Building owned by the Marseille Church, now called Saint-Just squat, where as of March 2020 about 200 migrants lived, including families and about 100 unaccompanied migrant children, Marseille, France, October 2019. 

© 2019 Collectif 59 Saint-Just
(Paris) – Migrant children are being left at risk to the coronavirus because of failures by child protection authorities in Marseille and Gap, France, Human Rights Watch said today. Unaccompanied migrant children are not being given shelter and other essential services by the Bouches-du-Rhône and Hautes-Alpes departments, which are responsible for their care, putting them at risk and weakening the authorities’ response to the pandemic.

Despite lockdown and prevention measures decided by the French government, unaccompanied migrant children in Marseille and Gap continue to live in precarious and overcrowded conditions, without the child protection services they need and should receive.

“The treatment of these children by the authorities was already unacceptable before the epidemic, and today it is not only intolerable but also dangerous,” said Bénédicte Jeannerod, France director at Human Rights Watch. “The authorities should urgently address this and provide these children with shelter and access to essential services to stop the spread of coronavirus in this already vulnerable group.”

In a tweet on March 22, Adrien Taquet, Secretary of State for Child Protection, said “[...] Whether deemed a minor or an adult, every youth who requests it will be provided with shelter. State and departmental services are mobilized to ensure this.”

Despite this important and welcome announcement, around 100 unaccompanied migrant children in Marseille must stay in a dangerously overcrowded squat while an unknown number of others fend for themselves on the streets because authorities have not provided the children protection services they are entitled to by law. In Gap, the capital of the Hautes-Alpes department, where Human Rights Watch recently investigated the poor treatment of unaccompanied migrant children by the departmental authorities, 23 unaccompanied children who are appealing adverse age assessments live in precarious conditions in an occupied building in the city center.

COVID-19 containment measures currently underway in France mean that ADDAP 13, the agency carrying out age assessments of youths in Marseille to determine if they are children or adults, has halted its work, several sources told Human Rights Watch. If nothing is done, migrant children will have to wait for weeks or even months without accommodation or access to basic services while they wait for their age assessment.

While they are waiting, or after they are determined to be “adults” for often arbitrary reasons, children live on the streets, at the railway station, or find shelter in the Collectif 59 Saint-Just squat, an overcrowded building owned by the Catholic Church, which has threatened the occupants with eviction. Médecins Sans Frontières opened three emergency accommodation centers at the beginning of January 2020 to prevent children from ending up on the streets.

Volunteers from Collectif 59 Saint-Just told Human Rights Watch that without the squat, unaccompanied migrant children, as well as other migrants, would be living on the streets but that they were at capacity and could not accept new people.

These precarious living conditions do not allow migrant children to follow the prevention and containment measures imposed by the government in response to coronavirus. People living in the squat are sharing rooms with many other people, making it impossible to practice social distancing or self-isolation.

Unaccompanied migrant children in this situation include children waiting to have their age assessed. For some, a juvenile judge has issued decisions ordering the departmental authorities to provide them with housing while waiting to go through the age assessment process. Lawyers representing unaccompanied migrant children and members of the Unaccompanied Children Commission of the Marseille Bar have called on the department to provide accommodation for all unaccompanied migrant children regardless of their status. The department often does not comply with the judge’s order, saying it does not have enough places.

Saint-Just squat volunteers have managed to get many children enrolled in schools, but it is impossible for them to take part in distance learning because the squat has no internet connection.

Hearings to challenge negative age assessments are also indefinitely postponed. In the meantime, the department should ensure that all those who say they are unaccompanied children are provided with adequate, safe housing regardless of where they are in the process.

“Local and national authorities must put the protection of those most excluded and at risk of contracting the disease at the heart of their response to Covid-19. Unaccompanied migrant children in very precarious situations in Marseille and elsewhere in France are clearly among them,” Jeannerod said.

For additional details about the situation, please see below.

Human Rights Watch interviewed 16 unaccompanied migrant children in Marseille in March 2020, along with volunteers from several groups that help migrant children and three lawyers who represent unaccompanied migrant children. After the French government announced travel restrictions and other containment measures to address the COVID-19 epidemic, Human Rights Watch undertook additional interviews with volunteers, aid workers, and lawyers by telephone.

Abandoned by Authorities

When youths who say they are children arrive in Marseille, they must register with ADDAP 13, a nonprofit agency mandated by the Bouches-du-Rhône department to assess their age. When children register, ADDAP 13 tells them they will be told when there is a place to stay to carry out their age assessment. The agency only carries out the age assessment after it finds available accommodation, a process that can take four to five months.

While they wait, children are on their own, without the emergency shelter and access to child protection services to which they are entitled by law. To keep them from sleeping on the street, since December 2018 the Collectif 59 Saint Just has occupied a building owned by the Catholic Church, where about 200 migrants, mainly unaccompanied children and families, stay.

Nearly 500 unaccompanied children have passed through the squat since it opened. “Before Saint-Just, the youths slept at the train station … The squat is a remedy for the dysfunction of the authorities,” a volunteer told Human Rights Watch during a visit on March 2. In January 2020, because the squat was full, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) decided to open three emergency shelters for what was intended to be a limited period of 3 months, which was then renewed for an additional 2 months, until the end of May. The MSF shelters now house 60 unaccompanied children.

“Today, 200 people [women with children, a few couples, and about a hundred children] live in overcrowded conditions that do not allow for the necessary distancing. Neither the solidarity workers nor the residents have protective masks and hydro-alcoholic gel. There are not enough water points and do not allow people to wash their hands often,” a volunteer from Collectif 59 Saint Just in Marseille told Human Rights Watch.

Unaccompanied migrant children awaiting age assessment or appeal before the juvenile judge are forced to live in extremely precarious and overcrowded conditions that do not let them follow prevention and containment measures imposed by the government in response to coronavirus.

Bouches-du-Rhône Authorities Defy Court Directives

Juvenile judges have issued some temporary placement orders directing local authorities to take unaccompanied migrant children into care pending age assessments. Local authorities usually do not comply with these orders, Human Rights Watch found.

Faced with local authorities’ refusal to comply with judicial orders, lawyers regularly file urgent proceedings before the Marseille Administrative Court, which has repeatedly ordered the Departmental Council to provide accommodation and care for migrant children, with a fine in the event of delay.

One lawyer filed a new urgent proceeding on March 18, two days after the French government announced containment measures to deal with COVID-19. In a court filing seen by Human Rights Watch, the Bouches-du-Rhône department asked the court to reject the request, arguing it does not have sufficient accommodation: “In the context of the current pandemic, some hotels that were housing children have decided to close, forcing the department to urgently seek new places and thus considerably increasing the difficulties.” The department also called on the state “to intervene to help the Department deal with this situation and thus enable it to fulfil its legal obligations” and “requests that it participate in the accommodation and care of the youth.” The Administrative Court once again ordered the department to take the youth into care, but with no penalty for noncompliance.

On March 16, the lawyers of the Unaccompanied Minors Commission of the Marseille Bar wrote to the department’s Deputy Directorate General of Solidarity (DGAS) to request that all unaccompanied migrant children with unfulfilled temporary placement orders or awaiting assessment be provided with emergency housing without delay, noting that in the meantime, these children are “forced to live in conditions that expose them heavily to the epidemic.” The department had not responded to this request at time of writing.

Inadequate Protection in the Hautes-Alpes

Human Rights Watch also spoke by telephone with volunteers from Réseau Hospitalité and a member of the Médecins du Monde team working in Gap. They all reported an alarming situation for 23 unaccompanied migrant children living at the Césaï squat in downtown Gap, while awaiting an appeal before the juvenile judge. The Césaï squat hosts 70 residents in total.

“The migrant children are living there because of the authorities’ failure to provide them with accommodation. They are mostly living in unventilated spaces, infested with bedbugs, all over each other and the building only has one water point. In the current epidemic situation, the situation is explosive,” Françoise Martin-Cola, a volunteer doctor from Réseau Hospitalité, told Human Rights Watch in a telephone interview on 24 March.

“The overcrowded conditions in which these children live exposes them and jeopardizes the preventive actions put in place. It is imperative that they are urgently provided with accommodation in conditions that meet the measures required to deal with the Covid-19 epidemic,” Carla Melki, a representative from Médecins du Monde said.

The Regional Health Agency (ARS) and Médecins du Monde have set up mobile medical teams that are going to the Césaï squat among other places.

Local aid groups called the Hautes-Alpes authorities to provide these children with emergency housing and care. In a letter that Human Rights Watch was able to view, the Prefect informed the groups that those children awaiting appeal will not be given shelter and care: “As for the other youths whose names you have sent me, some were not recognized as children after assessment by the departmental council, while others are not known by these services or mine and cannot therefore be taken into care.”

Meeting Obligations

Each department in France is responsible for ensuring that unaccompanied migrant children are provided with emergency shelter and care.

On March 21, 2020, Adrien Taquet, Secretary of State for Child Protection, sent a letter to the Presidents of the Departmental Councils, in which he said: “Priority must be given to [the] accommodation [of unaccompanied children] even if the conditions for assessing the minority are disrupted.”

“The protection of minors, particularly those presenting themselves as unaccompanied minors, must be guaranteed through systematic accommodation,” the letter said.

This recommendation was reiterated in a tweet on March 22: “[...] Whether he is deemed a minor or an adult, every youth who requests it will be provided with shelter. State and departmental services are mobilized to ensure this.”

It is understandable that the age assessment interviews are suspended due to the current health situation, but the Bouches-du-Rhône department should place children awaiting assessment in adequate emergency accommodation where they can be protected, have access to basic hygiene, and have an Internet connection that allows them to continue their education online as offered by the Ministry of Education to all pupils in France, Human Rights Watch said.

For children in Marseille and Gap waiting for a hearing to appeal the rejection of their juvenile status, and deprived of accommodation, the wait will be even longer, as judges are no longer hearing appeals. These children should also be given accommodation to protect them from the coronavirus.

