International Child Rights News: Week of Feb 7th

Kentucky attempts to prioritize parental rights (potentially) to the detriment of children, and creating an EU right to cross-border parental recognition.

Source: Legal Inquirer, 2020.

Monday 7th February, 2022:
KENTUCKY, US: Senate Bill 40, more colloquially known as the ‘Parents’ Rights Protection Act,’ is facing heavy critique from child rights activists. Sen. Karen Berg (D) voted against the bill, fearing it would inhibit child abuse investigations, but Sen. Stephen West (R) is in full support as it ensures parental rights are “fully protected” from governmental intrusion. (West also admitted he has yet to see this be a problem in Kentucky; the bill is preemptive.)
The two-page bill gives parents an overarching right to parents to make decisions for their children, including their education, with no governmental interference unless there is “clear and convincing evidence” that action is required. In a joint letter written by the ACLU and the Fairness Campaign to the Senate Committee, they warned “the bill could tie officials’ hands in enforcing child protection laws and give parents broad authority to block school curriculum they find objectionable (such as the topic of the Holocaust).” The bill will go to the full Senate soon.

EUROPEAN UNION: Parental status across EU borders is not currently formalized; EU justice ministers met on Friday 4th to exchange views and start the process of creating a proposal. Parenthood rules at present fall to the competence of member states and Commissioner for Justice Didier Reynders has asked each proposal to be put forward by the end of 2022 – keeping the child’s best interests in mind.
Some states, including Ireland, are “supportive and ready to welcome an initiative giving legal certainties to cross-border families,” and Finland already recognizes parenthood elsewhere. Slovenia and Slovakia, however, are more cautious and are likely to wait until the proposal is on the table to present opinions. Other states, including Hungary and Poland, will almost certainly block the initiative (which requires unanimous agreement) because of its “implications for same-sex couples with children moving across the bloc.”
At present, same-sex couples with children may be refused legal recognition as the parent in at least 11 EU countries. According to Sarah Den Haese, a researcher at Ghent University, the proposal could encourage more EU states to slowly adopt a more open view towards same-sex marriage.

Additional pieces worth a read:
UN Child Rights Committee to review Madagascar and Netherlands – African Business
Climate Change Inaction and Children’s Rights – Jurist

Source: Human Rights Watch, 2016.

Bahrain’s continued unlawful detention of children, and the Venezuelan migrant crisis highlights states duties to all children regardless of citizenship.

Tuesday 8th February, 2022:
BAHRAIN: Bahrain authorities are detaining six boys, aged 14 and 15, in a child welfare facility indefinitely without written justification. Their parents have been denied the right to visitation and be present during their children’s interrogations. The Office of the Public Prosecution alleges the children threw Molotov cocktails at a police station in December 2020 or January 2021, when the boys were 13 and 14 – despite the minimum age of criminal responsibility being 15. Authorities are permitted to detain children younger than this in a social welfare institution for renewable weekly periods “if the circumstances require.”
One boy’s father has said the allegations against his child have changed over the course of interrogations – first it was burning a tire, then throwing a Molotov cocktail. Appeals have been made for their release, but their periods of detention continue to be renewed; Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, advocacy director at the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy said the unfortunate reality is that “if the government of Bahrain doesn’t like your children, they can be taken away and locked up and you won’t even be told why.” Until authorities give a clear explanation as to why these boys are detained, this act remains unlawful under international law and UNICEF COVID-19 guidance.

VENEZUELA: A Venezuelan baby died tragically after a migrant boat was intercepted in Trinidad and Tobago’s maritime territory. The baby’s mother and other Venezuelan citizens were aboard in search of “safety, protection and new opportunities;” the United Nations Refugee Agency, UN Human Rights Office, UNICEF, and the International Organization for Migration issued a joint plea to spur countries to “do more to prevent similar deaths from occurring.” According to these agencies, unless safe pathways are provided, Venezuelan refugees and migrants will be forced to resort to dangerous tactics in an attempt to reach a safer life.
The agencies also urge state parties to the UNCRC to remember their duties: they must safeguard the rights of all children on their territory, irrespective of their nationality or status. Safer pathways are desperately needed to prevent further needless infant and adult tragedy.

