Two Syrians walk along a fence near the Turkish-Syrian border in Gaziantep province, Turkey, November 30, 2016. Syrians who arrived in Turkey since late 2017 have been unable to register for temporary protection and receive basic services.

© 2016 Umit Bektas/Reuters
(Istanbul) – Turkish authorities in Istanbul and nine provinces on or near the Syrian border have stopped registering all but a handful of recently arrived Syrian asylum seekers. The suspension is leading to unlawful deportations, coerced returns to Syria, and the denial of health care and education.

The European Commission has recently praised Turkey’s asylum system and plans to release the second batch of €3 billion under its March 2016 migration deal which includes support for refugees in Turkey. European Union institutions and governments have stayed publicly silent on the suspension and other refugee abuses committed by Turkey, suggesting their primary concern is to halt the movement of asylum seekers and migrants from Turkey to the EU.

“While the EU supports Turkey to deter asylum seekers from reaching Europe, it’s turning a blind eye to Turkey’s latest steps to block and discourage people fleeing Syria,” said Gerry Simpson, associate refugee program director at Human Rights Watch. “But forcing Syrians who manage to get past Turkey’s border guards to live in legal limbo only risks driving them underground and onward to the EU.”

Syrian refugees queue for food aid in Gaziantep, Turkey on May 20, 2016. Turkey’s suspension of Syrian refugee registration blocks them from receiving such aid.

© 2016 Kyodo/ AP Images
The suspension of registration is Turkey’s latest effort to deny new asylum seekers protection. Over the past three years, Turkey has sealed off its border with Syria, while Turkish border guards continue to carry out mass summary pushbacks and to kill and injure Syrians as they try to cross.

Between early 2011 and the end of May 2018, Turkey had registered almost 3.6 million Syrians, making it the world’s largest refugee hosting country. That generosity does not absolve it, or its international partners, of the duty to help newly arrived asylum seekers, Human Rights Watch said. 

In mid-May 2018, Human Rights Watch interviewed 32 Syrians in Turkey’s Hatay province about their attempts to register for a temporary protection permit in Hatay, Gaziantep, and Istanbul provinces. A permit protects Syrians from arrest and the risk of deportation. It also entitles them to get health care and education, to work, and to seek social assistance, including the EU-funded Emergency Social Safety Net for the most vulnerable Syrians.

Syrians said Turkish police deported them in groups of up to 20 people for not having a permit and that hospitals and schools refused to take them in without permits. Some said they returned to Syria so they, or their relatives, could get urgent medical care. Others said they decided to return to Syria because only some family members had been able to register. All said, they lived in constant fear of arrest and deportation and severely restricted their movement to avoid the police.

Turkey is bound by the international customary law rule of nonrefoulement, which prohibits the return of anyone in any manner whatsoever to a place where they would face a real risk of persecution, torture or other ill-treatment, or a threat to life. This includes asylum seekers, who are entitled to have their claims fairly adjudicated and not be summarily returned to places where they fear harm. Turkey may not coerce people into returning to places where they face harm by denying them legal status or access to essential services.

On October 30, 2017, the Hatay governor’s office said that to discourage smugglers from helping Syrians enter Turkey through Hatay, the province would no longer register newly arriving Syrians for temporary protection permits. In early February 2018, Turkey’s Interior Ministry said Istanbul province would also no longer register Syrians.

Eight other provinces on or near the Syrian border have also suspended registration for newly arriving Syrians since late 2017 or early 2018, according to three agencies working closely with Syrian refugees, as well as a European Commission official and a Turkish public official who previously worked on migration issues. The provinces are Adana, Gaziantep, Kahramanmaraş, Kilis, Mardin, Mersin, Osmaniye, and Şanlıurfa.


© 2018 DigitalGlobe and © 2018 Human Rights Watch

Since late August 2015, only registered Syrians who obtain a special travel permit have been allowed to travel within Turkey. In practice, the vast majority of Syrian asylum seekers enter Turkey irregularly through the few remaining gaps in Turkey’s border wall in Hatay province. Blocked from registering there, they are unable to lawfully leave Hatay province and travel to other provinces where registration has not been closed. This forces them to live illegally in Hatay province, or to use smugglers to reach other parts of Turkey, risking arrest and deportation.

According to three confidential sources, Turkey has rejected proposals for a new system that would allow Syrians arriving in Hatay, and to a far lesser extent in other border provinces, to register in other parts of Turkey where fewer refugees live.

Refugee agencies told Human Rights Watch that Turkey’s strict controls on international and local refugee agencies prevent them from finding and helping unregistered Syrians. This lack of aid agency monitoring means that there are no statistics or estimates on the numbers of Syrians denied registration, deported, or refused urgently needed services.

In response to a June 13 letter presenting the Human Rights Watch findings, the migration authorities in Ankara denied that any of the country’s 81 provinces, including Hatay and Istanbul, had suspended registration of Syrians. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) told Human Rights Watch that as of mid-May, the authorities had reassured them that registration of Syrians was ongoing, including in Hatay and Istanbul. Other aid agencies that support refugees say that the authorities in the 10 provinces have only continued to process Syrians pre-registered at the time of the suspension, and to register urgent medical cases referred from Syria and babies born to registered Syrians in Turkey. Two refugee aid agencies also said that in some cases they have managed to convince the authorities in Hatay and Osmaniye provinces to register particularly vulnerable unregistered Syrians.

In early 2018, the authorities in Hatay opened a new registration center in Antakya. Representatives of three aid agencies and two Turkish security personnel working in Antakya said the center is exclusively for unregistered Syrians to request help to return to Syria, while registered Syrians can request help to return at other migration authority-run centers.

Turkey does not allow any independent monitoring of whether unregistered Syrians signing up for return are in fact returning voluntarily or whether they are effectively being coerced. In contrast, Turkey does allow independent monitoring of some registered Syrians’ decision to return to Syria.

Turkey should protect the basic rights of all newly arriving Syrians, regardless of registration status, and register those denied registration since late 2017. The European Commission and EU member states with embassies in Turkey should support Turkey to register and protect Syrians and press Turkey to allow all agencies working for refugees to freely assist and help protect all Syrians, including all unregistered Syrians.

“Unregistered Syrians in Turkey may be conveniently out of sight, but they shouldn’t be out of mind,” Simpson said. “EU states and the commission should speak up and support all Syrians in Turkey, not just those who got in before Turkey started driving them underground.”

For more details about Turkey’s suspension of Syrian asylum seeker registration, please see below.

Asylum Seeker Registration

The first Syrian refugees fled to Turkey in early 2011 and in the subsequent three-and-a-half years, Turkey adopted an ad hoc approach to their registration, without conferring a clear legal status with related rights. Although Turkey ratified the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol, the country maintains a geographical limitation that excludes anyone not originally from a European country from full refugee recognition. That means it does not fully grant asylum to people fleeing violence or persecution in Syria and any other non-European country.

In 2013, Turkey adopted its own legal framework on the protection of asylum seekers and refugees. In October 2014, Turkey also adopted a regulation under which it grants Syrians temporary protection. As of June 28, 2018, Turkey said it had registered 3,562,523 people under the regulation. Registered Syrians are entitled to assistance. Even though the regulation says Syrians who fail to register will not be deported to Syria and will only face an “administrative fine,” Human Rights Watch found that unregistered Syrians have been deported for not having temporary protection permits.

The Hatay governor’s office and the interior minister said registration has been suspended for newly arriving Syrians in Hatay and Istanbul. Refugee aid agencies and Syrians in Hatay’s main city, Antakya, told Human Rights Watch that police carried out mass arrests of Syrians in November and early December, just after registration was suspended.

Five sources told Human Rights Watch that since late 2017 and early 2018, migration authorities in eight other border provinces followed suit and turned away all newly arriving Syrians seeking registration.

As of June 28, seven of the provinces that suspended registration were in the top 10 provinces hosting Syrians: Adana, Gaziantep, Hatay, Istanbul, Kilis, Mersin, and Şanlıurfa. Together they were sheltering 2,422,804 registered Syrians, or 68 percent of the total in Turkey. The other three – Kahramanmaraş, Mardin, and Osmaniye – were sheltering 235,549, or just under seven percent.

Aid agencies say that, in practice, the authorities in affected provinces continued to process Syrians pre-registered at the time of the suspension and to register people with urgent medical needs referred from Syria. They also continued to register babies born to registered Syrians in Turkey, an estimated 306 each day. Agencies with first-hand knowledge of the suspension of registration in the 10 provinces say the registration of these Syrians may explain the claim authorities made to Human Rights Watch that eight of the provinces on or near the border registered a total of 116,059 Syrians between November 1 and June 20.