Departmental councils elsewhere in France should also ensure unaccompanied children’s right to adequate housing and provide them with the care and protection they need, including during any period of age assessment or judicial review of adverse age assessments.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

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.”

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

Sixteen beds fill a room with barred windows in a closed institution for children with disabilities.

© 2018 Human Rights Watch

Media in Kazakhstan have reported that 4 children living in a state residential institution for children with disabilities have died, while a further 16 were hospitalized with measles and intestinal infections.

The institution, located in Ayagoz, a town in eastern Kazakhstan, has been under quarantine since early April due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Medical professionals, including the region’s head pediatrician, have not attributed the children’s deaths or illnesses to Covid-19. But the tragic deaths and numerous hospitalizations serve as an urgent reminder that children in residential institutions are at particular risk from infectious diseases.

The risk of Covid-19 exposure is higher among populations that live in close proximity to each other, where the virus can spread rapidly. In addition, the virus disproportionately affects people with underlying conditions, which may be the case for some children with disabilities. More than 100 residents live in the children’s institution where the 4 children died.

While authorities have taken the important steps of opening an investigation on criminal charges of medical negligence in this case and initiating comprehensive inspections of these types of children’s residential institutions across Kazakhstan, these deaths and hospitalizations should also spur the authorities to do more. They should take urgent measures to move as many children with disabilities as possible out of state residential institutions and into family-based care.

The virus poses a specific threat to the hundreds of children with disabilities currently living in institutions in Kazakhstan, but it’s not the only one. Human Rights Watch has found that the children are also at risk of physical violence, forced sedation, isolation, and and neglect. Some children told us that staff beat them, forcibly administered sedatives to punish or control them, and forced them to take care of younger children.

Regardless of this pandemic, home remains the best place for children with disabilities. The Kazakh government should urgently look to reallocate resources from institutions to families or other family settings in the community, so they have the necessary support to care for their children.

Until the children can safely be moved out, authorities should increase infection control measures inside institutions, ensure all people within them can practice social distancing, and provide adequate access to health care for residents and staff.

In doing so, they may help prevent the kind of tragedy that unfolded in eastern Kazakhstan.

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

Human Rights Watch presents this shadow report in advance of the 85th session of the Committee on the Rights of the Child to assess Afghanistan’s implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

1.     Armed Conflict (article 6)

Children have accounted for roughly 30 percent of the estimated 10,000 civilian casualties that have taken place each year since 2016.[1] In the first quarter of 2020, more than 500 civilians, including more than 150 children, were killed due to the conflict.

For example, on May 12, 2020, unidentified assailants attacked a hospital in Kabul. The suicide bombing attack and ensuing gunbattles killed at least 24 civilians, including 2 infants, and wounded at least 16. More than 80 patients, including children, were evacuated from the hospital.[2]

Anti-Government Elements (AGEs) continued to be responsible for the majority of civilian casualties – accounting for 55 percent of them. The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) attributed 39 percent to the Taliban, 13 percent to Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant–Khorasan Province (ISIL-KP) and the remainder to undetermined AGEs. Pro-Government Forces (PGFs) were responsible for 32 percent of all civilian casualties during the first quarter of 2020. PGFs were responsible for more child casualties than AGEs during the first three months of the year and over twice as many child deaths, mainly due to airstrikes and indirect fire during ground engagements.[3]

We encourage the Committee to recommend to the government of Afghanistan to:

  • Investigate military operations that result in civilian casualties to provide an effective feedback mechanism to reduce civilian casualties in the future.
  • Hold the perpetrators of attacks on civilians and violations of international humanitarian law accountable.
  • Provide timely and appropriate compensation to civilians harmed in unlawful attacks.

2.    Access to Education (articles 28 and 29)

An estimated 3.7 million children were already out of school in Afghanistan prior to the Covid-19 pandemic.[4] The socio-political and humanitarian crises that Afghanistan faces due to the pandemic critically affects an already very fragile education system. The ongoing armed conflict and its impact, including attacks on education, military use of schools, and fears about children’s safety, already kept many children out of school. Deep poverty, lack of schools, and lack of transportation to school put education out of reach for many families. In areas controlled or influenced by AGEs, education, especially for girls, may be banned or severely limited.

Girls’ Education

Girls’ education is often highlighted as a success story by donors and the Afghan government, and millions more girls are in school today than were in school under Taliban rule. But the aim of getting all girls into school is far from realized, and the overall number of students and the proportion of students who are girls is now falling in parts of the country. Of the children that were out of school prior to Covid-19 related school closures, 85 percent were girls. Only 37 percent of adolescent girls are literate, compared to 66 percent of adolescent boys.4F[5]

Afghanistan’s government provides many fewer schools for girls than boys at both the primary and secondary levels. In half the country’s provinces, fewer than 20 percent of teachers are female–a major barrier for girls whose families will not allow them to be taught by a man, especially as adolescents.5F[6] Many children live too far from a school to attend, which particularly affects girls who are more likely to fear for their safety on long walks. About 41 percent of schools have no physical buildings, and many lack boundary walls, water, and toilets—also disproportionately affecting girls.6F[7]

Under Afghan law, education is compulsory through class nine, but in reality many children have no access to education to this level—or sometimes, to any level. Administrative barriers and corruption create additional obstacles, especially for displaced and poor families. Even when tuition is free, there are costs for sending children to school and many families cannot afford to send their children or are forced to choose which children to educate, a choice that often favors sons.7F[8] About a quarter of Afghan children work to help their families survive desperate poverty. Many girls weave, embroider, beg, or pick garbage rather than study.8F[9]

International technical and financial support

Afghan government and international donor efforts since 2001 to improve education have significantly faltered in recent years. As security in the country worsens and international donors disengage from Afghanistan, progress has stalled. The Covid-19 crisis is likely to hasten this disengagement.

Donors focussing on girls’ education specifically have worked with the Afghan government, and with the Taliban, to develop innovative models to allow girls to study during conflict, including “community-based education” (CBE), a network of classes, often held in homes, that allow children, particularly girls, to obtain an education in communities far from a government school. But because these classes are funded solely by donors and implemented by nongovernmental organizations, they have no consistent connection with the government school system and come and go due to unreliable funding cycles.

According to UNESCO, governments should spend at least 15 to 20 percent of their public expenditure, and 4 to 6 percent of GDP, on education. Least developed countries should reach or exceed the higher of these benchmarks. In 2016, Afghanistan spent 13 percent of its public expenditure, and 4 percent of GDP, on education.9F[10]

The effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on donor funding are just beginning to emerge. But Afghanistan is deeply aid dependent,[11] with aid constituting an estimated 40 percent of GDP in 2018. In March 2020, the US threatened to cut aid to Afghanistan by $1 billion, reportedly due to the failure of President Ashraf Ghani and his main political rival, Abdullah Abdullah, to agree on a unity government.[12]

We encourage the Committee to pose the following questions to the government:

  • What is the government’s current expenditure on education as a percentage of the total national budget and GDP?
  • What specific measures is the government taking to correct the imbalance between the number of schools for girls versus for boys?
  • What specific measures is the government adopting to make progress on recruiting and retaining female teachers?
  • How is the government ensuring the sustainability of CBE classes?

We encourage the Committee to recommend to the government to:

  • Increase spending on education to meet international best practices and the government’s international obligations to provide universal free and compulsory primary education and help make secondary education free and available to all.
  • Provide an equal number of schools and school places for girls and boys and ensure that conditions in single-gender schools are equal in terms of adequacy of facilities, staffing, and supplies.
  • Increase girls’ access to education by institutionalizing and expanding CBE and other education models that help girls study.
  • Work toward having half female teachers across the country.
  • Ensure that all girls’ schools are staffed by female teachers.
  • Ensure that any “back to school” campaigns and remedial programming following the Covid-19 pandemic is inclusive to also attract children who were out of school before the pandemic.

3.    Protection of Education During Armed Conflict (articles 28 and 29)

School districts across Afghanistan find themselves on the front lines of the country’s armed conflict. In areas under Taliban control, access to education is limited. In areas where the government and insurgents are fighting for control, students face heightened security threats including sexual harassment, kidnapping, and acid attacks, as well as targeted attacks and threats.

Afghan government security forces and the Taliban also use schools for military purposes. In 2016, Human Rights Watch documented the military use of several schools in Baghlan.[13] In February 2016, the Afghan army conducted a clearance operation near the Qalai Khwaja High School in Dand-e Ghori. During the operation, the military carried out a controlled detonation of an improvised explosive device that the retreating Taliban had placed near the school, and the explosion rendered six of the classrooms unusable. An army contingent remained stationed in the school following the clearance operation until March when the Taliban recaptured the area.

In April 2016, the Khial Jan Shahid Primary School, located in Omarkhail village in Dand-e Shahabuddin, which enrolled about 350 boys and girls as of April 2016, was occupied by the Taliban. They used the school as a base for about five months. During a military operation in early 2016, government forces attacked Taliban fighters based at the primary school, shelling the building with mortars and raking it with gunfire. The military forced the Taliban fighters to abandon the school, but the intense battle left the school compound almost completely destroyed.11F[14]

Attacks on schools continue. In 2019, UNAMA verified 70 incidents impacting access to education, including attacks targeting or incidentally damaging schools; the killing, injury and abduction of education personnel; and threats against education facilities and personnel.[15]

UNAMA documented damage to 24 schools as a result of Taliban operations in the first six months of 2019. For example, on April 14, Taliban detonated explosives that caused substantial damage to a high school, hampering education for about 1,000 students.12F[16] Further, on July 1, 2019, two Taliban attackers wearing civilian clothes and armed with AK-47s set up a firing position on the upper floor of a building which had a private school on the ground floor where around 300 students were at their classes. During the operation, one boy and six civilian men were killed and 144 civilians were injured (21 boys, 7 girls, 101 men and 15 women), along with the four attackers.[17]

Afghanistan was among the first countries to endorse the Safe Schools Declaration, joining in May 2015. By endorsing the declaration, Afghanistan committed itself to a number of measures aimed at strengthening the prevention of, and response to, attacks on students, teachers, and schools, including by: collecting reliable data on attacks and military use of schools and universities, providing assistance to victims of attacks, investigating allegations of violations of national and international law and prosecuting perpetrators when appropriate, developing and promoting “conflict sensitive” approaches to education, and seeking to continue education during armed conflict. It also committed to using the Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict.

