training Sami language teachers and indigenous persons. Funding had been devoted to improving the availability of education in Sami language. Grants were provided for university education in Sami language.
Steps had been taken to reform secondary school education in Åland to prevent dropouts, and to introduce free education in upper secondary schools. There were plans for this to be expanded to all students. All municipalities provided children with access to home schooling and monitored students’ progress in home schooling, suspending it when necessary for students not performing to a sufficient standard. A working group had been appointed to develop regulations on home schooling.
Single parent benefits had been raised in Åland in 2022. This measure was implemented to tackle increasing living costs. Primary health care was free in Åland and secondary health care was subsidised. Psychologists were made available in all schools in Åland since 2021.
Finland had considered ratifying the International Labour Organization Convention on the rights of indigenous peoples and discussions regarding ratification would continue, including with Sami communities. No one was driven away from the Sami homeland, but Sami had the right to choose their place of residence and often moved away from their homeland for work or study purposes.
Finland had broad extraterritorial jurisdiction regarding sexual offences against children. The Government aimed to avoid remand imprisonment of children. Amendments to legislation had been introduced to allow for recorded testimonies for victims of human trafficking, including children.
The largest group of undocumented people in Finland were former asylum seekers who had applied for asylum prior to 2015. It was estimated that there were around 3,000 such people. Several undocumented families that had resided in Finland for a long time had been provided with residency due to their ties to the State. Family members had the right to apply for residence permits on the basis of family ties.
Around 3,000 cases of foetal alcohol syndrome had been identified in 2022. There was no legislation that deprived mothers of their right to pregnancy. The State provided support for mothers who consumed alcohol excessively.
Emergency placements of children in out-of-home care occurred when the child’s safety was in danger or when the child threatened their family. The welfare system aimed to reunite such children with their families when that became possible. A working group had been established to review the child welfare system. Consultations were conducted with child victims of abuse using the Barnahus system as soon as possible.
FAITH MARSHALL-HARRIS, Committee Expert and Coordinator of the Country Taskforce for Finland, said that the delegation had been comprehensive in its answers. There were gaps remaining that Ms. Marshall-Harris expected that the State party would address in future.
HYND AYOUBI IDRISSI, Committee Expert and Rapporteur on the report under the Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, thanked the delegation for the explanations provided. Finland needed to clearly criminalise the sale of children, as well as child pornography and prostitution. The delegation had shown in the dialogue the State party’s commitment to the rights of children, and Ms. Ayoubi Idrissi expressed hope that this commitment would be translated into action in developing such legislation.
KRISTA OINONEN, Director, Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland and head of the delegation, said that the delegation’s responses expressed Finland’s commitment to the rights of the child. The dialogue had identified challenges in implementing the Convention, which would inform the Government’s future efforts. The Committee’s concluding observations would be translated into Finnish and Swedish and distributed widely. A dedicated committee would review the concluding observations and a round-table discussion with civil society on implementing the concluding observations would be held. Ms. Oinonen closed by thanking all those who had contributed to the dialogue.
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