Additional pieces worth a read:
Remarks by UNICEF Executive Director Catherine M. Russell at the opening of the UNICEF Executive Board – Relief Web
Children’s rights advocates call for an end to 25% ‘parent rule’ in school admissions – Independent Ireland

St. Johns County School District headquarters in downtown St. Augustine, Florida. Source: WJCT, 2022.

Floridian LGBTQ+ children face being ‘outed’ by teachers after the introduction of controversial policy rules, and the unconstitutionality of differential treatment of children in South Africa.

Wednesday 9th February, 2022:
FLORIDA, US: A recent policy change within St. Johns County Public Schools has alarmed some teachers, as it may force them to reveal if a student is LGBTQ+ to their parents. The memo reads: “Schools will use the name and gender pronoun corresponding to his/her consistently asserted gender identity upon request of the student with knowledge of the parent.” If a student changes their name and/or pronouns, their teacher must report this to the administration who will in turn tell the parents. Anonymous St. Johns teachers report concern for student safety after this move: “some students are not comfortable coming out to their parents because they fear mistreatment, abuse or conversion therapy.”
In addition, the Florida legislature is considering a controversial bill banning LGBTQ+ topics from being discussed in the classroom entirely, known as the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill. In the summer of 2021, Florida also became the latest state to ban trans girls from participating in girls sports at school.

SOUTH AFRICA: The law which gave children of married couples more rights than those of unmarried couples has been deemed unconstitutional by the High Court in Johannesburg. Previously, under the Mediation in Certain Divorce Matters Act of 1987, when matters involved children at the court level, married couples simply submitted evidence to the Office of the Family Advocate. However, unmarried couples had to first seek permission from the court to proceed with their case before then being able to submit evidence.
Acting Judge Franciska Bezuidenhout said “[t]here can be no legitimate government purpose for this differentiation based on marital status when it comes to the treatment of children. Such discrimination cannot be justified, and cannot be in the best interests of children.” The Constitutional Court still has to confirm this order, but once completed the Judge has given Parliament 24 months to alter the wording of the act to include unmarried parents and place them on the same legal footing.

Additional pieces worth a read:
Understanding Child Marriage As A Global And National Phenomenon – The Friday Times
Human Rights Expert: Why We Need a Foster Child Bill of Rights – Newsweek

Children, families and women are being let down in the three deportation centers. Source: Swiss Info, 2022.

Swiss deportation centers in violation of children’s rights, and Vermont’s hopes to become the next state to ban child marriage.

Thursday 10th February, 2022:
SWITZERLAND: Inspections of three Swiss deportation centers found they are failing to adequately care for children and families; “children are confined to small living spaces and […] contact with the outside world is unduly restricted.” The National Commission for the Prevention of Torture described the facilities as “run down […] and outdated,” in violation of children’s rights to decent living conditions and other fundamental aspects of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Additionally, some women told inspectors they “do not feel safe in the common areas of the shelter, especially at night.” The Commission recognizes the difficulties of accommodating people in this situation, but urge a prompt improvement of safety conditions.

VERMONT, US: The minimum age for marriage in Vermont is currently 16-years-old – Rep. Carol Ode (D) has introduced a bill to raise the minimum eligible age to 18. 289 children under the age of 18 were married in Vermont between 2000 and 2021 – 80% of these marriages were to adult men. Further, Vermont only requires one parent to sign a form with no input from the child, and “if the child runs away from home to avoid the marriage, the child can be taken into custody by police and returned into the parents’ custody.”
The US Department of State defines child marriage as human rights abuse – in particular, because it is a “known driver of domestic violence […] [which] destroys critical aspects of children’s lives.” The House Judiciary Committee will continue to discuss this bill, and Ode believes it should be passed this year.

Additional pieces worth a read:
Committee on the Rights of the Child Holds Thirteenth Informal Meeting with States – OHCHR

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