In April 2016, the education minister wrote to both the Ministry of Interior Affairs and the National Security Council requesting assistance in vacating schools being used for military purposes.13F[18] In 2018, the Afghan government stated that their “National Policy on Prevention and Mitigation of Civilian Harm,” provides specific guidelines to be undertaken by security forces that “strictly prohibits … the utilization of civilian facilities, including schools, hospitals, and clinics, for military purposes.”14F[19]

We encourage the Committee to pose the following questions to the government:

  • Can the government share with the Committee a copy of the provisions in the National Policy on Prevention and Mitigation of Civilian Harm strictly prohibiting the use of schools for military purposes?
  • Are protections for schools from military use included in any other policies, rules, or trainings for Afghanistan’s armed forces?
  • How many schools were either partially or wholly used for military purposes by government security forces during the reporting period, and for what time?

We encourage the Committee to recommend to the government to:

  • Congratulate the government of Afghanistan on endorsing the Safe Schools Declaration, and thereby committing to use the Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use in Armed Conflict.
  • Issue clear and public orders to all security forces to refrain from the military use of schools in line with the Safe Schools Declaration and using the Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict as a minimum standard.
  • Issue clear and public instructions to national and provincial authorities to monitor and report any use of schools by Afghan security forces.
  • Ensure that students deprived of educational facilities as a result of hostilities, the military use of their school, or the need for their school to be repaired or reconstructed, are promptly provided access to nearby alternative schools.
  • Ensure that theministries of interior and education are collecting data on military use of schools by both Afghan security forces and non-state armed groups. Data should include the names and locations of the school being used; the purpose for which they are being used; the duration of the use; the specific security force unit or armed group making use of the school; the enrollment prior to use and attendance during use; impact on students unable to attend school; actions taken by the authorities to end military use of the school; and the damages sustained during the military use of the school.
  • Ensure the ministries of defense and interior establish and implement preventive measures, including advance planning and the provision of necessary logistics and equipment, through coordination with the security forces and the education ministry to avoid the military use of schools, and to vacate them expeditiously where armed forces are using them.
  • Investigate and appropriately prosecute those individuals responsible for attacks on schools or damaging schools in violation of international law.
  • 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 other countries that have endorsed the Safe Schools Declaration.

4.    Lack of Adequate Mental Health Support (article 24)

The Afghan government is failing to provide sufficient psychosocial, or mental health, support to Afghans who have experienced traumatic events, including children.

Forty-one years of war have had a devastating impact on the mental health of millions of Afghans. With large parts of the country facing armed conflict, a weak health system, and a lack of professional health and social workers, mental health services are largely failing to meet the population’s needs.

In 2019, the government spent only US$7 per capita on health services annually, far below the $30 to $40 that the United Nations Commission on Macroeconomics and Health considered appropriate in 2001. The Public Health Ministry says only about 26 cents of that is spent on mental health. While the mental health budget has increased since 2006, it remains below the $3 to $4 per capita the World Health Organization (WHO) has determined is an appropriate investment for mental health systems in low-income countries such as Afghanistan.[20]

We encourage the Committee to pose the following questions to the government:

  • What concrete steps are being taken to provide proactive and timely psychosocial support to survivors of traumatic events, particularly children?
  • What plans does the government have to raise awareness amongst children about existing psychosocial services?
  • Are there plans to train teachers to provide basic psychosocial support to their students?

We encourage the Committee to recommend to the government to:

  • Expand and promote mental health services and psychosocial support for people who have experienced traumatic events related to the conflict.
  • Instruct health workers to provide referrals to mental health services, with special attention to women and children.
  • Consider less expensive ways to provide basic services, such as remote counselling through mobile phones, focusing intervention on specific communities, self-help training, and peer support groups, as well as incentives to increase the number of counsellors in rural areas.  

5.    Child Marriage (articles 2, 6, 19, 24, 28, 34)

In Afghanistan, a third of girls marry before the age of 18.16F[21] Under Afghan law, the minimum age of marriage for girls is 16, or 15 with the permission of the girl’s father or a judge. The minimum age for boys is 18. In practice, the law is rarely enforced, so even earlier marriages occur. The consequences of child marriage are deeply harmful, and include children dropping out or being excluded from education. Other harms include serious health risks—including death—to girls and their babies due to early pregnancy. Girls who marry are also more likely to be victims of domestic violence than women who marry later.17F[22]

In April 2017, the Afghan government launched a national plan to end child marriage.19F[23] But there has been little progress in implementing the plan. Given the government’s poor track record of implementing laws and policies designed to protect the rights of women and girls, there is reason for scepticism about the likely impact of these efforts.20F[24]

We encourage the Committee to pose the following questions to the government:

  • What is being done about the slow progress to end child marriage across the country?
  • Does Afghanistan have plans to change the legal age of marriage to 18 with no exceptions for women and men, in compliance with its obligations under international human rights law?

We encourage the Committee to recommend to the Government to:

  • Reform the law to set the minimum age of marriage at 18 with no exceptions.
  • Fully implement the National Action Plan to end child marriage.
  • Strengthen the role of the province-level Child Protection Action Networks (CPANs). Ensure that educators, communities and local government officials work with the local CPAN to protect the most vulnerable children, children at risk of child marriage and provide them with access to child protection services.

6.   Sexual Abuse of Children (articles 19 and 34)

In November 2019, an Afghan advocacy group disclosed evidence that government officials in Logar province, had sexually assaulted more than 500 boys at state schools.[25] In response to a report on their findings, the activists received threats on Facebook, some from local officials. A spokesman for the Logar police threatened to punish the activists. The National Directorate of Security (NDS), Afghanistan’s intelligence agency, detained two activists who had reported the abuse. The NDS later released a video in which one of the men, clearly under duress, apologized for the report. The activists were released and subsequently left Afghanistan.

While the Afghan Attorney General’s Office has initiated an investigation into the Logar allegations and 18 people have been arrested, no police or senior officials alleged to have been responsible for abuse were included in the arrests. Activists have told Human Rights Watch that provincial officials are seeking to terminate the investigation, regardless of whether it has made progress. A number of diplomatic missions in Kabul have raised concerns about political pressure to cut short the investigation. Afghan authorities have not put into place any measures to protect survivors and witnesses from retaliation.[26]

We encourage the Committee to pose the following questions to the government:

  • During the reporting period, how many individuals have been prosecuted for sexual abuse of children, and how many individuals have been convicted?
  • What protections from potential retaliation are available for survivors and witnesses who participate in investigations and prosecutions?

We encourage the Committee to recommend to the government to:

  • Fully investigate and appropriately prosecute all claims of sexual abuse against children, no matter whether the alleged perpetrator is a government official.
  • Protect and provide psycho-social support to all child victims who bring claims regrading sexual abuse.
  • Ensure all members of the armed forces and police receive instructions on their responsibilities towards children as part of their training.

[1] “Reports on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict,” UNAMA,

[2] Human Rights Watch, “Afghanistan: Attack on Hospital a War Crime: Assault on Kabul Maternity Clinic Shows Cruel Disregard for Civilians,” May 12, 2020,

[3]  “Afghanistan: Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict First Quarter Report: 1 January – 31 March 2020,” UNAMA, April 27, 2020,

[4] ‘Education – Afghanistan’, UNICEF, (Accessed April 13, 2020)

[5] United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and European Commission, “Afghanistan Gender Country Profile—final report: short version,” September 21, 2016, p. 9, on file with Human Rights Watch.

[6] “Afghanistan Statistical Yearbook: 2016-2017,” 2017, pp. 106-7.

[7] Ministry of Education, “Education in Afghanistan: At a Glance, From 2001 to 2016 and beyond,” undated, provided to Human Rights Watch in April 2017 by Deputy Minister of General Education Dr. Ibrahim Shinwari, on file with Human Rights Watch.

[8] Human Rights Watch, “I Won’t Be a Doctor, and One Day You’ll Be Sick: Girls’ Access to Education in Afghanistan,” 2017,

[9] Government of Afghanistan, Central Statistics Organization, “Afghanistan Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey,” p. 125.

[10] United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) et al., “Education 2030: Framework for Action,” December 2015, (accessed June 14, 2017), art. 105.

[11] Rachel Cooper, “Aid dependency and political settlements in Afghanistan,” K4D, September 14, 2018,

[12] Julian Borger, “US to cut $1bn of Afghanistan aid over failure to agree unity government,” The Guardian, March 24, 2020,

[13] Human Rights Watch, “Education on the Front Lines: Military Use of Schools in Afghanistan’s Baghlan Province”, 2016,

[14] Ibid.

[15] “Afghanistan: Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict: 2019,” UNAMA, February 22, 2020,

[16] “Midyear Update on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict: 1 January to 30 June 2019,” UNAMA, July 30, 2019,

[17] “Afghanistan: Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict: 2019,” UNAMA, February 22, 2020,

[18] Letter from Minister of Education to Ministry of Interior Affairs, number 311, April 2016 and Letter from Minister of Education to National Security Council, number 194-196, July 2016, both available in Human Rights Watch, Protecting Schools from Military Use: Law, Policy, and Military Doctrine, May 2019.

[19] Statement by the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan on the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan Protection of Civilians Annual Report, February 12, 2018.

[20] Human Rights Watch, “Afghanistan: Little Help for Conflict-Linked Trauma,” 2019,

[21] UNICEF, “State of the World’s Children 2016,”

[22] Human Rights Watch, “I Won’t Be a Doctor, and One Day You’ll Be Sick.”