One refugee aid agency with close knowledge of registration procedures in all of Turkey’s provinces told Human Rights Watch that in a few exceptional cases, authorities in Hatay and Osmaniye province have registered children in urgent need of medical care, together with one caregiver. Another refugee assistance agency that sometimes deals with unregistered Syrians said that between late 2017 and late April 2018, it had convinced the Hatay authorities to register a few dozen newly arrived Syrians on an exceptional basis because they had specific needs, but that even then it was a “headache” to get them through police checkpoints to registration offices. Agencies estimate that as of mid-May, the total number of such vulnerable cases of unregistered Syrians whom the authorities have registered on an exceptional basis was in the low hundreds.

Turkey’s travel permit system for registered Syrians prohibits unregistered Syrians from traveling from border provinces to register elsewhere. Seven Syrians told Human Rights Watch they paid smugglers to drive them from Antakya, in Hatay province, to Istanbul to register. But security officials at migration authority offices in Istanbul told them registration had been suspended for newly arriving Syrians.

UNHCR and some diplomats in Turkey told Human Rights Watch they have been encouraging Turkey’s Directorate General for Migration Management to adopt a referral system under which authorities in Hatay, or other border provinces where Syrians first arrive, would pre-register Syrians and then refer them to other provinces where fewer Syrians live to register. Some EU member states have proposed that if such a system were to be adopted, the EU should help support job-creation for Syrians and Turkish citizens in the provinces to which Syrians are referred. But all attempts to convince Turkey to set up a referral system have failed.

Consequences of Suspended Registration

In mid-May 2018, Human Rights Watch interviewed 32 Syrian asylum seekers in Antakya, the capital of Hatay Province, and the first city most Syrians reach after being smuggled across the closed Turkish border. They said the authorities in Antakya, the nearby town of Reyhanli, and in Gaziantep province had refused to register them during the first few months of 2018. They also described how not having a temporary protection permit – or “kimlik,” as it is popularly called (a Turkish shorthand for identification card) – had affected them. Human Rights Watch explained the purpose of the interviews, gave assurances of anonymity, and obtained interviewees’ consent to describe their experiences.

All said they were turned away from registration offices at least twice. Only three said they managed to register after brokers bribed registration officials between US$300 and $500.

Most said officials simply said “no more kimliks here” or “no one gets a kimlik” and told them to leave. Two said they also tried to register in Gaziantep in April, but that saw a sign on the office that said “no kimliks.”

Four said that only some members of their family had been registered, leaving the rest in legal limbo and that as a result, the entire family was contemplating returning to Syria. One man said his sick wife was given permission to enter Turkey for emergency medical treatment in Antakya, and was allowed to register there, together with their newborn baby. When he and their five other children, aged 6 to 14, managed to enter Turkey and tried to register in Antakya, they were turned away.

Three Syrians said that Turkish police had previously summarily deported them to Syria for not having a temporary protection permit. One, a 22-year-old man from Aleppo governorate, said he entered Turkey in early April and was refused registration in Antakya. In early May, he said, police stopped him at about 8 a.m. near the Antakya bus station and asked for his permit. When he said he tried to register, but had been turned away, the police drove him to a local police station, recorded his personal details, and then drove him and about 20 other unregistered Syrians to the Bab al-Hawa border crossing and deported them. He said 15 of the 20 told him they had been caught without temporary protection permits in Istanbul and the other five said they had just entered Turkey a few days earlier and were arrested after arriving at a smuggler’s house in Antakya. A few days later, he managed to return to Turkey with smugglers.

Another former deportee, a 28-year-old man from Idlib, said he and his brother entered Turkey together in January and were denied registration in Antakya. He said his brother traveled with a smuggler to Istanbul to find work there, but Turkish police arrested him on May 17 and the next day, took him to the Bab al-Hawa border crossing and deported him.

On May 22, Human Rights Watch spoke to a 31-year-old man from Hama who said the authorities in Antakya had arrested his brother a few hours earlier, were holding him in the new center for unregistered Syrians to sign up to return to Syria, and said they were about to deport him. Human Rights Watch alerted UNHCR, which intervened and prevented the deportation.

Human Rights Watch interviewed four Syrians at the newly established center for unregistered Syrians who wish to sign up for return to Syria. They decided to go back because their relatives had been denied urgent medical care, or because some family members who arrived after registration was suspended could not register.

Two Syrians said they heard from other Syrians in Antakya about many cases in which the wives of men who had been deported told Turkish authorities they planned to go back to Syria because they and their children could not survive alone in Turkey.

All of the 29 other unregistered Syrians interviewed said they lived in constant fear of arrest and deportation and said they heard of many cases involving the deportation of unregistered Syrians. Eight said they reduced their movements to a minimum, often staying at home for days at a time. A 17-year-old boy who said he never left his uncle’s house in Antakya out of fear of arrest said “this feels like prison.”

Three unregistered Syrians said they regularly use Syrian-owned driving services which use back roads to avoid police checkpoints or informal police stop-and-search patrols in Antakya.

Nine said they attempted to get medical treatment in clinics and hospitals in Antakya, but had been refused treatment because they were not registered. Four others said they did not even try to access medical care, because they heard others were turned away, and because they were afraid local hospitals would call the police to arrest them for not having a permit.

A 27-year-old woman from Idlib province seeking cancer treatment said two hospitals in Antakya refused to treat her because she did not have a permit.

A 34-year-old, eight months’ pregnant woman from Aleppo, with four children all born by caesarean section, said she was too afraid to go to the local hospital to ask for a checkup and prepare for her delivery, because she had been told hospitals turn away unregistered Syrians and was afraid of being arrested and returned to Syria.

Similarly, a 31-year-old woman whose entire family was refused registration in March said her husband was extremely sick with a serious lung condition, but he would not go to a hospital out of fear of being arrested and deported. She said he never left the house and lived in constant fear of being discovered.

A nongovernmental organization working with Syrians in Hatay province said that during the first few months of 2018, they heard of dozens of cases of Syrians in Antakya seeking emergency medical care, many of them pregnant women, who were turned away by hospitals because they had been denied registration.

Six Syrians interviewed by Human Rights Watch said their children were unable to go to school, because schools would only take registered Syrians.

Nowhere to Turn for Help

The Turkish authorities consider Syrians denied registration to be in the country unlawfully. Nongovernmental groups working with refugees said the government only allows them to work with lawfully present asylum seekers and refugees.

Six organizations working with refugees in Turkey’s provinces on the Syrian border – which asked to remain anonymous for the staff’s security – said Turkey strictly controls and monitors their work in various ways.

Some said they must get special permission to assess registered Syrians’ assistance needs or to visit registered Syrians’ homes, in some cases in the presence of staff from the Ministry of Family and Social Policies. The agencies said the rules are applied in an ad hoc and unpredictable way, depending on the local authorities, and they are never certain of what refugee outreach activities are allowed.

As a result, they said, they found it difficult to identify Syrians blocked from registration procedures, including the most vulnerable, for example those in urgent need of medical or other care. They also said the situation in Hatay province – through which almost all newly arriving Syrians using smugglers enter the country due to continued gaps in the border wall – is particularly sensitive.

Because of the restrictions imposed by the Turkish authorities, aid agencies said they cannot proactively identify unregistered Syrian refugees. At best, they can only react if they are made aware of unregistered Syrians who are seeking help, or if they come across them by chance. They said they sometimes raise the most vulnerable of such cases with the authorities in the hope that they will allow those in urgent need to register.

One agency working in the border areas said: “It’s very simple, we can’t just reach out to registered or unregistered Syrians. We need approval for everything and we’d never get approval to help unregistered Syrians.” Another agency worker said: “We have repeatedly asked the authorities for permission to do protection outreach work, but we’ve been refused every time.”

Agencies said their extremely limited contact with unregistered Syrians means they can neither estimate how many unregistered Syrians now live in Hatay and other provinces, nor the extent to which the registration suspension has led to deportation and denial of service access. EU member states and other donors funding Syrian refugee assistance and protection projects in Turkey therefore don’t know the extent to which Turkey’s registration suspension is excluding Syrians from receiving help.

European Union Remains Silent

EU member states and the European Commission have remained publicly silent on Turkey’s registration suspension, as they have on Turkey’s long-standing abuses against Syrian asylum seekers at the border.

Turkey’s suspension of registration could drive many Syrians underground and onward to the EU, or coerce them into going back to Syria. The suspension, Turkey’s ongoing border abuses, and its recent abuses against Afghan asylum seekers means that any attempts to return Syrians from Greece to Turkey is also likely to be met with significant resistance by lawyers challenging return attempts on the grounds that Turkey is not a safe third country to which to return asylum seekers.

On April 17, the European Commission released its latest update on whether Turkey is meeting the EU’s criteria for becoming an EU member state. As part of its assessment of Turkey’s asylum system, the commission said: “There have been reports of alleged expulsions, returns and deportations of Syrian nationals, in contradiction of the non-refoulement principle,” without going into any further details or citing the sources.

