Committee on the Rights of the Child
30 September 2013
The Committee on the Rights of the Child today completed its consideration of the combined third to fourth periodic report of Luxembourg on its implementation of the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Presenting the report, Jean-Marc Hoscheit, Permanent Representative of Luxembourg to the United Nations Office at Geneva, said that Luxembourg was a multicultural society with many immigrants, which created specific challenges when it came to the integration of children in society. Taking into account the exceptional linguistic and social diversity of students in Luxembourg’s schools, a plan was devised to boost socio-vocational integration, help young persons to manage their personal career paths, and promote continuing education through the “Maison de l’orientation”. Other efforts undertaken for the promotion and protection of children’s rights included launching a national programme for the promotion of reproductive health; conducting awareness-raising campaigns on the negative effects of alcohol consumption on pregnant women and their unborn children; and reforming secondary education and domestic violence legislation.
In the interactive dialogue that followed, the Committee praised Luxembourg on the clear and detailed information it had provided on its implementation of the Convention. Experts raised issues concerning measures taken to facilitate the integration of migrant children in society, particularly in the education system, awareness of the principles of the Convention among young children and adolescents, opportunities for young persons to express their views, voice concerns and lodge complaints, and the withdrawal by Luxembourg of reservations on the Convention. Questions were also asked about the country’s rate of school drop-outs, juvenile justice and the detention of minors, the level of participation of civil society in the drafting of the country report, and the distinction between legitimate and illegitimate children in domestic legislation.
In concluding remarks, Renate Winter, Country Co-Rapporteur for Luxembourg, said that there were not many problems in Luxembourg but the challenges that remained were difficult ones. The Committee commended the country on the progress it had made, and, bearing in mind that Luxembourg had all the necessary resources, believed that it could improve even more the situation of children’s rights.
Mr. Hoscheit said that, despite being a small country, Luxembourg had many specificities and, therefore, was facing very specific challenges. Luxembourg had always been involved in international exchange and reflection, and was keen to get its standards and practices up to the ideals required by the Convention.
The delegation of Luxembourg included representatives from the Ministry for Family Affairs and Integration, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Education and Vocational Training, and the Permanent Mission of Luxembourg to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
The next public meeting of the Committee will take place at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 1 October, when the Committee will consider the combined second and third periodic report of Monaco (CRC/C/MCO/2-3).
The combined third and fourth periodic report of Luxembourg can be read here: CRC/C/LUX/3-4.
Presentation of the Report
JEAN-MARC HOSCHEIT, Permanent Representative of Luxembourg to the United Nations Office at Geneva, presenting the report, said that Luxembourg’s ongoing commitment to the rights of the child was obvious in many areas and was the result of a firm political commitment by successive Governments. Luxembourg was a multicultural society with many immigrants, which created specific challenges when it came to the integration of children in society. The country’s population had seen an increase of between 12.3 and 22.2 per cent in recent years. Consequently, the number of children in secondary schools had also increased by 20 per cent during the period 2001-2009, which created the need to invest additional resources in infrastructure.
Concerning specific efforts undertaken by Luxembourg to promote and protect the rights of the child, in March 2013 a structured dialogue was established with the youth through the initiative “Youth Guarantee”, the aim of which was to introduce various measures for young job-seekers. Turning to health care, in July 2013 the Ministries of National Education, Equal Opportunities and Family Affairs had launched a national programme for the promotion of reproductive health. The first steps under that new action plan had already been made, aimed at raising awareness about reproductive health issues among young persons. In addition, the Centre of Public Research had published two reports on mothers and children, and had also launched an awareness-raising campaign for pregnant women and their partners, drawing their attention to the negative effects of alcohol on the health of the foetus.
A reform of domestic violence laws was currently underway. In the context of that reform many constructive discussions had taken place between civil society, the Government and other stakeholders. The amended law on domestic violence introduced a number of improvements concerning the treatment of victims, adults and children.
Reform of secondary education was also underway. Taking into account the exceptional linguistic and social diversity of students in Luxembourg’s schools, a plan was devised to boost socio-vocational integration, help young persons to manage their personal career paths, and promote continuing education through the “Maison de l’orientation”. Further, Luxembourg had identified the need to provide ethical training in values, taking into account the different philosophical, religious and cultural beliefs of its population. It had also introduced a new system of assessing students on the basis of their skills, and had set up an internet platform to disseminate relevant information on this new pedagogical approach.
A new programme assessing the language skills of newly-arrived foreign students had been put in place, so that better support could be provided to those students, with a view to helping them join regular classes as soon as possible after arriving in the country.