[23] Government of Afghanistan and UNFPA, “National Action Plan to End Early and Child Marriage in Afghanistan: 2017–2021,” July 2016, on file with Human Rights Watch, p. 10.

[24] Heather Barr, “Will Afghanistan Follow Through on Promise to End Child Marriage?: Up to One-Third of Afghan Girls Married Before Age 18,” commentary, Human Rights Dispatch, April 20, 2017,

[25] Bede Sheppard, “Afghan Activists Exposing Child Abuse Detained,” commentary, Human Rights Watch dispatch, November 27, 2019,

[26] Human Rights Watch, “Afghanistan: Sexual Assaults Go Unpunished,” February 12, 2020,

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Teenagers stand inside a prison cell at a reform centre in Dohuk, Iraq, February 12, 2017. 

© 2017 Reuters/Azad Lashkari

(New York) – Many governments are not addressing the safety of detained children in their Covid-19 response, Human Rights Watch said today. Available data indicates that the virus is spreading rapidly through closed facilities, including jails and prisons.

Only about 20 countries are known to have released children from detention facilities in efforts to limit the impact of Covid-19. A global survey of media reports found that, by comparison, adult detainees have been released in at least 79 countries in response to the pandemic. While in Afghanistan, Chad, Indonesia, and South Sudan children have been explicitly included in release orders, in most other countries, they have reportedly been left out.
“Child detainees seem to be an afterthought, if they are considered at all, by many governments responding to the Covid-19 crisis,” said Jo Becker, children’s rights advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. “Governments should act to substantially reduce the number of children in detention facilities.”
Detainees are particularly vulnerable to infection due to close proximity and a higher incidence of underlying medical conditions. Access to water, sanitation, and basic medical services is often poor. In many countries, prisons are severely overcrowded.
In March, 2020, the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, Michelle Bachelet, appealed for urgent action to prevent Covid-19 from “rampaging” through places of detention. In the United States, Ohio’s Marion Correctional Institute has one of the highest Covid-19 infection rates in the world – more than 80 percent of the prison’s 2,000 inmates have tested positive for the virus. At a juvenile detention center in the same state, nearly half of the children detained have tested positive.
A 2019 global UN study found that on any given day, hundreds of thousands of children are detained in justice systems worldwide, and that as many as a million children are held in police custody each year. The study found that nearly three-quarters are in pretrial detention and have not been convicted of any offense. Many are held for “status” offenses such as truancy, running away from home, disobedience, underage drinking, and consensual sexual activity between teenagers. Studies in the US have concluded that most juvenile offenders could be released without jeopardizing public safety.
Restrictions imposed on detention facilities to prevent the spread of Covid-19 may help protect children from the virus but often have other negative effects. Many facilities now prohibit face-to-face family contact and restrict children to their cells for 23 or more hours a day. Such isolation can amount to solitary confinement. UN experts recommend a complete ban on solitary confinement for juveniles and say that for adults, solitary confinement for more than 15 days constitutes torture. In the US and UK, nearly all educational programs have been suspended.
International human rights law prohibits detention of children except as a last resort. A large body of research has found that community-based alternatives to detention are often cheaper and have better outcomes, including lower recidivism rates.
On April 9, the UN children’s fund, UNICEF, and the Alliance for Child Protection in Humanitarian Action issued guidance regarding children in detention, urging governments to institute a moratorium on new children entering detention facilities, release all children who can be safely released, and protect the health and well-being of children who must remain in detention.
However, government release orders issued in response to Covid-19 have often prioritized older prisoners, nonviolent offenders, those who have served the majority of their sentence, women, and those in ill health – but did not include detained children. In Portugal, more than 1,500 adults have been released, but the Justice Ministry refused to release children, contending that juvenile detention facilities were under capacity and therefore safe. In South Africa, the president authorized parole for approximately 19,000 “low-risk” detainees nearing the end of their sentence, but children were not mentioned.
Afghanistan and Iraq have excluded from release detainees charged with terrorism or national security offenses, including association with armed groups. As a result, children who have been recruited as soldiers may be excluded from release orders. According to the UN, at least 2,588 children in conflict countries were detained for alleged association with armed groups in 2018. Under international law, children recruited illegally are victims and are entitled to rehabilitation and reintegration services.
Some jurisdictions have taken positive steps to release children or reduce the number of detained children in response to Covid-19. In Brazil’s São Paulo state, justice officials ordered the release of all children held for nonviolent crimes with staff follow-up after their release. In the US, a recent survey of juvenile justice agencies across 30 states found a 24 percent drop in the juvenile population during March due to a sharp reduction in new admissions and earlier releases. In the US state of Maryland, a judge ordered local courts to find alternatives to detention for child offenders and to review detention orders every two weeks.
The authorities should release all children held in juvenile detention facilities, prisons, and other places of detention who are not a substantial and immediate safety risk to others, Human Rights Watch said. They should provide a safe placement to those who do not otherwise have a safe home to return to.
When deprivation of liberty is unavoidable, children should have access to adequate hygiene, sanitary conditions, and medical services, adequate space to enable “social distancing,” and screening and testing for Covid-19 according to the most recent recommendations of health authorities.
“Children should never be detained unless all other options have been exhausted,” Becker said. “The threat of Covid-19 makes the release of children all the more urgent.”
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

“An artisanal mine in the Western region of Ghana. © 2014 Juliane Kippenberg/Human Rights Watch”.

As COVID-19 sweeps the globe, affecting the health and lives of millions, the pandemic is wreaking further economic havoc on the lives of artisanal, small scale miners and their communities.  83% of the world’s mining workforce relies on these mines for their livelihood.  That comes to roughly 40.5 million people. These people were vulnerable before COVID-19 and even more so now.
We the undersigned global civil society organizations and community-based associations work to promote the advancement of human rights and due diligence in minerals supply chains in conflict-affected and high-risk areas as well as the formalization of artisanal and small-scale mining.   
We are calling for immediate and concerted action from governments, financing institutions, international organizations, private sector actors and others to support artisanal mining communities and to shore up their resilience in this time of COVID-19 crisis. It is also essential that we protect hard-won gains related to human rights and due diligence in mineral supply chains in alignment with the OECD Due Diligence Minerals Guidance.   At a time of heightened risks in global mineral supply chains, the carrying out of due diligence and support for on-theground, OECD-aligned initiatives are more important than ever.   
The World Bank conservatively estimates that there are over 41 million people in the artisanal and small- scale mining (ASM) sector globally, at least 30% of which being women. The number of women grows exponentially when secondary activities are factored in. It is estimated that over 150 million people are dependent on the artisanal and small-scale gold sector alone in over 80 countries. 

The vast majority of those who work directly and indirectly in artisanal mining, do so informally and they are amongst some of the world’s poorest. The ILO estimates that more than one million children work in mines and quarries, a reality that is often poverty driven. Artisanal miners extract, pre-process and trade in high-value commodities such as tin, tungsten, tantalum, cobalt and mica that are used in everyday consumer goods from electronics to rechargeable batteries for electric vehicles and solar energy to the medical equipment indispensable to the treatment of COVID-19. Artisanal miners also extract and process lower-value minerals (so-called ‘development minerals’) such as sand, clay, dimension stones and coral – which serve as essential materials for the construction of houses, roads and other infrastructure, propelling economic growth and development at the local level.

The prized nature of these high-value minerals – particularly gold – means that women and men working in the ASM sector are often at risk of being preyed upon by illicit traders. They rarely receive a decent price for their ore or labour, and are often pushed into the sector by poverty and economic hardship. In conflict-affected and high-risk environments they can also be targets of abuse by armed groups, public and private security forces. 

All over the globe and irrespective of the commodity, the closure of borders and legal business channels has disrupted supply chains. Miners are having to accept deeply discounted prices for their ore and products in order to survive. Price drops are more deeply felt by women working in the ASM sector, as they are chronically underpaid for their work and minerals as compared to their male counterparts. Yet, while ASM miners are losing out, there are others who are gaining– especially in the case of gold, where the margin between the global prices and field prices continue to increase.

Where formal channels have collapsed, illicit actors are repositioning themselves to claim an even larger market share, which can increase criminality and insecurity, exaggerate local tensions, create community division, and increase risks to companies that source from the region. ASM typically involves high levels of migratory workforce, which lends itself to the spread of COVID-19 as well as violence against migrant workers. Liquidity in mining communities is drying up and rising food prices is compounding corresponding economic impacts on livelihoods. Economic desperation risks increasing the prevalence of sexual exploitation, gender-based violence and child labour in some mine sites, which may be further exacerbated by school closures.  Mine sites are at greater risk of theft and banditry due to the decreased presence of miners and authorities on site.

Some governments have moved to restrict or shut down some ASM mine sites and in some cases the trade in minerals has not been deemed essential despite the high reliance of local economies on mining. This has more negatively affected women, as men are prioritized to remain on site and maintain access. Despite these official closures and restrictions, many ASM miners continue to dig out of necessity. Those who continue to mine are not only at increased risk of contracting COVID-19, but at risk of extortion and abuse of power by public security actors.  Meanwhile, in some countries, armed non-state actors may also capitalize on the opportunity to take over ASM mine sites as attention is diverted and artisanal miners are vulnerable.