In March, the European Commission promised to release the second batch of €3 billion under its March 2016 deal with Turkey. Under the deal, the EU maintains that Turkey is a safe country to which to return Syrian asylum seekers. In fact, Turkey does not meet the EU safe third country criteria.


Turkey should resume temporary protection registration for all newly arriving Syrians and register those denied access to registration since late 2017. If necessary, Turkey should pre-register Syrians in its provinces on the Syrian border and require Syrians to move to, and live in, other provinces with fewer Syrians. In the meantime, Turkey should instruct all medical facilities to provide emergency medical treatment to any Syrian in need, regardless of registration status. Schools should also take in Syrian children pending their registration. All Turkish public officials should refer unregistered Syrians to the nearest registration center.

Turkey should also allow all refugee agencies working with Syrians to actively work to identify unregistered Syrians, help them access registration procedures, and raise with the authorities all cases of unregistered Syrians deported to Syria or denied access to health care and education.

To help ensure protection for Syrians in Turkey, the European Commission and EU member states with embassies in Turkey should press Turkey to resume registration of all newly arriving Syrians and guarantee their access to health care and education in line with existing policies. If Turkey requires help to resume registration, they should respond generously. They should also press Turkey to allow all agencies working with refugees to freely carry out protection monitoring work throughout Turkey to identify and assist unregistered Syrians and to publicly report on any abuses, including forced return to Syria, and denial of assistance.

Finally, the European Commission should proactively seek information and publicly report on credible accounts of killings, injuries, and mass deportations by Turkish security forces at the Syrian border, including in its regular reports on Turkey’s accession process and the European Agenda on Migration.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

France: Migrant Kids Left to Sleep in the Street

Child protection authorities in Paris are using flawed age assessment procedures for unaccompanied migrant youths, excluding many from care they need and are entitled to. Hundreds of unaccompanied children sleep on the streets of Paris each night, according to estimates from lawyers and nongovernmental organizations.

(Paris) – Child protection authorities in Paris are using flawed age assessment procedures for unaccompanied migrant children, excluding many from care they need and are entitled to, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. Hundreds of these young migrants find themselves homeless, often condemned to sleep on the streets of Paris.

The 57-page report, “‘Like a Lottery’: Arbitrary Treatment of Unaccompanied Migrant Children in Paris”, found that arbitrary practices can lead to unaccompanied children being erroneously considered adults, leaving then ineligible for emergency shelter and other protection given to children. Many youths who request protection from the child welfare system are turned away summarily and inaccurately, based on appearance alone. Others are rejected without written decisions after interviews lasting as little as five minutes, contrary to French regulations.

“These children have suffered through incredibly difficult and dangerous journeys, only to be deprived of the protection and care they need,” said Bénédicte Jeannerod, France director at Human Rights Watch. “Deeply flawed procedures mean that children may be arbitrarily turned away at the door of the evaluation office, denied protection after a short interview, or tied up in arduous court procedures and left in limbo for months.”

Human Rights Watch interviewed 49 unaccompanied children and reviewed age assessments in an additional 35 cases. Human Rights Watch also spoke with lawyers, health care providers, staff and volunteers of humanitarian agencies and informal associations, and government officials.

Youths who receive full interviews are often denied recognition as children if they lack identity documents, Human Rights Watch found. But international standards and French regulations establish that the primary method of establishing approximate age should be through interviews, recognizing that documents may be lost during arduous journeys.

Even those who have documents are frequently rejected. Child welfare authorities and judges question birth certificates, passports, and other identity documents despite the rule in French law that such documents are presumptively valid unless there are substantiated reasons to believe otherwise.

The review of case files found other invalid grounds for concluding that a person was an adult. Work in the home country or on the journey to Europe was frequently cited, even though millions of children around the world work, including in hazardous or harmful forms of labor. Child protection authorities also often cited the youth’s decision to travel without parents, though many thousands of children travel on their own to Europe each year.

In other cases, examiners told youths from French-speaking countries that they spoke French too well. Imrane O., from Côte d’Ivoire, who gave his age as 15, told Human Rights Watch that his examiner “said that I was answering her questions too well. Because I could answer her questions, I couldn’t be a minor. How is that? I did eight years of schooling, in French. Of course I could answer her questions.”

In the cases studied, child protection authorities also frequently relied on subjective factors such as “bearing” or comportment. Some youths received adverse age assessments based in part on expressing irritation with repeated questioning or presenting their case forcefully, behaviors that can be exhibited at any age. Many more were simply told they had the bearing of an adult, without further explanation.

When children seek review of adverse decisions, some judges regularly order bone tests to determine their age. Medical bodies in France and elsewhere have repeatedly found that bone and other medical examinations are not a reliable means of determining age, particularly for older adolescents, and have called for ending their use.

The cumulative effect of arbitrary decision-making is that age assessments in Paris are “like a lottery: sometimes you win, but most of the time you lose, even if you’re underage,” an aid worker with the nongovernmental organization Utopia 56 told Human Rights Watch.

The number of unaccompanied migrant children arriving in Paris, as well as in France overall, has increased in recent years. France’s child welfare system took just under 15,000 unaccompanied migrant children into care in 2017. Nearly half of unaccompanied children who seek protection from the child welfare system in France do so in Paris. In February 2018, when Human Rights Watch began this research, an estimated 400 unaccompanied children were “sleeping rough” (outside) in the French capital, , according to estimates from lawyers and nongovernmental organizations. Current estimates are lower.

Ordinary citizens, on their own and in groups, have stepped in to address some of these children’s needs, providing food and other services, organizing football clubs, improvisational theatre, and other activities, and in some cases opening their homes to give children a place to stay for a night or two, or even longer.

But these laudable efforts, along with services provided by nongovernmental groups such as Médécins sans Frontières and Utopia 56, depend on volunteers and cannot meet the need. In contrast, France has both the means and the obligation to provide appropriate care and protection to all children within French territory, regardless of migration status.

French national and departmental authorities should ensure that age assessments are used only when authorities have well-founded doubts about an individual’s claim to be under 18, Human Rights Watch said. In such cases, they should take appropriate steps to determine age and establish eligibility for services, bearing in mind that all age assessments will be estimates. These steps should include interviews by professionals with the expertise to work with children, as international standards recommend.

France also should end the use of bone tests and similar discredited medical examinations.

“Instead of giving youths the benefit of the doubt, as they should, child protection services seem to be doing everything they can to exclude youths from the child care system,” Jeannerod said. “The French authorities should immediately put an end to arbitrary age decisions and provide sufficient resources to take care of and protect unaccompanied migrant children.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

(New York) – The Afghan government is failing to protect tens of thousands of children, some as young as 5, from hazardous conditions in the workplace, in violation of Afghanistan’s labor laws.

Helal, 10, works as a brick maker at a brick kiln outside Kabul. He told Human Rights Watch that the brick mold is heavy and his hands hurt working with wet clay. Helal doesn’t go to school because he has to work. 

© 2016 Bethany Matta/Human Rights Watch

The 31-page report, “‘They Bear All the Pain’: Hazardous Child Labor in Afghanistan,” documents how child workers work dangerous jobs in Afghanistan’s carpet industry; as bonded labor in brick kilns; and as metal workers. They perform tasks that could result in illness, injury, or even death due to hazardous working conditions and poor enforcement of safety and health standards. Many children who work under those conditions combine the burdens of a job with school, or forego education altogether. Working compels many children in Afghanistan to leave school prematurely. Only half of children involved in child labor attend school. 

“Thousands of Afghan children risk their health and safety every day to put food on the family table,” said Phelim Kine, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The Afghan government needs to do a better job of protecting its children – and the country’s future – by enforcing the law prohibiting dangerous work for children.”


Video: Kids at Work, Out of School in Afghanistan

The Afghan government is failing to protect tens of thousands of children, some as young as 5, from hazardous conditions in the workplace, in violation of Afghanistan’s labor laws. 

The government has failed to enforce prohibitions against child labor in hazardous industries, and has stalled in its effort to overhaul its labor law to bring it into line with international standards, Human Rights Watch said. Government institutions responsible for enforcing the law often lack the capacity to inspect workplaces, with the result that children working in prohibited jobs go unnoticed and unprotected.

In 2014, the Afghan government published a list of 19 hazardous occupations prohibited for children. These jobs include carpet weaving, metal work, and brick making. While a lack of resources is an important factor in the persistence of child labor in hazardous industries, the Afghan government has also failed to enforce its labor laws through penalties for violators and a strategy to end exploitative labor conditions.

A brick kiln manager in Kabul told Human Rights Watch: “There are children here, starting from 10 years or 8 years of age to 15 or 16… They wake up at 3 in the morning and work until about evening… They complain of pain, but what can they do? The kids are here to make a living. They bear all the pain to do all the work.”

Extreme poverty often drives Afghan children into hazardous labor. Afghanistan remains one of the poorest countries in the world. Landlessness, illiteracy, high unemployment, and continuing armed conflict in much of the country are among the most important factors contributing to chronic poverty and, as a result, child labor.