Moreover, an action plan had been set up for persons with disabilities, based on a study looking at inclusive efforts made within the school system in Luxembourg. Results of the analysis would be published soon so as to make schools more aware of the principles of inclusion, enable them to facilitate implementation of an inclusive strategy, and encourage them to ensure that teachers and students benefited from known experiences on the ground. It was inevitable, however, that in certain cases there were students who could not be placed in mainstream classes. An awareness-raising publicity campaign would be launched soon, aiming to show that children with disabilities struggled not only with their disability but also with society barriers in their daily lives. Special institutes had been established specializing in autism, where autistic children could engage in extracurricular activities.
Questions by Experts
PETER GURAN, Committee Member acting as Country Rapporteur for Luxembourg, thanked the delegation for a very clear presentation and pointed out at the outset that Luxembourg was a country which had been enjoying long-term political and economic stability. Moreover, Luxembourg was known as a country actively participating in many initiatives in the field of human rights, particularly concerning gender equality and human rights in the family environment, and it played an important role within European structures in terms of working for the protection of children’s rights. Mr. Guran said that the national action plan for children had not been implemented in the last 10 years, and there did not seem to be a clear structure for the implementation of the Convention. What would the recently established inter-ministerial working group do to change that? Did civil society representatives participate in the group and how was the work of non-governmental organizations included in the work of the working group? Also, was there child participation in initiatives about the rights of the child at the school, community and State level? How did the complaint mechanism for children function and were children aware that they had the opportunity to lodge complaints? Did Luxembourg have plans to ratify the third Optional Protocol to the Convention? Concerning the children of migrant families, statistics showed that those groups of children were characterized by poor attendance at school and a high drop-out rate. What clear policy did Luxembourg have in place to deal with problems facing migrant children and to ensure that they had equal opportunities as all other children living in Luxembourg?
RENATE WINTER, Committee Member acting as Country Co-Rapporteur for Luxembourg, began by asking whether Luxembourg was considering to withdraw its reservations on the Convention, particularly on articles 2, 6, 7, and 16. A lot had been done to ensure the full implementation of the principles of the Convention in domestic legislation, but it was not clear where and how the interests of the child were taken into account. It was important, therefore, to take measures to ensure that the views of the child were respected. Children should have the opportunity to express their views regardless of their age, and children’s views should be taken seriously into consideration in legislation and other programmes concerning the rights of the child.
An Expert said that Luxembourg had provided detailed information to the Committee, which showed the interest of the country in engaging in a fruitful dialogue with the Committee Members. It was obvious that in Luxembourg children’s rights were respected and upheld, but there was a need to go beyond that. Luxembourg had yet to ratify two international instruments, including the Convention on the Rights of All Migrant Workers and their Families, which would help to strengthen the rights of the child, and the Convention on inter-country adoption. Was any action being undertaken in that regard?
Concern had previously been expressed about children of anonymous birth not having the right to know their parents. Was Luxembourg planning to review the issue of anonymous childbirth so that children would have the opportunity to know their origin? Concerning children born out of wedlock, were there any measures introduced, such as a medical examination, to help establish parentage and provide proof for maternity or paternity?
An increased inflow of migration had changed the dynamics of society, said an Expert, and asked in what ways migrant children were involved in consultation mechanisms. Was particular emphasis placed on migrant children and were their different circumstances taken into account? How many consultations had been held, how many topics had been discussed, and how did the outcomes of consultations been used in policymaking?
Focusing on the use of internet by children and adolescents, an Expert asked how much access boys and girls had to the internet and wanted to know whether that had an impact on families. What internet monitoring services were in place to protect children and adolescents?
An Expert asked what the outcomes were of efforts undertaken by Luxembourg to ensure that the provisions of the Convention and the two Protocols were well-known among children themselves; who were the beneficiaries of those international instruments. Was the Children’s Parliament still running? If so, then what were the competences of that institution?
Was there a database with disaggregated information on all children living in Luxembourg? In cases where the parents were divorced and each of them had a new partner, the consent of the parent’s new partner was needed for the child to have the right to live with one of its parents. What happened if neither couple agreed to take the child in? A distinction between legitimate and illegitimate children persisted in legislation in Luxembourg and needed to be eliminated to avoid stigmatization in society.
Response by Delegation
The delegation began its response to the questions asked by the Experts by saying that membership of the European Union posed certain restrictions with regard to ratifying international instruments. The delegation stressed, however, that by no means did that mean that Luxembourg did not care about the issues related to those international instruments not yet ratified.
Luxembourg had been working to identify its priorities in terms of adolescent and childhood issues, on the basis of which action plans with specific goals were formulated by various Government Departments. The aim of the National Children’s Bureau was to identify problems facing children with a view to finding the best possible solution.
The Chairperson of the National Committee for the Rights of the Child was still appointed by the Minister for Family Affairs, but work was being done to ensure that that the Committee was independent, especially in terms of its budget. Members of the Committee were all volunteers and had no contract with the State.