We are deeply concerned about these and other emerging and lasting impacts on artisanal mining communities and the rural economies that depend on them. We are equally concerned that important steps to ensure that supply chains are free of conflict, corruption and human rights violations including, but not limited to, the worst forms of child labour will be seriously eroded.
The COVID-19 crisis has made even more apparent the gaping inequalities in mineral supply chains.  It has also made apparent the critical importance of supply chain due diligence from mine to market.  Now more than ever, we need to invest in the structures and incentives for responsible production, trade and consumption. A safe and responsible artisanal mining sector can be a vector for development and rapid post-COVID economic recovery for millions of women and men. Were it well supported now, it could not only contribute to short term recovery from the impacts of COVID-19, but also function as an important bulwark against illicit trade, poor land management, ecosystem degradation, habitat loss and even wildlife trade, and so prevent disease transmission in addition to countering the effects of climate change. The impacts of mismanaged supply chains and natural resources are truly global and now upon us all.  
We are calling for immediate and concerted action from governments, financing institutions, international organizations, private sector actors and others in order to achieve the following:    
i. A reduction in the potentially devastating impacts of COVID-19 on ASM communities, particularly those that are health and socio-economic related, and acknowledging that women and children may be more acutely affected;
ii. The mitigation and reduction of conflict, criminal, corruption and human rights risks in all mining communities and related supply chains (artisanal, small and large-scale);  
 iii. The protection and preservation of hard-won development and security gains related to formalization of the artisanal sector and supply chain due diligence;
iv. Enhanced resiliency of ASM communities so that they are better prepared for other potential crises in the future;
v. An ASM sector that is ready to act as a driver of rights-based socio-economic development during the recovery period;
vi. Strengthened local civil society actors and human rights defenders who may be risking their own security to protect ASM communities; and
vii. Greater consequences for illegal behavior that rewards armed groups and criminal networks and undermines efforts to mainstream or scale supply chain due diligence.
Recommended actions include:  
  • Call on and activate humanitarian and emergency response networks to deliver dignified aid through cash, and food and health supplies directly to artisanal mining communities in close collaboration with local authorities as well as dignified aid through cash assistance through which miners will have the ability to choose and prioritize their household spending.
  • Governments and private sector actors such as large-scale mining companies should publicly report on their management of COVID-19 including dedicated resources during and after the pandemic.    
  • Invest in, support or reinforce local responses to COVID-19 preventing virus transmission including, but not limited to the installation of hand-washing stations, fever screening kits and the provision of masks or disinfectants that tend not to be otherwise accessible in and around mines sites.
  • Provide health education and information though community-engagement approaches in local languages and ways most accessible and effective amongst ASM communities.
  • Seek collaboration with local health care providers and health authorities to maximize the use of available resources for COVID-19 preparedness and response through improved communication between ASM communities and the health care sector.  Provide logistical, financial and infrastructure support to health workers so that they may better serve ASM communities during and after the pandemic. 
  • Consider whether ASM activities and supply chains should be counted as essential services or prioritized for economic recovery activities given the tremendous importance of ASM as a livelihood activity to the rural poor in many producer nations.
  • Develop operational guidelines for the appropriate continuation of ASM activities in a responsible and safe manner under COVID-19 together with ASM communities and local supply chain actors. 
  • Ensure that development and technical programming in support of the formalization of the ASM sector intended to advance due diligence implementation and to address deeper structural issues of poverty, inequality and human rights can continue uninterrupted.
  • Expand ASM formalization efforts as part of post COVID-19 development priorities, given the documented capacity of formalization to contribute to state revenue through taxes, royalties and other fees, to improve ASM workers’ earnings, working conditions and resilience, and to mitigate environmental impacts. 
  • Pivate sector actors must continue to improve on the carrying out and reporting on supply chain due diligence, and make every effort not to disengage during the current COVID-19 crisis as access to legal markets is needed more than ever.  Companies should not minimize or overlook risks in the face of economic downturn. For example, in the gold sector, they should explicitly refer to the red flags in the 2015 FATF gold typology report to ensure that they are not inadvertently aiding in laundering the proceeds of conflict gold.
  • Governments should investigate and, if appropriate, sanction those refining, processing and trading companies and their owners whose illegal activities benefit armed groups or criminal networks.
  • In producer nations, consider lessening the administrative and financial burden on legal artisanal trade. Explore the provision of added incentives to legal buyers who offer an equitable price, such as via tax breaks as well as via standardized assessments of weights and values such as purity.
  • Support on-the-ground, OECD-aligned due diligence efforts and initiatives that have contributed to the mitigation and reduction of OECD Annex II risks such as the prevalence of conflict, the presence of armed groups in mining and minerals trade, direct or indirect support to non-state armed groups, gross human rights violations, corruption and money laundering.
  • Where feasible, buy from cooperatives or legal entities, reinforcing formalization and legal trade and to get money and food directly in the hands of community members. Work with traders and exporters who demonstrate willingness to participate in, or are already adhering to, due diligence initiatives, to carry out the five steps of the guidance and who are not price-gauging or otherwise exploiting miners.
  • Large-scale mining companies must continue to guarantee the health and safety of their employees in keeping with the ILO Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work, includingthe right to refuse or shut down unsafe work. Companies should also support immediate efforts to address COVID-19 related impacts in the broader communities where they operate. They are also encouraged to work with artisanal mining communities to help bring their product to market via legal means and on equitable terms.  
  • Support local women’s groups and associations directly and ensure that they have meaningful leadership and decision-making opportunities in the delivery or implementation of COVID-19 measures as well as in matters of trade, development and security.  Their leadership will also be critical to inclusive recovery.
  • Invest in local civil society. A stronger civil society is better able to protect the most vulnerable and monitor, draw attention to and possibly close down illicit opportunism. 
  • Engage with international NGOs, who can make direct connections with local actors and provide additional supports where needed. These should not overshadow local capacities and strengths, but compliment and amplify them.
  • Identify and leverage financial contributions from both traditional and non-traditional donors such as financing institutions including the provision of local guarantees, ethical bonds or other instruments. Do so in a way that implements anti-corruption and anti-money laundering measures such as the IMF’s Proposed Framework for Enhanced Fund Engagement.
  • In all conflict-affected and high-risk areas, carry out conflict risk assessments prior to engagement and on an ongoing basis.  Tailor interventions accordingly so as not to inadvertently heighten existing tensions. For example, be wary of blaming and conspiracy theories about the virus’ origin and spread that may target certain groups.
  • Elaborate communication tools in local languages and ways most accessible and effective amongst ASM communities. Explore use of mobile technology as a pricing transparency tool but also to provide miners with the correct information on COVID-19 including national public health policies, prevention and treatment options.
  • Work collaboratively and in solidarity across stakeholder groups to share information and effective practices, and to guard against global threats.  
1. Action des Chrétiens Activistes des Droits de l’Homme à Shabunda (ACADHOSHA), RDC 
2. Action Mines Guinée (Amines)
3. Actions pour la Protection des Droits de l'Homme (APDH), Côte d'Ivoire
4. Afrewatch
5. Alliance for Responsible Mining (ARM) 
6. Artisanal Gold Council (AGC) 
7. Association pour le Développement des Initiatives Paysannes (ASSODIP), RDC
8. Bon Pasteur
9. Bureau d'Études et d'Appui au Développement du Territoire de WALIKALE (BEDEWA), RDC
10. Bureau d’Études Scientifiques et Techniques (BEST), RDC
11. Caritas Zambia 
12. Centre de Commerce International pour le Développement (CECIDE), Guinée
13. Centre National d'Appui au Développement et à la Participation Populaire (CENADEP), RDC
14. Centre National de Coopération au Développement (CNCD-11.11.11)
15. Centre de Recherche sur l’Environnement, la Démocratie et les Droits de l'Homme (CREDDHO), RDC
16. Centre for Trade Policy and Development (CTPD), Zambia
17. Children’s Voice, RDC 
18. Civil Society for Poverty Reduction (CSPR), Zambia
19. Club des Volontaires pour l'Appui aux Peuples Autochtones (CVAP), RDC
20. Coalition of Civil Society Organisations in the Great Lake Region against Illegal Exploitation of Natural Resources (COSOC-GL)
21. Coalition des Volontaires pour la Paix et le Développement (CVPD), RDC 
22. Commission Justice et Paix, Belgium 
23. Council of Churches in Zambia (CCZ), Zambia 
24. Diakonia, Sweden
25. Diamonds for Peace   
26. Dynamique des Femmes des Mines (DYFEM), RDC
27. European Network for Central Africa / Réseau Européen pour l’Afrique Centrale (EurAc)
28. Fonds pour les Femmes Congolaises (FFC)
29. Foro Nacional por Colombia
30. Fundación ALBOAN, Spain 
31. Fundación Atabaque, Colombia
32. Good Shepherd International Foundation
33. Groupe de Recherche et de Plaidoyer sur les Industries Extractives (GRPIE), Côte d'Ivoire
34. Human Rights Watch  
36. Initiative de Femme Entrepreneure pour le Développement Durable (IFEDD)
37. Instituto Redes de Desarrollo Social / Red Social, Peru 
38. Integrity Watch Afghanistan
39. IPIS
40. Jesuit Centre for Theological Reflection (JCTR), Zambia
41. Justice Pour Tous, RDC
42. Kakamega Environmental Conservation and Beautification Organisation (KECBO), Kenya 
43. Kimberly Process Civil Society Coalition    
44. Maniema Libertés (MALI), RDC   
45. Max Impact, RDC
46. Mouvement Ivoirien des Droits Humains (M.I.D.H)  
47. National Council of Churches of Kenya (NCCK)  
48. Norwegian Church Aid 
49. Observatoire Gouvernance et Paix (OGP), RDC
50. Observatoire de la Société Civile Congolaise pour les Minerais de Paix (OSCMP), RDC
51. OECD Watch
52. Organisation Congolaise des Écologistes et Amis de la Nature (OCEAN), RDC 
53. Pact
54. PAX
55. People's Movement for Human Rights Education (MPEDH), Rwanda
56. Réseau pour l’Autonomisation des Femmes des Communautés Minières (REAFECOM), RDC  
57. Réseau Innovation Organisationnelle (RIO), RDC 
58. Responsible Sourcing Network
59. Rights and Accountability in Development (RAID)
60. Rwanda Extractive industry Workers Union (REWU)
61. SARW  
63. The Sentry
64. Social Justice, Côte d'Ivoire
65. Solidaridad
66. Solidarité Féminine pour la Paix et le Développement Intégral (SOFEPADI), RDC  
68. SOMO
69. Sustainable Alluvial Mining Services, Papua New Guinea
70. Terres de Homes  
71. Touche Pas À Mon Cobalt, RDC   
72. Vox Populi Initiative (VPI), RDC  
73. Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association (ZELA)
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

We write in advance of the 87th pre-session of the Committee on the Rights of the Child and its review of Kuwait’s compliance with the Convention on the Rights of the Child. This submission proposes issues and questions that the Committee members may want to raise with the government of Kuwait on the topics of nationality, migrant child abuse in detention, female genital mutilation, child labor, violence against children, child marriage, and protecting students, teachers, and schools during armed conflict.