A 13-year-old metal worker in Kabul said, “My fingers have been cut from the sharp edges of the metal and slammed by the hammer. My finger has also been caught in the trimming-beading machine. When your nail gets hit by a hammer or caught in the machine, it becomes black and eventually falls off.”

Thousands of Afghan children risk their health and safety every day to put food on the family table. The Afghan government needs to do a better job of protecting its children – and the country’s future – by enforcing the law prohibiting dangerous work for children.

Phelim Kine

Deputy Director, Asia Division

While work that is appropriate to a child’s age and under healthy and safe conditions can be beneficial to the child’s development and allow them to contribute to their family’s basic needs, work that interferes with a child’s education, or is likely to jeopardize their health or safety, is generally considered “child labor” and is prohibited under international law.

Although pilot projects extending community-based schools to reach vulnerable children have been promising, support for these schools is inadequate to the need. Eradicating child labor in Afghanistan is not feasible so long as extreme poverty continues, but the government and its donors can take steps to protect children from the risks associated with working in particularly dangerous or unhealthy conditions.

Those steps include increasing the number of labor inspectors to adequately cover the entire country; giving priority to monitoring hazardous sectors; and offering the Afghan government targeted technical assistance in devising and implementing policies, standards, and regulations against child labor. Both the government and its foreign donors should devote more resources to expanding educational support to all working children.

The government has a legal obligation under international law to take immediate action to eradicate hazardous child labor. Both Afghanistan and its foreign donors should take urgent steps to protect children from the risks associated with working in particularly dangerous or unhealthy conditions.

“When children are of legal age and work in safe conditions, they can help provide vital livelihood support for many Afghan families,” Kine said. “But the Afghan government has an obligation to enforce the laws that protect children in the workplace, and ensure that they neither have to sacrifice their education or safety as the price for supporting their families.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Zama Neff is the executive director of the children's rights division of Human Rights Watch. She also co-chairs the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack (GCPEA). Neff has conducted fact-finding investigations and is the author of reports and articles on a range of issues affecting children, including access to education, police violence, refugee protection, the worst forms of child labor, and discrimination against women and girls. She has published on op-ed pages in major international and US publications and speaks regularly to the media. During a sabbatical, she ran a protection monitoring team for the Norwegian Refugee Council in Sri Lanka. Before joining Human Rights Watch in 1999, Neff clerked for a US federal judge, advocated on behalf of immigrants and refugees in the US, and worked with community development and women's organizations in Honduras. She is a graduate of Davidson College and New York University School of Law.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

A boy passes by a classroom in a school in Qutbal, Pakistan, October 13, 2009.

© 2009 AP Photo/Alexandre Meneghini

Hunain Bilal, a 17-year-old student in Lahore, had failed to memorize a lesson at school. As punishment, his teacher “punched him repeatedly, grabbed his hair and hit his head against the wall,” according to accounts from fellow students. Hunain died later that day, September 5.

Hunain’s classmates said that the teacher, who now faces criminal charges, had a history of beating students and had been fired from the school, but was rehired again six months later.

Hunain’s father alleges the school was also inflicting mental punishment on his son by harassing him for non-payment of school fees, which were deposited the day Hunain died.

Hunain’s death is the most recent and egregious example of the widespread problem of corporal punishment in Pakistan’s schools. Beatings leave students frightened, sometimes injured, and unable to learn effectively, making it more likely they will leave school. According to the Pakistani child rights group Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child (SPARC), corporal punishment causes up to 35,000 children in Pakistan to drop out of school every year.

Pakistan has ratified international conventions prohibiting the use of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, both physical and mental. In Punjab province, the government and school officials are required to take disciplinary action against teachers who inflict violence, though that order is often ignored. Last year, Pakistan’s federal minister for human rights proposed legislation seeking to end corporal punishment in the country.

But Pakistan faces an education emergency. Nearly 22.5 million Pakistani children are out of school, most of them girls, and corporal punishment remains a significant reason. The government should act urgently to end abuse in schools and create a safe environment for Pakistani children to learn without having to fear for their lives.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

The entrance to the No. 4 High School with a sign that reads "Entering school grounds, please speak Mandarin," left, in Peyzawat, Xinjiang region.

© 2018 AP Photo/Ng Han Guan

(New York) – Chinese authorities should immediately release to their families children held in “child welfare” institutions and boarding schools in Xinjiang, Human Rights Watch said today. The government should cease unnecessarily separating Uyghur and other Turkic Muslim children from their families.

Under China’s “Strike Hard Campaign against Violent Terrorism,” an estimated 1 million Turkic Muslims have been arbitrarily detained in unlawful political education camps in Xinjiang since 2017. An unknown number are being held in detention centers and prisons. Chinese authorities have housed countless children whose parents are detained or in exile in state-run child welfare institutions and boarding schools without parental consent or access.

“The Chinese government’s forced separation of children is perhaps the cruelest element of its oppression in Xinjiang,” said Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch. “Children should be either immediately returned to the custody of relatives in China or allowed to join their parents outside the country.”

Human Rights Watch interviewed five families from the Xinjiang region now living outside the country who described having no contact with their children. Some know and others believe the authorities placed their children in state-run institutions without their family’s consent.

Abdurahman Tohti, a Uyghur living in Turkey, has been unable to contact his son, now 4, and daughter, 3, since authorities detained his wife in August 2016. In January, he spotted his son in a video posted online that showed him in a school answering questions in Chinese. “I miss my children, my wife,” said Tohti. “I want them back very much. I fear if I ever meet my children again in my lifetime, they wouldn’t know who I am, and they would’ve been assimilated as Chinese and think that I’m their enemy.”

The number of children in Xinjiang placed in state-run child welfare institutions and boarding schools without consent is not known. Government control and surveillance in the region, including severe punishments for those who speak out or have contacts abroad, prevent comprehensive reporting. Many Turkic Muslims living outside of China have completely lost contact with their families in Xinjiang. The website Xinjiang Victims Database collected accounts of over 5,000 people in Xinjiang, including more than 100 children, who have been imprisoned, detained in political education camps, or subjected to other restrictions on movement.

Xinjiang government documents provide little information on decisions to send children to state-run facilities. They do not indicate whose consent is needed, which government agencies make decisions about removal to state institutions, or whether there are procedures for determining consent or challenges to such determinations. As Human Rights Watch previously reported, certain localities have received specific quotas from higher-level authorities for institutionalizing orphans.

Beyond the transfer of children to institutions without consent or lawful justification, Human Rights Watch remains deeply concerned about practices in these facilities that appear to deny children their basic rights and cultural heritage. Chinese state media and government websites report that children in boarding schools in Xinjiang are taught in Chinese – raising concerns about the children’s right to learn their own language – and sing and dance to propagandistic songs. Government propaganda extols the benefits of children living in boarding facilities, so as not to be influenced by “extreme thought” and to develop better personal hygiene and manners.

Foreign journalists who visited Xinjiang in 2018 and 2019 were not able to visit or photograph the schools to report on the education being provided. Barbed wire, fencing, and surveillance cameras appeared more like security at a detention facility than for the children’s safety.

Various indicators suggest that Xinjiang authorities have been putting more resources into child welfare institutions and boarding schools since the start of the “Strike Hard Campaign.” There have been many policy directives on the institutionalization of children whose parents are in detention facilities, government documents on the management of children in child welfare institutions and boarding schools, and procurement notices for the construction of these facilities, which Human Rights Watch, independent researchers, and international media organizations have uncovered.

Similarly, government statistics show dramatic increases in educational expenditure, preschool enrollment, and school floor space in Turkic Muslim-heavy areas in Xinjiang in the past three years, according to a recent study. Governments have an international human rights law obligation to improve education, but this cannot be achieved by arbitrarily removing children from their families.

Article 43 of China’s Law on the Protection of Minors says that state-run child welfare institutions are responsible for caring for orphans, children whose parents or guardians cannot be found, and other children not in care. However, Chinese law does not empower government authorities to remove children from their relatives to place them in state care, nor does it outline any legal procedures to do so.

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which China ratified in 1992, recognizes the family as the natural environment for the growth and well-being of children. The convention obligates governments to ensure that children should not be separated from their parents against their will, “except when competent authorities subject to judicial review determine, in accordance with applicable law and procedures, that such separation is necessary for the best interests of the child.” Such determinations may be necessary in cases involving parental abuse or neglect.

Even when alternative care arrangements are necessary, care by close family members should be given priority. Removing a child from the family’s care is a measure of last resort and should, whenever possible, be temporary and for the shortest possible duration. Officials need to ensure that a child who is capable of forming their own views has the right to express those views freely in all matters affecting them. The child’s views should be given due consideration in accordance with their age and maturity.

All decisions concerning alternative care should take full account of the desirability, in principle, of maintaining the child as close as possible to their habitual place of residence, to facilitate contact and potential reintegration with the child’s family, and to minimize disruption of the child’s educational, cultural, and social life.

The Convention on the Rights of the Child provides that applications by children or their parents to enter or leave a country for family reunification must be dealt with in a “positive, humane, and expeditious manner.” Such requests should have no adverse consequences for the applicants or their family members. Children whose parents reside in different countries have the right to maintain personal relations and direct contacts with both parents.

The convention also protects children from ethnic, religious, or linguistic minorities from being denied the right to enjoy their own culture, to practice their own religion, or to use their own language.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, 25 countries, and many human rights groups, including Human Rights Watch, have called on the Chinese government to allow independent observers unfettered access to Xinjiang to assess the scope and scale of abuses there. Organizations, such as the Organisation for Islamic Cooperation, should similarly endorse such visits.

“Governments should speak out against the unbearable pain that Chinese authorities are inflicting on families as part of their campaign of repression in Xinjiang,” Richardson said. “They should make clear to China that family reunification is a fundamental human right.”


Accounts from Parents Unable to Contact Their Children in Xinjiang


Dilnur, a Canada-based Uyghur from Kashgar, has been unable to make any contact with two of her children, a now 8-year-old girl and a 6-year-old boy, since April 2017. Dilnur, then widowed, had left Xinjiang in May 2016 to study in Turkey – before the mass arbitrary detentions in her locality started – taking only her oldest child, a daughter, with her. Dilnur was not able to obtain a passport for her son, and her younger daughter was not in good health then, so both remained in the care of their grandparents.

Dilnur has not been able to contact her parents or her brother’s family, suspecting that they have been detained in political education camps. She found that many of her contacts in Xinjiang had removed her from their social media contacts or refused to accept her requests to be connected on social media. She frequently asked friends elsewhere in China to contact her Xinjiang relatives, but to no avail. As a result, she said she has no one to contact to inquire about the whereabouts of her children.

“Every time new propaganda videos appear on Douyin [a Chinese video app], I would desperately look for my children, hoping to spot them in these videos. But I’ve never found them. Every time when I see a child of my children’s age on the street, I start to cry. My eyes hurt terribly from too much crying.”


Memetrasul Khasan, a Kyrgyzstan-based ethnic Kyrgyz from Kashgar, has been unable to make any contact with his twin sons, now 14 years old, since March 2017, after authorities detained his wife in a political education camp. Khasan has not been able to make any contact with his relatives in Xinjiang to inquire about his children.

“I miss my children very much. I don’t know where they are. All my relatives are detained. No one could look for my sons. I’ve written 50 letters to the Chinese government. I took them to the Chinese embassy in Bishkek. I want the Chinese government to release my children, my sisters’ children, and allow them to come to Kyrgyzstan, to live in their motherland.”


Khasan’s mother, Khalimakhan Akunjankyzy, has five adult daughters, three of whom are detained in political educational camps. She does not know the whereabouts of the other two, or any of her 16 grandchildren.

“I don’t know where my 16 grandchildren are. Everyone is gone. I miss them a lot. I dream a lot. I dream all my grandchildren altogether coming to Kyrgyzstan, to be united with us.”


Mahmutjan, a Uyghur from Turpan, went alone to Turkey in February 2016, because his family could not obtain passports at the time. In October 2016, his wife and their eldest child joined him in Turkey. Mahmutjan’s second child, now a 7-year-old girl, was placed in a boarding facility by authorities from September 2018 to June 2019, without his or his family’s consent. During that period, authorities temporarily returned the girl to Mahmutjan’s brother’s family when she became sick. But Mahmutjan has not heard any updates about her situation since July.

“When my second daughter was released from the children’s camp, she was very thin and looked unwell. They didn’t take good care of her. It is so painful to see the pictures. A few months after she was taken away, they returned her to my brother’s family because her toe was infected. My brother’s family took her to see the doctor and she got better. Then the government took her away again.”

Mahmutjan described the impact of the separation on his wife:

“My wife is in great pain. She sometimes calls our eldest daughter using the name of the second daughter. My wife is broken psychologically. She dreams about them a lot. My biggest wish is to bring my daughters back to live with us, especially our second one. She’s broken. She’s unwell.”


Abdul Aziz, a Turkey-based Uyghur from Hotan, has been unable to make any contact with his four children, now aged 13, 6, 5, and 2, since July 2017, after authorities detained his wife in a political education camp. Aziz learned that his eldest is living with his mother-in-law in Xinjiang, but he does not know the whereabouts of his other three children. Aziz’s father has died and his mother lives in Istanbul. He has two brothers in Xinjiang but does not know their whereabouts. He has tried various ways to locate his children and brothers, but to no avail.

“When we were a family together, we were so happy. I could at least see my children once a day. They loved me so much. Every day when I got home, they ran to me and hugged me. Where are they now? Are they dead? Are they sick? The only thing I want in this life in this world is to see my wife and my children one more time.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Bangladeshis work at Snowtex garment factory in Dhamrai, near Dhaka, Bangladesh, April 19, 2018. 

© 2019 AP Photo/A.M. Ahad

Knowing where products are made is key to stopping human rights abuses in the global supply chain.  An alliance of 64 NGOs and trade unions in Germany – including Human Rights Watch – has launched a Supply Chains Law Campaign urging the German government to propose a bill by 2020 that would ensure German companies put in place human rights safeguards in their supply chains.

Seven years ago to this day, on September 11, 2012, a fire ripped through Ali enterprises garment factory in Pakistan, killing 255 workers and injuring 57. The factory supplied KiK, a well-known German clothing brand with shops offering affordable fashion on many German highstreets. While labor rights organizations successfully demanded that KiK compensate victims of the fire, the company has yet to ensure its supply chain is transparent. Human rights and environmental tragedies continue to surface in the global supply chains of German companies. 

Now is a crucial moment to push for a robust law. Germany’s government of conservatives and social democrats has already agreed to consider legislation on human rights safeguards in supply chains in its coalition agreement. The next national elections are scheduled for September 2021, which means that any new bill would have to be tabled soon. The campaign hopes to convince wavering MPs and mobilize the public to support a petition addressed to Chancellor Angela Merkel.

It will not be easy. Conservative and social democrat coalition partners have struggled to agree on a national action plan to protect human rights in company supply chains, and a mechanism to monitor its implementation. A German law would be vital to regulating company behaviour in Germany and protecting rights in the supply chains of one of the world’s largest export economies.

But a German law could prove a positive influence across the European Union. Germany will have the EU Presidency in the second half of 2020 and would be in a great position to help pave the way for EU-wide mandatory due diligence, ensuring strong, rights-respecting business practices in many more countries.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

The Nigerian military has arbitrarily detained thousands of children in degrading and inhuman conditions for suspected involvement with the armed Islamist group Boko Haram. Many children are held without charge for months or years in squalid and severely overcrowded military barracks, with no contact with the outside world. Nigerian authorities are detaining children, often based on little or no evidence. Children described beatings, overwhelming heat, frequent hunger, and being packed tightly in their cells with hundreds of other detainees “like razorblades in a pack,” as one former detainee said.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Nigeria: Military Holding Children as Boko Haram Suspects

The Nigerian military has arbitrarily detained thousands of children in degrading and inhuman conditions for suspected involvement with the armed Islamist group Boko Haram. 