  1. Nationality (articles 7 and 8)

Nationality laws in Kuwait do not allow Kuwaiti women to pass nationality to their children in the same way as men, and as a result can sometimes prevent children from obtaining Kuwaiti citizenship.[1] The Nationality Law of 1959 has been amended more than a dozen times since its passage, with each amendment creating more stringent requirements for those claiming citizenship. Kuwaiti men can automatically confer nationality to their children, whereas women can only confer nationality when the father is unknown or the “kinship to the father has not been legally established.”[2]

A 1980 amendment to the Nationality Law removed the section that allowed children of Kuwaiti mothers and stateless fathers the possibility to naturalize.[3] Stateless persons in Kuwait are referred to as part of the Bidun community, which is comprised of more than 106,000 persons who claim Kuwaiti nationality but have remained in legal limbo for more than fifty years.[4] In some cases, couples have divorced in an effort to allow their children to apply for citizenship under of the nationality law. However, these children still faced difficulty obtaining citizenship.[5]

Many Bidun children do not have birth certificates and, lacking required identification, struggle to access even the most basic of state services.[6] Bidun seeking other civil documents including marriage, and death certificates, as well as passports, must apply to the Central System to Resolve Illegal Residents’ Status, more commonly known as the Bidun Committee. The Committee is the sole government body through which Bidun can register and seek resolution of their claims for Kuwaiti citizenship.

Bidun children cannot enroll in free government schools and instead attend private schools primarily serving Bidun students, where annual fees run between KD250 and KD450 (US$860 to $1550) per child and parents must pay additional costs for textbooks and uniforms. Bidun parents, as well as Kuwaiti human rights activists and Bidun school administrators, told Human Rights Watch that these schools have inferior resources and standards to those found in government schools. Though many Bidun can children receive free education through a government-administered charity fund established by the Education Ministry, Human Rights Watch has found that not all Bidun children are covered by the fund.[7]  

In instances of divorce, article 110 of the Civil Code and article 209 of the Personal Status Law grant the father legal guardianship of his children regardless of whether a court has ordered that the children live with the mother. Women have told Human Rights Watch that following their divorce, they had to apply to a court to obtain an order for each decision that they wished to make for their child such as registering them at a school. Children can also be removed without their consent from living with their mothers if their mothers re-marry.

We encourage the Committee to pose the following questions:

  • What steps are being taken to ensure women can pass nationality to their children on an equal basis as men?
  • What steps are being taken to ensure that children of Bidun men and women can obtain citizenship?
  • What measures are in place to ensure that children born in Kuwait’s territory will not be stateless?
  • How many children are currently stateless in Kuwait?

We recommend that the Committee call upon the government to:

  • Legally recognize members of the Bidun community and their children and provide them with a path to obtaining nationality.
  • Grant nationality to children born in its territory who would otherwise be stateless.
  • Ensure that members of the stateless community and their children are properly accounted for in official population statistics.
  • Amend the Nationality Law to ensure that Kuwaiti women can pass nationality on to their children on an equal basis as men.
  • Amend article 110 of the Civil Code and article 209 of the Personal Status Law to ensure women have equal rights as men with respect to guardianship and other matters concerning children in divorce.
  • Ensure that in instances of divorce and remarriage the best interest of the child is the primary concern when determining which parent a child should live with and which guardianship rights each parent should have.
  1. Child Marriage (articles 19 and 34)

According to article 26 of the Personal Status Act of 1984, the minimum legal age for marriage is 15 for girls and 17 for boys. However, under article 24 of the Act, both parties may be married before the minimum age if they have both reached puberty. Data regarding child marriages and the frequency with which they occur are difficult to obtain, as government data is not publicly available and it is unclear whether the government collects this data at all. Recent reports estimate that 6 percent of girls under 18 are married.[8] Some reports suggest that the practice is more prevalent in the Bedouin communities (also known as Bedu, a grouping of people with ancestry to nomadic Arab people) than others.[9] Women’s rights activists also reported that women in general marry at a later age but that the practice of child marriage persists mostly in the Bedouin community.[10]

Health research demonstrates that girls who enter marriages at a young age face greater risks in pregnancy, including difficulties during childbirth that can result in death.[11] Child marriage also often ends a girl’s education and can expose her to domestic violence and marital rape.[12]

During its 2015 Universal Periodic Review, Kuwait agreed to examine recommendations to raise the minimum age of marriage to 18 for girls and boys but has taken no steps to do so.[13]

Kuwait has yet to become a signatory on the Convention on Consent to Marriage, Minimum Age for Marriage and Registration of Marriages.

We encourage the Committee to pose the following questions:

  • What steps are the government taking to prevent child marriage, including to raise the minimum age of marriage?
  • Are there monitoring systems in place to identify children most vulnerable to child marriage?
  • What is the number of child marriages in the country, broken down by gender?
  • Do children currently in marriages have access to legal redress including measures to annul the marriage?

We recommend that the Committee call upon the government to:

  • Raise the minimum age of marriage to 18.
  • Take measures to combat the prevalence of child marriage by developing national strategies and action plans to eradicate child marriage including mainstreaming prevention strategies into policies and programs that deal with reproductive health, education, and literacy development.
  1. Female Genital Mutilation (article 19)

Statistics about the prevalence of female genital mutilation (FGM) in Kuwait are difficult to source, and official government data on the practice are not publicly available. A study conducted between 2001 and 2004 found that 38 percent of pregnant Kuwaiti women had undergone FGM as girls, most of them between the ages of 4 and 12.[14] As of this writing, Kuwait had not explicitly criminalized the practice of FGM.

We encourage the Committee to pose the following questions:

  • What steps are the government taking to eliminate the prevalence of FGM?

We recommend that the Committee call upon the government to:

  • Pass a law banning FGM for girls and non-consenting adult women.
  • Take measures to combat the prevalence of FGM, and the practice of FGM by developing national strategies and action plans to eradicate FGM including mainstreaming prevention strategies into policies and programs that deal with reproductive health, education, and literacy development.
  1. Violence Against Children (article 19)

Violence against women and girls is still provided with lenient sentencing under the penal code. Under article 153 of the Kuwaiti penal code, a man who finds his mother, wife, sister, or daughter in the act of adultery (zina) and kills them is given a reduced sentence of either a small fine or a maximum three-year prison sentence. Article 182 of the Penal Code also provides that an abductor who uses force, threat, or deception with the intention to kill, harm, rape, prostitute, or extort a victim is spared any punishment if he marries the victim with her guardian’s permission. Several states in the Middle East have repealed such provisions but Kuwait is one of handful of states in the region that still retains such a provision.[15]

A comprehensive child protection system had not been in place before the Ministry of Health in March 2015 established the Kuwait National Child Protection Program (KNCPP).[16] Kuwait has previously reported to this committee that all Kuwait schools were equipped with a socio-psychological counselling service that could confidentially refer complaints made by teachers, parents, or students to “the highest educational authority” and sanction perpetrators if complaints were verified.[17] Complaints could allegedly be broadcast on radio or television and publicized through the bulletin of the Ministry of Public Education.[18]

In the same report to this Committee, Kuwait alleged that corporal punishment in schools was banned by a statute “dating back to the 1960s.” However, hitting or paddling and other forms of corporal punishment are still legal forms of disciplining children in homes, day care institutions, alternative care settings (including foster homes and emergency care institutions), and penal institutions.[19]

According to a media report, the Ministry of Health in 2019 referred at least 150 cases of child abuse to the Public Prosecutor’s Office.[20] Most of these referrals were against parents for sexual assault or emotional neglect.

We encourage the Committee to pose the following questions:

  • What monitoring mechanisms are in place to identify children most vulnerable to violence in homes, day care institutions, alternative care settings, and penal institutions?
  • What reporting mechanisms are there if a child is subjected to corporal punishment or violence in a care setting?

We recommend that the Committee call upon the government to:

  • Repeal article 153 and 182 of the Kuwaiti penal code which reduce punishments for perpetrators in relation to crimes of violence against women and girls.
  • Ensure an accessible reporting mechanism for children subjected to violence.
  • Introduce awareness-raising programs to educate the public on the problems associated with the hitting or paddling of children.
  • Offer children experiencing violence in their homes support and alternative care, when appropriate.
  1. Migrant Children in Detention (article 37)

Some reports indicate that migrant women in Kuwaiti deportation proceedings are detained with their children.[21] Human Rights Watch has found that “migrant women with children who go through deportation proceedings or who end up in jail also have their children in deportation detention or in jail with them. In some cases their husband is not Kuwaiti and no longer in the country, and in some cases the children were the result of rape or a relationship outside of marriage.”[22] If any of these women give birth while awaiting deportation, they and their newborns are taken to the Women’s Prison.[23]

We encourage the Committee to pose the following questions:

  • Are there specific protections for women and children held in migrant detention centers and are these included in the trainings, rules, policies, and manuals for detention center staff? 
  • Are there identification and reporting mechanisms in place to keep track of children in detention?