(Abuja) – The Nigerian military has arbitrarily detained thousands of children in degrading and inhuman conditions for suspected involvement with the armed Islamist group Boko Haram, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. Many children are held without charge for months or years in squalid and severely overcrowded military barracks, with no contact with the outside world.
The 50-page report, “‘They Didn’t Know if I Was Alive or Dead’: Military Detention of Children for Suspected Boko Haram Involvement in Northeast Nigeria,” documents how Nigerian authorities are detaining children, often based on little or no evidence. Children described beatings, overwhelming heat, frequent hunger, and being packed tightly in their cells with hundreds of other detainees “like razorblades in a pack,” as one former detainee said.
“Children are being detained in horrific conditions for years, with little or no evidence of involvement with Boko Haram, and without even being taken to court,” said Jo Becker, children’s rights advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. “Many of these children already survived attacks by Boko Haram. The authorities’ cruel treatment adds to their suffering and victimizes them further.”
Between January 2013 and March 2019, Nigerian armed forces detained over 3,600 children, including 1,617 girls, for suspected involvement with non-state armed groups, according to the UN. Many are detained at Giwa military barracks in Maiduguri, the main military detention facility in Borno State.
Nigerian authorities have released at least 2,200 children from detention, nearly all without charge. According to the UN, 418 children were detained in 2018, a significant decrease from 2017, when over 1,900 children were detained. Human Rights Watch does not know the number of children who may be currently detained.
The Nigerian government should sign and put into effect a United Nations handover protocol to ensure the swift transfer of children apprehended by the military to child protection authorities for rehabilitation, family reunification, and community reintegration. Other countries in the region, including Chad, Mali, and Niger, have already signed such protocols.
In June 2019, Human Rights Watch interviewed in Maiduguri 32 children and youth who had been detained as children at Giwa barracks for alleged involvement with Boko Haram. None of the children said they were taken before a judge or appeared in court, as required by law, and only one saw someone who he thought may have been a lawyer. None were aware of any charges against them. One was detained when he was only 5 years old.
Nigerian authorities arrested the children during military operations, security sweeps, screening procedures for internally displaced people, and based on information from informants. Many of the children said they were arrested after fleeing Boko Haram attacks on their village or while seeking refuge at camps for internally displaced people. One said he was arrested and detained for more than two years for allegedly selling yams to Boko Haram members. Several girls had been abducted by Boko Haram or forced to become Boko Haram “wives."
Approximately one-third of the children interviewed said security forces beat them during interrogation after their arrest or at Giwa barracks. One girl who was forced to marry a Boko Haram member said that after soldiers captured her, “The soldiers were beating us with their belts, calling us names and telling us they will deal with us because we are Boko Haram wives.” Others said they were beaten if they denied association with Boko Haram.
Children described sharing a single cell, approximately 10-by-10 meters, with 250 or more detainees. They said the stench from a single open toilet was often overwhelming and that detainees sometimes fainted from the heat. In Maiduguri, the average annual maximum temperature is 35 degrees Celsius and temperatures can exceed 40 degrees.
Nearly half of the children said they saw dead bodies of other detainees at Giwa barracks. Many said they suffered frequent thirst or hunger.
Fifteen of the children had been detained for more than a year, and some had been held for more than three years. None had been allowed to contact family members outside the detention center, nor had the authorities contacted their families. Such cases may constitute enforced disappearances, a serious human rights violation.
The children said that Giwa has a cell for boys under 18 with children as young as 7, or even younger. The military also detains children in adult cells, where children said food and water were scarcer and conditions even more crowded. Very young children and babies are kept with their mothers and older girls in a separate cell. Three girls said they saw male soldiers making sexual advances toward female detainees or removing girls from the cell for long periods for what they believed was sexual exploitation.
The military provides no formal education or rehabilitation activities for children at Giwa. Children reported that their only activities were prayer, watching television, and informal lessons that some children provided for others. The overcrowded conditions made physical activity impossible, and some children said they developed sores from restricted movement.
Following their release, some children said they suffered social stigma from presumed involvement with Boko Haram, even if they had no ties to the group. Nearly all said they wanted to go to school, but many said that available schools were too far away, or that they didn’t have money for transportation.
Nigerian authorities should immediately release children currently in military custody. If military or intelligence authorities have credible evidence of criminal offenses by children, they should transfer them to civilian judicial authorities to be treated in accordance with national and international juvenile justice standards.
“Nigeria faces formidable challenges from the Boko Haram insurgency, but detaining thousands of children is not the answer,” Becker said. “Children affected by the conflict need rehabilitation and schooling, not prison.”
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

This submission relates to the review of Denmark under the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. It focuses on the protection of students, teachers, and schools during armed conflict.

Protection of Education During Armed Conflict (article 13)

In September 2016, the Danish Armed Forces published their manual on international law in international operations, that incorporates explicit protections for schools and universities from military use. The manual states:

The protection of children and youth … implies a certain respect for the right of children to education, etc., even in areas of conflict. It is necessary, therefore, to exercise restraint with respect to the military use of children’s institutions, including day-care facilities, schools, and orphanages.

In this context, restraint should be exercised in using schools and other educational institutions in support of Danish military operations. The reason for such special consideration of schools, etc., is that the military use of schools has severe consequences not only in that it immediately endangers the lives of children and youths who are present in and near such schools but also in regard to the longer-term consequences for the education of school children. [Footnote to UN Security Council resolution 2143, and to the Safe Schools Declaration.][1]

Denmark endorsed the Safe Schools Declaration in May 2017.[2]

Human Rights Watch recommends that the Committee:

  • Congratulate Denmark on endorsing the Safe Schools Declaration and on their Danish Armed Forces manual recognizing the importance of protecting educational institutions during armed conflicts, including from their use for military purposes.
  • Encourage Denmark to advocate for all members of the European Union and NATO to endorse the Safe Schools Declaration, and continue to develop and share examples of its implementation of the Declaration’s commitments—including concrete measures to deter the military use of schools—with this Committee and with other countries that have endorsed the Safe Schools Declaration, including fellow European Union and NATO members.



[1] Danish Ministry of Defence, Military Manual on International Law Relevant to Danish Armed Forces in International Operations (“Militærmanual om folkeret i internationale militære operationer”), September 2016, pp. 87, 73, 195, and 422.

[2] The Safe Schools Declaration is an inter-governmental political commitment that provides countries the opportunity to express political support for the protection of students, teachers, and schools during times of armed conflict;  the importance of the continuation of education during armed conflict; and the implementation of the Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

This submission relates to the review of Switzerland under the Convention on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights. It focuses on the protection of students, teachers, and schools during armed conflict and immigration detention of children.

Protection of Education During Armed Conflict (article 13)

The Swiss Armed Forces recently finalized an addition to their manual on the legal principles applicable in military operations (“Rechtliche Grundlagen für das Verhalten im Einsatz”), that incorporates new explicit protections for schools and universities from military use, reflecting their commitments upon endorsing the Safe Schools Declaration, which Switzerland endorsed in May 2015.[1] The revision entered into force on May 1, 2019.

In the chapter on the law of armed conflict, the manual now states:

Particular caution is required regarding educational institutions. Their destruction can bring particularly serious disadvantages for a people and the future of a country. Schools are also home to many children who are to be protected because of their vulnerability, while universities and other higher education establishments regularly house or display significant cultural assets. Educational institutions must therefore be accorded special importance in the context of precautionary measures and proportionality. Their military use is to be avoided.

Human Rights Watch recommends that the Committee:

  • Congratulate Switzerland on endorsing the Safe Schools Declaration, and for their recent addition to the Swiss Armed Forces manual recognizing the importance of protecting educational institutions during armed conflicts, including from their use for military purposes.
  • Encourage Switzerland to share their good practices with other countries, including any humanitarian aid or development assistance recipients who have endorsed the declaration.

Immigration Detention of Children (article 10 and 12)

Under Switzerland’s Foreign Nationals Act, youths between 15 and 18 years of age can be detained under a number of different circumstances. This includes if they refuse during asylum proceedings, removal proceedings or criminal proceedings to disclose their identity; leave an area allocated to them or enter an area from which they are excluded; enter Swiss territory despite a ban on entry; submit an application for asylum after expulsion; stay unlawfully in Switzerland and submit an application for asylum with the obvious intention of avoiding the imminent enforcement of a removal or expulsion order; seriously threaten other persons or considerably endanger the life and limb of other persons and are therefore being prosecuted or have been convicted; or have been convicted of a felony.[2]

Terre Des Hommes published a report in 2016 that found that while Swiss federal law forbids immigration detention of children under the age of 15, the detention of children between the ages of 15 to 18 years for migration-related reasons appears to be widespread across the Swiss Confederation, with 142 children of these ages reportedly detained in 2015.[3] Also, according to a report from June 2018 by the National Council Control Committee (CC-N), even children who are not yet 15 are detained for migration-related reasons in some cantons.[4] Immigration detention has been proven to have an adverse effect on the mental health of children. Research from the United States, Canada, Australia and Europe has shown that it can be incredibly destructive and that children react to even short periods of detention with “extreme distress,” becoming aggressive, suffering a loss of appetite, and having trouble sleeping.[5] This distress often then continues for months afterwards.

Human Rights Watch recommends that the Committee:

  • Call on the Swiss Confederation to amend the Foreign Nationals Act to provide that no children under the age of 18 may be detained because of their migration status, in line with the guidance of this Committee and the Committee on Migrant Workers in Joint General Comment No. 4/23.




[1] The Safe Schools Declaration is an inter-governmental political commitment that provides countries the opportunity to express political support for the protection of students, teachers, and schools during times of armed conflict ; the importance of the continuation of education during armed conflict; and the implementation of the Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict. 

[2] Federal Act on Foreign Nationals of 16. December 2005 (RS 142.20) - Foreign Nationals Act or FNA, art. 80, al. 4.

[3] “Illegal detention of migrant children in Switzerland: a status report,” Terre De Hommes, June 2016,

[4] “Administrativhaft im Asylbereich Bericht der Geschäftsprüfungskommission des Nationalrates,” 26. Juni 2018,

[5] “US: Trauma in Family Immigration Detention: Release Asylum-Seeking Mothers, Children” Human Rights Watch News Release, May 15, 2015,

“Major Findings and Recommendations of the Inquiry,” Australian Human Rights Commission,

R Kronick, C Rousseau, and J Cleveland, “Asylum-seeking children's experiences of detention in Canada: A qualitative study,” American Journal of Orthopsychiatry 85 (2015) accessed August 9, 2019, doi: 10.1037/ort0000061.

M. von Werthern, K. Robjant, Z. Chui, R. Schon, L. Ottisova, C. Mason and C. Katona, “The impact of immigration detention on mental health: a systematic review,” BMC Psychiatry 18 (2018) accessed August 8, 2019,

Katy Robjant, Rita Hassan, and Cornelius Katona, “Mental health implications of detaining asylum seekers: systematic review,” The British Journal of Psychiatry 194 (2009) accessed August 8, 2019, DOI:

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

This submission relates to the review of Ecuador under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. It focuses on access to abortion, school-related sexual violence, and the protection of students, teachers, and schools during armed conflict.

Right to Health (article 12)

Access to Abortion

Ecuador is one of eight countries South America that criminalizes access to abortion for survivors of rape.[1] The criminal code imposes penalties including prison terms ranging from six months to two years for women and girls who have abortions.[2] The country has high rates of gender-based violence, with an estimated 1 in 4 women facing sexual violence in her lifetime, according to a 2012 survey.[3] The country’s high rate of rape of adolescent girls is of particular concern. Approximately 2,000 girls under age 14 give birth in Ecuador each year;[4] all are considered pregnancies from rape because 14 is the age of consent set by the Penal Code.[5]

Human Rights Watch published a report in 2013 documenting the impact of the lack of access to abortion for rape survivors.[6] We found that criminal penalties for abortion drive some women and girls to have illegal and unsafe abortions, undermining Ecuador’s efforts to reduce preventable maternal death.

Human Rights Watch recommends that the Committee call on the government of Ecuador to:

  • Decriminalize abortion, and at a minimum legalize it in cases of rape, incest, and severe fetal impairment.

Right to Education (art. 13)

School-Related Sexual and Gender Based Exploitation and Violence (articles 12 and 13)

Under the current government, Ecuador has recognized the severity of the level of sexual violence against children in its education institutions.[7]

From 2014 through mid-2018, Ecuador’s Ministry of Education received 4,111 complaints of sexual violence against students; 1,837 of them were school-related.[8] It also reopened 734 complaints that had been archived by the ministry or suspended by the state prosecutor’s office.[9]

Since late 2017, the government has taken important steps to signal its commitment to tackling school-related gender-based violence, including through the rollout of public information campaigns, training programs on prevention of sexual abuse, and establishing a database to document all cases of sexual violence detected in primary and secondary education institutions.[10]

In a February 2018 referendum, voters overwhelmingly supported a proposal to amend Ecuador’s constitution to remove the statute of limitations for sexual offenses against children and adolescents.[11] To date, the government had not presented legislation to amend its Penal Code in accordance with the 2018 referendum result.

In March 2018, the National Assembly established the AAMPETRA Commission —a special multi-party legislative commission—named after a private school where 43 children were sexually abused by one teacher, in a case that generated strong attention to this issue in Ecuador.[12] The commission focused on establishing the facts related to school-related sexual violence against children, conducted in-depth analysis of 8 out of 57 cases of sexual violence against children reported to the commission, and evaluated the actions taken by the Ministry of Education in the past and relevant state institutions to respond to school-related sexual violence.[13] The commission focused on information-gathering since “the issue of sexual violence against boys, girls and adolescents in education institutions had not been dealt with the relevance needed by state institutions, many of which lacked updated, systematized or validated information of cases they had known.”[14]

The commission called on the government to publicly recognize the “serious situation of human rights violations” against children and adolescents in education institutions; to offer a public apology to child survivors of sexual violence and their families; and to approve a law on integral reparations to regulate processes of remedies and reparations for victims of sexual violence.[15]

Human Rights Watch recommends that the Committee call on the government of Ecuador to:

  • Ensure the Ministry of Education adequately reports and responds to cases of sexual violence, fully investigates allegations of abuse, refers cases to the Prosecutor’s Office, and sanctions schools that do not follow established protocols.
  • Implement the referendum results by amending the Penal Code to remove the statute of limitations for sexual offenses against children and adolescents.
  • In accordance with the AAMPETRA Commission’s recommendations, offer a public apology to child survivors of sexual violence and their families, and adopt a law on reparations and remedies for survivors of sexual violence.

Protection of Education During Armed Conflict (article 13)

Ecuador was among the first countries to endorse the Safe Schools Declaration, joining in May 2015.[16]

Ecuador’s Armed Forces’ Manual of International Humanitarian Law of 2016 states that “educational ... institutions shall be considered as neutral and as such respected and protected by belligerents. The same respect and protection shall be due to the personnel of the institutions mentioned above.”[17]

Human Rights Watch recommends that the Committee:

  • Congratulate Ecuador on endorsing the Safe Schools Declaration.
  • Encourage Ecuador to continue to develop and share examples of its implementation of the declaration’s commitments—including concrete measures to deter the military use of schools—with this Committee and with other countries that have endorsed the Safe Schools Declaration.


[1] Center for Reproductive Rights, “The World’s Abortion Laws,”

[2] República del Ecuador, Código Orgánico Integral Penal, “Aborto consentido,”, art. 149.

[4] Fundación Desafío, “Vidas Robadas: Entre La Omisión Y La Premeditación,” 2016,

[5] Código Orgánico Integral Penal, art. 171.

[6] Human Rights Watch, Ecuador - Rape Victims as Criminals: Illegal Abortion after Rape in Ecuador, August 23, 2013,

[7] See, for example, Presidencia de la República del Ecuador, “Prevenir y Sancionar los abusos sexuales a menores en colegios son la mayor prioridad del Gobierno,” October 24, 2017, Ministerio de Educación, “Lanzamiento nuevo video UNICEF Más Unidos Más Protegidos,” March 20, 2018,; La República, “Moreno traza hoja de ruta para erradicar violencia contra menores de edad,” November 7, 2017, See Human Rights Watch, World Report 2019 – Ecuador, Events of 2018,; Tamara Taraciuk Broner (Human Rights Watch), “Ecuador Needs to Act to Halt Child Sexual Violence,” La Hora, December 4, 2017,

[8] From 2015 – 2017, the State Prosecutor registered 2,673 complaints of sexual violence against children and adolescents; 1,256 of them were school-related. Nicolas Reyes (Consejo Nacional para la Igualdad), “Recomendaciones CNII a la Comisión Aampetra,

[9] Ministerio de Educación, Educar Ecuador, “Ministerio de Educación actualiza las cifras de casos de violencia sexual y socializa acciones interinstitucionales,” July 19, 2018,

[10] Ministerio de Educación, “El Ministerio de Educación y la ONU, Más Unidos, Más Protegidos por los derechos de los estudiantes,”

[11] See Consejo Nacional Electoral, “Referéndum y Consulta Popular 2018,”; and “Preguntas y Anexos,”

[12] Asamblea Nacional, Comisión Especializada Ocasional “AAMPETRA,” Informe ejecutivo del trabajo realizado por la Comisión Especializada Ocasional AAMPETRA, Quito, July 23, 2018, (unofficial translation by Human Rights Watch), p. 3.

[13] Asamblea Nacional, Comisión Especializada Ocasional “AAMPETRA, “Informe sobre la investigación de casos conocidos por la Comisión respecto a hechos de violencia sexual contra niñas, niños y adolescentes en Unidades Educativas,” February 16, 2018,

[14] Asamblea Nacional, Comisión Especializada Ocasional “AAMPETRA,” Informe ejecutivo del trabajo realizado por la Comisión Especializada Ocasional AAMPETRA (unofficial translation by Human Rights Watch), p. 5.

[15] Ibid., p. 204.

[16] The Safe Schools Declaration is an inter-governmental political commitment that provides countries the opportunity to express political support for the protection of students, teachers, and schools during times of armed conflict;  the importance of the continuation of education during armed conflict; and the implementation of the Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict. See Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack, Safe Schools Decalaration,

[17] Armed Forces of Ecuador, Manual of International Humanitarian Law, DBM-DOC·CC.Ff.AA.-05, 2016, May 2016. Chapter VIII, sec. D.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

View of a former mine pit, now flooded, at the old mine site in Kabwe. In the foreground is an area where small-scale miners still work today. © 2019 Diane McCarthy for Human Rights Watch

“Henry” is thin and small for his age. The 10-year-old, his mum and I are sitting outside in the dusty, poor township of Waya in the Zambian city of Kabwe on a hot, dry afternoon.

His mum, looking weary, describes their life near the city’s former lead and zinc mine. She worries about her children’s health and tells Henry and his siblings to avoid the dust that blows over from there.

A few years ago, Henry was found to have extremely high amounts of lead in his blood, high enough to warrant immediate treatment, according to medical experts. But he never received any medical care.

Kabwe’s mine dates to the colonial period: a British company opened the mine in 1904. Anglo American took over in 1925 and remained in charge for nearly 50 years. Early on, doctor’s certificates revealed that smelter workers experienced lead poisoning, but the company continued to mine, smelt and poison the environment.