We recommend to the Committee that it call upon the government to:

  • Ensure that no child is ever detained for reasons relating to their own immigration status.
  • Where children are held with a parent awaiting detention, consider all alternatives to detention, and ensured decisions are based on the best interest of the child.
  • Ensure that any children held in detention centers have access to appropriate food, medical care, education, and communication with their families.
  1. Child Labor (article 32)

Article 10 of the constitution obligates the state to “watch over the youth and protect it from exploitation.”[24] The labor  law also stipulates that no child can be employed under 14 years of age.[25] However, the United States Department of State reports that Bidun children and children of migrant laborers currently pursue work as domestic laborers, some as young as seven years old.[26] There are also reports of Bidun and migrant children working in the informal sector as street vendors. Efforts to enforce child labor laws in the informal sector are reportedly inconsistent.[27]

We encourage the Committee to pose the following questions:

  • What steps has the government undertaken to identify children (from Bidun, migrant, and other backgrounds) who are working as domestic laborers?
  • What steps has the government taken to monitor the use of child labor in the informal sector?
  • What steps has the government taken to enforce laws against child labor?
  • How many children under the age of 14 are currently working in Kuwait?

We recommend to the Committee that it call upon the government to:

  • Publicly report on the impact of its interventions to prevent and respond to child labor (Bidun, migrant, or otherwise) in the informal and other sectors.
  1. Protection of Education During Armed Conflict (article 28)

As of May 2020, 103 countries have endorsed the Safe Schools Declaration. Kuwait has yet to endorse this important declaration.[28] 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[29]; 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.[30]

We encourage the Committee to pose the following questions:

  • Do Kuwaiti laws, policies, or trainings provide explicit protection for schools and universities from military use during armed conflict?

We recommend to the Committee that it call upon the government to:

  • Endorse and implement the Safe Schools Declaration to deter the military use of schools, including by bringing the Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict into domestic military policy and operational frameworks.

[1] Kuwait Nationality Law (1959), art. 2, provides that “Any person born in or outside Kuwait whose father is a Kuwaiti national shall be a Kuwaiti national,”

[2] Kuwait Nationality Law (1959), art 3.

[3] The 1980 amendment to the Kuwait Nationality Law (1959) removed the phrase “أو كان أبوه مجهول الجنسية أو لا جنسية له” from Article 3.

[4] Human Rights Watch, Prisoners of the Past: Kuwaiti Bidun and the Burden of Statelessness, June 2011,

[5] Open Society Foundations, Without Citizenship: Statelessness, Discrimination and Repression in Kuwait, 2011, available at

[6] Country reports for Human Rights Practices in 2015 – Kuwait; United States Department of State, Bureaucracy of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, available at

[7] Human Rights Watch, Prisoners of the Past: Kuwaiti Bidun and the Burden of Statelessness, June 2011,

[8] Source: OECD (2019), Gender, Institutions and Development Database, Kuwait, available at

[9] Girls Not Brides, “Child Marriage – Kuwait,”  ; and Save the Children Sweden Report “Child Rights Situation Analysis for the Middle East and North Africa Region,” August 2008, Available at

[10] Human Rights Watch interviews in October 2019.

[11] World Health Organization, Fact Sheet: Adolescent Pregnancy, January 2020, Available at

[12] What are the long term impacts of child marriage? Equality Now, May 17, 2019, Available at

[13] Girls Not Brides, “Child Marriage – Kuwait,”  

[14] Rachana Chibber, Eyad El-saleh & Jihad El harmi (2011) Female circumcision: obstetrical and psychological sequelae continues unabated in the 21st century, The Journal of Maternal-Fetal & Neonatal Medicine, 24:6, 833-836, DOI: 10.3109/14767058.2010.531318

[15] Only Algeria, Bahrain, Iraq, Kuwait, Libya, and Syria retain such laws after Palestine repealed its provision in March 2018 see and

[16] Save the Children Sweden Report “Child Rights Situation Analysis for the Middle East and North Africa Region,” August 2008, Available at

[17]  2 October 1998, CRC/C/SR.489, Summary record of 489th meeting, para. 8

[18] Ibid.

[19] Country Report – Kuwait, Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of Children, February 2020, available at

[20] Arab Times Online, “150 Cases of Child Abuse in Probe – Parents Blamed,” 2 October 2019, available

[21] Global Detention Project, “Immigration Detention in Kuwait,” January 2016, available at

[22] Priyanka Motaparthy (former Human Rights Watch researcher), Email Correspondence with Michael Flynn (Global Detention Project), 23 March 2015.

[23] Global Detention Project, “Immigration Detention in Kuwait,” January 2016, available at

[24] Constitution of Kuwait of 1962, Article 10; English translation available at

[25] Law No. 38 of 1964 concerning Labor in the Private Sector, Section 5, arts 17 and 19; available (in Arabic) at

[26] Country reports for Human Rights Practices in 2015 – Kuwait; United States Department of State, Bureaucracy of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, available at

[27] Ibid.

[28] “Safe School Declaration Endorsements,” Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack, accessed June 29, 2019,

[29] Safe Schools Declaration, May 28, 2015, (accessed November 6, 2018).

[30] Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict, March 18, 2014, (accessed November 6, 2018).

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Hamza spent his 15th birthday standing on his toes with sharp nails under his heels. Hundreds of children have been detained by Egypt’s security forces since the military took power in 2013.

© 2020 Mohamed El-Masry for Human Rights Watch

The United States has long justified its support for Egyptian security services as necessary for the security and stability of Egypt and the region. Yet the means by which the Egyptian security services operate include arbitrarily arresting and torturing some of the most vulnerable members of the population – children. Now, with the coronavirus sweeping through the Middle East and conditions for children in detention ripe for a public health crisis, the situation is more dire than ever. The United States must end support to security services that disappear and torture children, and should stand up and press Egypt to end widespread abuses of detainees’ rights and the routine use of detention against children.

The case of a 17-year-old detainee named Wesam illustrates the abuses. For three frantic days in late 2017, Wesam’s family and friends had no idea where he was. Eventually they learned he had been arrested on his way to a protest. In his first days of detention, he was given only the soldiers’ and guards’ leftovers to eat, and he was interrogated for hours on end without being allowed to see a lawyer. He spent the next five months in a crowded cell at a Cairo police station that measured 9 x 9 feet. There were never fewer than 15 detainees, some of them adults, crammed in with him. The cell was so packed that inmates “slept on a shift schedule: a group of us sleeps for six hours, and another group wakes up,” he told us.

As of April 2020, Wesam is still under investigation for alleged membership in the Muslim Brotherhood,  a movement the government outlawed as a “terrorist” organization and recently blamed for spreading the coronavirus. He is required to check in at a police station every day.

But he is one of the lucky ones. Egyptian security services have disappeared other children for up to 15 months and tortured them. In our work with Human Rights Watch and the U.S.-based rights organization Belady: An Island for Humanity, we recently reported on children detained for political reasons in Egypt. Like Wesam, most were held with adults in overcrowded, poorly ventilated cells, and denied adequate food and medical care. Many were also tortured.

Consider the case of Abdullah, who was only 12 when he was disappeared on December 31, 2017, a few months after his older brother joined a group that claims affiliation with the Islamic State (ISIS). For the first six months, Abdullah was held in several detention centers, where he was shocked with electricity, waterboarded, suspended by his right hand, and forced to lie on a burning hot metal bed frame. For the next 100 days, he was held in solitary confinement and denied adequate food, family visits, medical care, and the chance to bathe. After a period of slightly improved treatment, a police officer at the station where he was being held promised in January 2019 to return him to his family. However, when his older sister arrived the next day to collect him, officers denied knowledge of his whereabouts. His family has not seen him since.

Or consider what happened to Hamza, who is currently serving a 10-year prison sentence. He was 14 when forces from the Interior Ministry’s National Security Agency disappeared him in 2016 for allegedly taking part in a demonstration. For two days, officers shocked Hamza with electricity on his genitals, head, and tongue. On the third day, they suspended him from behind by his arms, which dislocated both his shoulders. He was left in an unheated corridor for three more days, in winter, then taken to an underground cell. On Hamza’s 15th birthday, a guard overheard him speaking to another prisoner, which was prohibited, and forced the boy to stand on tiptoe after placing sharp nails under his heels. “He hates his birthday now, he does not want to celebrate it again,” a relative told us.

It shouldn’t take a pandemic to get the United States to press Egypt to stop detaining and torturing children. But as the coronavirus pandemic scythes its way through the Middle East, abuses like these are exacerbating public health risks in the most populous country in the region. Arbitrary arrests and the use of detention as the default for children accused of crimes increases overcrowding in cells that often lack not just running water for handwashing, but also toilets, with inmates forced to use buckets.

Prison authorities seldom provide hygiene products, which prisoners or their families must buy, and reportedly punish prisoners by confiscating items like soap and toilet paper. Even before the pandemic, United Nations experts warned last year that such inhumane conditions “may be placing the health and lives of thousands [of] prisoners at severe risk.”

Egyptian Authorities Ignore Own Laws Against Abuse

Egyptian law requires security officials to bring detainees before prosecutors, who are part of Egypt’s judicial branch, within 24 hours of their arrest. The authorities met that deadline in only one of the 20 cases we documented of child detainees, from 10 governorates across the country. The other 19 children were forcibly disappeared. When authorities eventually presented each child to the prosecution, they falsely reported that the child was arrested that day or the day before.

Egypt’s laws prescribe penalties for security officials who arrest and detain people without a warrant, detain children with adults, or torture detainees to extract confessions. These laws were effectively ignored in all the cases we documented. Fifteen out of the 20 children were physically tortured during interrogation, another was verbally threatened to confess to crimes, and another was badly beaten by prison officials.

Under Egypt’s Child Law, only officials appointed by the justice minister can arrest children, and only specialized Child Courts and Child Prosecution Offices can try them – unless the child was involved in the alleged crime with at least one adult. The authorities have exploited this loophole in scores of cases to try children alongside adults before criminal and terrorism courts.In all the cases we documented, children were detained by police or National Security Agency officers, and they were prosecuted and tried by ordinary as well as special security or military prosecutors and courts.