In 1974, Zambia nationalised the mine and closed it 20 years later. A comprehensive cleanup was never undertaken. The government subsequently issued several licences for companies to mine the site, allowing them to further harm people and the environment.

And so, 25 years after the mine closed, children’s homes, schools and play areas are highly contaminated, resulting in extremely high levels of lead in their blood.

More than 6-million tons of mining waste remain in place, and dust from these uncovered waste dumps blows over nearby residential areas. The most visible dump is known locally as the “Black Mountain”.

About half of children living in the affected neighbourhoods need medical treatment, experts say. Lead can cause stunted growth, anaemia, learning difficulties, organ damage, coma and convulsions, and even death. Children are particularly vulnerable.

When Human Rights Watch visited Kabwe in 2018 public health facilities had no kits for lead testing, nor any medicine. Many residents said they felt fearful, and helpless. “You see dust is everywhere. It is all over. So, this lead just can’t stop spreading,” Henry’s mother told me. “The president should bring us medicine,” Henry added.

The Zambian government has issued a large-scale mining license to British company Berkeley Mineral Resources (BMR), which is planning to reprocess lead, zinc and vanadium from the mine’s waste in a joint business venture with SA company Jubilee Metals

Human Rights Watch wrote to both companies asking what they were doing to prevent harm; BMR referred us to Jubilee Metals, and Jubilee Metals did not respond.

An environmental impact assessment submitted by a BMR subsidiary in 2015 was grossly insufficient, according to experts consulted by Human Rights Watch. It lacked vital information and failed to demonstrate how the new venture would protect the community from harmful effects.

The government recently said it will require a new environmental and social impact assessment. The government is indeed responsible for ensuring that any waste-reprocessing activities comply with Zambia’s environmental laws and are scrutinised for harmful human rights and environmental consequences.

The government has also issued a few licences for small-scale mining in Kabwe. Such mining in lead-contaminated soil carries huge health risks for miners’ families and the wider community as it produces more dust, and workers carry dust home.

So far, efforts by the government to clean up residential areas and test and treat children have been insufficient; even the World Bank, which funded the efforts a decade ago, has acknowledged problems. A new World Bank-funded project began in December 2016. After a slow start, testing and treatment are to be made available in the coming months, which should bring relief to the families of Henry and many others. There are also plans to clean up homes and possibly schools.

But unfortunately, this new effort is not the proper, lasting, and comprehensive cleanup Kabwe needs. That would include the former mine — the source of the contamination — as well as roads, schools, and all homes and public places nearby. The government told Human Rights Watch it does not have the resources for such a cleanup.

The UK law firm Leigh Day has announced it is preparing a class-action case against Anglo American SA on behalf of people from Zambian communities near Kabwe mine who are suffering from lead exposure.

Leigh Day and its SA partner attorneys are seeking compensation for victims of lead poisoning, including the cost of an effective medical-monitoring system for blood lead levels among the community.

Win or lose, the case is a powerful reminder that the Kabwe legacy and the children who are still being poisoned as a result can no longer be ignored.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Unaccompanied children arriving in France’s Alpine region undergo flawed age assessment procedures that deny many access to needed protection.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

France: Immigrant Children Being Denied Protection

Unaccompanied children arriving in France’s Alpine region undergo flawed age assessment procedures that deny many access to needed protection.

(Paris) – Unaccompanied children arriving in France’s Alpine region undergo flawed age assessment procedures that deny many access to needed protection, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today.

The 80-page report, “Subject to Whim: The Treatment of Unaccompanied Migrant Children in the French Hautes-Alpes,” found that examiners whose job is to certify a child’s status as a minor – that is, under age 18 – do not comply with international standards. Human Rights Watch found that examiners use various justifications to deny children protection. These include children’s minor mistakes with dates, their reluctance to discuss particularly traumatic experiences in detail or work they did in home countries or while in transit, and what examiners deem as unrealistic life goals.

“Child protection should not be a matter of caprice,” said Bénédicte Jeannerod, France director at Human Rights Watch. “Age assessments should afford children a fair process, not look for excuses to deny them protection.”

Human Rights Watch has found similar flaws with age assessment procedures in Paris and has heard accounts of arbitrary decision making by authorities elsewhere in France, suggesting that flawed procedures are a problem across France.

Human Rights Watch interviewed 59 boys, one girl, and one 18-year-old man in the French Hautes-Alpes department and reviewed an additional 36 case files for the report. Human Rights Watch also spoke with lawyers, healthcare providers, staff and volunteers of humanitarian agencies and informal associations, and officials.

Under French law, unaccompanied children should be taken into care by the child protection system, the Service de l’aide sociale à l’enfance (ASE). As a first step, child welfare authorities require unaccompanied children to undergo age assessments before they are formally recognized as children.

International standards call for age assessment to be used as a last resort and only when there are serious doubts about a person’s declared age and documentary evidence is lacking. French regulations provide that age assessments should be conducted in a manner “characterized by neutrality and compassion.” Following international standards, age assessments should give the benefit of the doubt when there is a reasonable possibility that the declared age is correct.

Many children who arrive on their own in France, whether in the Hautes-Alpes or elsewhere, have suffered serious abuses in their home countries; endured torture, forced labor, and other ill-treatment in Libya; and undergone terrifying sea crossings on overcrowded boats on their way to Europe. Many show symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, doctors told Human Rights Watch. But the age examination process does not appear to account for these circumstances and the well-documented effects of PTSD on memory, concentration, and emotional expression, Human Rights Watch found.

An immediate consequence of a negative age assessment is eviction from emergency shelter for unaccompanied children, even for those who seek review before a judge. Some children found shelter with families or in squats run by volunteer networks. Others stay in shelters for adults or live on the streets. The review process can take months, which may affect their eligibility for regular immigration status when they turn 18.

Most of the children interviewed said they spent six months to a year or more in Italy before deciding to make their way to France. Many cited lack of access to education and health care as the primary reasons for leaving Italy. Some cited discriminatory attitudes by government officials and the general public.

Flawed age assessments are not the only obstacle unaccompanied children face.

Border police in France’s Hautes-Alpes department have summarily returned unaccompanied migrant children who attempt to cross the border between Italy and France, instead of referring them to protection services, Human Rights Watch found. These accounts are consistent with reports from the French Defender of Rights, nongovernmental organizations, lawyers, and volunteer groups.

Amadin N., from Benin, 17, said: “I showed my papers that said that I was a minor, but the police didn’t want to hear it.”

French law provides for an expedited “entry refusal” process for children and adults apprehended within 10 kilometers of the border. In such cases, police provide a written notice of the reasons for refusing entry and of the rights to seek asylum and to appeal. Children should be appointed a guardian. Police did not appear to respect these limited procedural protections in the nine cases described to Human Rights Watch.

To avoid apprehension and summary return, unaccompanied children said they hiked high into the mountains, off established trails, experiencing significant risks as a result. Many children arrive in Briançon, a major city in the region, suffering from frostbite, other injuries, and exhaustion.

French police harass and sometimes seek prosecution of people who help migrants in distress in the mountains. Authorities have continued to pursue criminal charges despite a July 2018 court ruling that helping others in need, including undocumented migrants, is constitutionally protected.

Aid workers, volunteers, and activists who take part in search-and-rescue operations in the mountains report repeated document checks, vehicle inspections, and citations for minor road violations in circumstances that suggest that police are not employing them for public safety or other legitimate policing purposes, but instead to create a hostile environment for humanitarian workers.

Such forms of harassment are not unique to the Hautes-Alpes; aid workers, volunteers, and activists operating in and around Calais have described similar practices to Amnesty International, the French Defender of Rights, Human Rights Watch, and UN special rapporteurs.

France shares the same obligations as all other European Union countries to afford unaccompanied children who arrive at its borders special safeguards that protect their human rights as set out in international and EU law. As other Human Rights Watch research establishes, France is not alone in the EU in failing to meet these human rights obligations consistently. The fact that other countries may have violated the rights of unaccompanied children does not mitigate France’s duty to comply with international and regional norms and EU law, Human Rights Watch said.

French authorities should reform age assessment procedures and practices to conform to international standards and ensure that children are not arbitrarily denied formal recognition. Among other steps, screening for post-traumatic stress disorder by qualified psychiatrists, with counseling prior to assessment for those found to have symptoms, would result in a fairer process. Protocols should be developed with input from experts to determine when, how, and by whom these children should be assessed.

Authorities should end summary returns of unaccompanied migrant children to Italy and instead immediately transfer them to the child welfare system for appropriate protection and care.

French authorities should also prevent and ensure accountability for police harassment of humanitarian workers.

“Helping children and adults in need, whatever their migration status, should never be treated as a crime,” Jeannerod said. “Migrant children should have a fair assessment leading to the protection they are entitled to.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am