The Egyptian government refuses to publish accurate information about detainees, including the number of children in detention facilities. But Belady has documented the arrests of more than 2,000 children for political reasons since Egypt’s military took power in 2013. They include 100 of the 180 children arrested in September 2019, following anti-government protests in cities across Egypt, when authorities swept up 4,400 people including protesters, politicians, lawyers, and bystanders.

U.S. Obligations in Stopping Abuse

U.S. law and international law – specifically, the prohibition on support for internationally unlawful acts – require the United States to ensure that its support to Egypt is not contributing to serious human rights abuses, including deprivation of the right to life. To accomplish this, Congress should condition U.S. security support to Egypt on an end to the disappearance and torture of children. Congress should also stop including language that allows the Secretary of State to waive human rights conditions on U.S. aid in the name of national security – an allowance that’s made year after year, as if Egypt’s human rights abuses are never quite bad enough.

The virus that causes COVID-19 adds a public health imperative for the United States to press Egypt to release children who should not have been detained in the first place. Other countries in the region have released thousands of detainees. The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has called on all governments to “urgently release all children” from detention if they can safely return to their families or if there are other alternatives to detention. UNICEF also has urged an immediate moratorium on any new transfers of children to detention facilities, due to the heightened risk of developing COVID-19 in detention.

Despite these appeals, the Egyptian authorities have conditionally freed only a few detainees, while carrying out new arrests, including people who allegedly spread “false news” about the virus and face five years in prison, and health workers who complained on social media about a lack of masks.

Egypt’s arbitrary arrests and ill-treatment of children continue. Last December, National Security Agency forces arrested 47 children from their homes in Suez. The children disappeared until mid-March, when they reappeared in a prosecutor’s office. They had not been given a change of clothes. Some no longer had their shoes. Only five have been released.

The abuses of children are symptomatic of widespread, serious rights abuses by Egyptian security services. While such abuses continue, the United States should end support for abusive security services, call for the release of detainees and for alternatives to detention, and publicly denounce such gross human rights abuses – to respect the rights of the children, and to contain an impending disaster.

Aya Hijazi is Co-Director, Belady and Bill Van Esveld is Associate Director, Children's Rights Division. 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Ali al-Nimr is one of at least three Saudi men currently on death row for protest-related crimes committed when they were children.

© 2011 Eshaparvathi/Creative Commons

UPDATEOn April 28, the governmental Saudi Human Rights Commission issued a statement confirming that child offenders convicted of terrorism crimes would be spared the death penalty, but remains unclear whether they would benefit from the maximum prison term of 10 years for children. It remains unclear whether Saudi authorities will consider individuals tried in the Specialized Criminal Court, the country's terrorism tribunal, but not convicted under the 2017 counter terrorism law as terrorism detainees.

(Beirut) – Saudi Arabia has introduced criminal justice changes that will curb the death penalty for some child offenders and end flogging as a punishment for some crimes, Human Rights Watch said today. Saudi Arabia should make the prohibitions on flogging and on executing children absolute.

The local newspaper Okaz confirmed both decreed changes but clarified that they do not apply to certain categories of offenses known as qisas, or retributive justice – usually for murder – or hudud, serious crimes defined under Saudi Arabia’s interpretation of Islamic law that carry specific penalties. People convicted in hudud cases could still face flogging, and child offenders convicted in hudud or qisas cases could still face the death penalty.

“While positive, these changes don’t go far enough to protect children from major flaws in Saudi Arabia's notorious criminal justice system including the risk of torture, unfair trials, and the death penalty,” said Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “These changes should be merely a starting point for a complete and transparent overhaul of Saudi Arabia’s criminal justice system.”

Saudi Arabia has one of the highest execution rates in the world and executes people for crimes including murder, drug smuggling, rape, armed robbery, and terrorism offenses. It is one of only a handful of countries that impose the death penalty for child offenders. While the president of the Saudi Human Rights Commission publicly stated that the death penalty for child offenders had been abolished by royal decree, the Saudi Press Agency, the country’s official news agency, has not yet announced either change.  

The decreed changes cited by Okaz appear to expand on a law introduced in 2018, the “Juvenile Act,” which provides some protections for children involved with the criminal justice system. The law sets the maximum prison term for anyone convicted of committing a crime before they turn 18 at no more than 10 years, but this limitation does not apply to qisas and hudud cases.

The new decree would allow for applying the 2018 law’s provisions retroactively, meaning that prosecutors are obliged to review the cases of convicted children and drop punishments for those who have already served 10 years. However, it appears the new regulations would exclude those convicted on terrorism-related offenses.

At least three Saudi men are on death row for protest-related crimes committed when they were children. Ali al-Nimr, Daoud al-Marhoun, and Abdullah al-Zaher were arrested for their alleged protest participation and violence against security forces in 2011 and 2012. Their trials by Saudi Arabia’s terrorism tribunal, which culminated in death penalty sentences in 2014, were marred with flagrant due process violations. The three men may be eligible for reduced sentences under the new regulations if the Saudi authorities do not classify their cases as terrorism related.

Human Rights Watch has documented longstanding due process violations in Saudi Arabia’s criminal justice system that make it difficult for a defendant to get a fair trial even in capital cases.

In April 2019, Saudi Arabia carried out a mass execution of 37 men, 33 of whom were from the country’s Shia minority community. One, Abd al-Kareem al-Hawaj, was a child at the time of his alleged offenses.

In June 2019, Saudi prosecutors sought the death penalty against an 18-year-old, Murtaja Qureiris, who allegedly committed some of his offenses when he was just 10 or 11 years old and who was arrested at 13. Later that month, following international pressure, he was spared the death penalty and instead sentenced to 12 years in prison. On April 8, 2020, Saudi authorities briefly posted an execution announcement to the Saudi Press Agency website for a man convicted of murder when he was a child, but the announcement was removed later that day. The Saudi authorities have not revealed whether the execution was carried out.

International law includes an absolute prohibition on the death penalty for crimes committed by children. The Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which Saudi Arabia is a party, prohibits capital punishment for anyone who was under 18 at the time of the crime. Human Rights Watch opposes capital punishment in all countries and under all circumstances. Capital punishment is unique in its cruelty and finality, and it is inevitably and universally plagued with arbitrariness, prejudice, and error.

Most recently, in 2018, the United Nations General Assembly said that countries should establish a moratorium on the use of the death penalty, progressively restrict the practice, and reduce the offenses for which it might be imposed, all with a view toward its eventual abolition. Then-UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on all countries in 2013 to abolish the death penalty.

International human rights law also prohibits judicial verdicts imposing corporal punishment, including flogging, as constituting torture or inhuman or degrading treatment.

Saudi Arabia should enact further legal changes to halt all executions of offenders and all flogging punishments without exception, Human Rights Watch said.

“Criminal justice reform is important, but Saudi Arabia also needs to begin the hard work of reforming and professionalizing the entire justice system so that all Saudi citizens and residents have confidence that they will receive a fair trial,” Page said. “In the meantime, the government should immediately commute the death penalty for every child and all flogging sentences.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

© 2019 Dadu Shin for Human Rights Watch

Several weeks into lockdowns around the globe, there are more and more indications that violence against children in the home is on the rise. Many parents are stressed and anxious over their jobs, finances and health, and need to look after their often bored or restless children all day long. Even before the pandemic, children were at the greatest risk of violence when in their own home. Now, the danger of abuse is even greater still.

Most European countries have imposed lockdowns, with several child helplines noticing an increased demand. In Spain, a helpline has registered 475 cases of children seeking help since the lockdown started. In about 200 of those cases, children said they experienced physical violence. The organisation running the helpline warned, “many children and adolescents are suffering more violence and vulnerability than ever."

In one of the worst-affected regions of northern Italy, a Juvenile Court issued 92 urgent measures for the protection of minors between 10 and 26 March alone. In one case, a father reportedly threatened his wife and children with a kitchen knife, exemplifying how children are often gravely affected by domestic violence against women. And reports of gender-based domestic violence have also risen sharply across Europe since the start of the lockdown.

France and Germany have seen an increase in violence against children reported to helplines, too, including the death of a 6-year-old boy in France from physical violence at the hands of his father. According to Child Helpline International, a global network of national helpline associations, most of its members - in Europe and beyond - have been seeing a significant increase in the numbers getting in contact over the past few weeks.

The reports of violence against children that have emerged so far are likely only the tip of the iceberg, as lockdown situations often make it harder for victims to find the privacy and tools necessary to reach out. The situation is compounded because teachers, who frequently identify cases of child abuse, are unable to monitor and report cases.

According to a United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) study conducted prior to the pandemic, three-quarters of young children (aged 2-4) experience either psychological aggression or physical punishment (or both) by their caregivers at home. Exposure to violence can impair children’s brain development and is linked to lower educational achievement, as well as higher rates of anxiety, depression, substance abuse, and suicide. Children with disabilities are at heightened risk of violence, a UN study has also found, and may therefore also be at particular risk during the coronavirus lockdown.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres made an unusual appeal to the world on 16 April. Rather than speaking up on threats to international peace and security, he raised the alarm around abuse and exploitation of children in the context of the coronavirus lockdown, and urged: “Let us protect our children and safeguard their well-being.”

Guterres’ appeal makes detailed recommendations on how to ensure that children can get child protection services, as well as food, health care, and schooling in the pandemic. These recommendations could guide governments in their response. To boost protection against violence in the home, Guterres calls for child protection services to be designated as essential, something that is currently not the case in many countries. On the contrary, many child protection services are operating at a reduced level due to the infection risks.

However, there are exceptions: Several weeks into the pandemic, Germany classified child protection staff as essential workers who are allowed to continue work. Other countries should follow suit. Global experts on child protection agree that there is a dire need for continued mental health and psychosocial support services, child protection case management, emergency alternative care, as well as accessible helplines and other child-friendly reporting mechanisms.

Millions of children are currently left with little access to protection and support. Rather than leaving these children exposed to violence behind closed doors, governments have a heightened responsibility. They should step up now, before it is too late.

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