Luxembourg was one of the first States to have signed the third Protocol to the Convention and ratification was currently underway. Elections were coming up in October, and it was expected that the Protocol would be ratified after the elections.
Concerning anonymous child birth, the delegation said that the system of anonymous had been originally introduced in order to protect pregnant women against any obligation to have an abortion and to reduce infanticide. The Ministry for Family Affairs had the responsibility to undertake research into a child’s origin and establish the child’s parentage. Steps were currently being taken to move towards establishing a secret, rather than an anonymous, childbirth, with the State being the depository of the parent’s secret identity. A secret registry would be set up to be consulted whenever necessary. There would also be a possibility to remove secrecy, with the authorization of the mother or the child concerned in cases where one was looking for the other.
The delegation’s report had been accompanied by shadow reports, which was testament to the fact that civil society was fully involved in all initiatives and policies on the rights of the child. Projects were developed in collaboration with non-governmental organization representatives.
Concerning the issue of the participation of migrants at various levels, the delegation said that a new bill was being introduced which would create a compulsory reference framework to serve as the main reference point for all concerned. Children of different age groups would be involved in that project. There was frequent exchange of good practices with other Benelux countries, and recently a seminar had been organized in collaboration with Benelux countries on ”What is learnt early, is applied early”.
The Parliament for Youth was a structure with a legal basis, open to all young persons living in Luxembourg. As Luxembourg was a small country, all children interested in participating in the Parliament for Youth could be accommodated. The Parliament was free to deal with all topics of interest to young persons. Its Secretariat was funded by youth organizations, and its structure was very closely linked to civil society, although it remained an autonomous, independent body. The young persons involved in the Parliament sometimes also sat on various civil society committees.
A youth information centre travelled across the country and informed children of the topics addressed by the Parliament for Youth, and children had the opportunity to express their own views on the issues affecting them. A structured dialogue at the European Union level was ongoing, and representatives of the Parliament for
Youth participated in that dialogue. The topics addressed included asylum policy and environmental issues, such as climate change. The Higher Council for Youth brought together young persons and representatives of civil society who worked with children and young persons.
Migration was a major challenge for Luxembourg, whose aim was to involve all persons and children in political discussions so as to create tomorrow’s Luxembourg together. Almost all communes now had specific committees dealing with immigration issues and were actively looking at how immigrants were incorporated into all aspects of life, including sport activities and other community events.
The delegation said that some of the reservations on the Convention were likely to be withdrawn soon, but as Luxembourg was in a pre-electoral period, it all depended on the outcome of the elections scheduled for October. It was generally expected that the majority of current draft laws, including those providing for the withdrawal of reservations, would be taken forward.
According to a new draft law on parentage, if a father refused to take a DNA test to ascertain paternity he would be presumed to be the father of the child in question. Concerning the law about seeking authorization from parents’ partners before children born out of wedlock could live with one or the other parent, the delegation said that the article in question had been removed from a new draft law and so the relevant reservation on the Convention was likely to be withdrawn.
The notion of the best interests of the child was only introduced in Luxembourg’s law in 2008 but the concept had been applied for many years in divorce rulings about custody and visitation rights. About taking into account the child’s views regardless of age, the delegation said that it was not reasonable to ask a child of four years old to express his or her views on their parents’ divorce and decide which of the two parents they wanted to live with. In such cases, a specialized lawyer was appointed who would find out the views of the child and relate them to the court. The views of older children and adolescents were heard directly by the judge.
Regarding the distinction between legitimate and illegitimate children, the delegation said that the distinction was made only at the legal level and would be removed as soon as the new draft laws were introduced.
Questions by Experts
RENATE WINTER, Committee Member acting as Country Co-Rapporteur for Luxembourg, asked what Luxembourg was doing to prevent vulnerable children from being exposed to dangers through use of the internet. Did the national strategy for the prevention of all forms of violence against children include a clear prohibition of corporal punishment? The system of closed institutions operating in Luxembourg was hard to understand, said Ms. Winter. Did the decision of sending a child offender to a closed institution or a prison rest with the judge? Was there no separate juvenile prison in the country? There did not seem to be a separate juvenile legal system, so a judge had the right to send children to a closed institution for criminal offences as well as for problematic behaviour without specifying the time that the child would spend in detention. Also, the Committee had learnt that there were isolation rooms in those closed institutions, with children known to spend as long as 10 days in isolation. All those practices were against the rights of the child. What mechanisms did Luxembourg have in place to monitor the situation with regard to child detention and what could be done to deal with gaps in the legislation for juvenile offenders?
PETER GURAN, Committee Member acting as Country Rapporteur for Luxembourg, said that Luxembourg being a small country did not justify the detention of children in adult detention centres, and asked whether Luxembourg was re-assessing the situation. Were there concrete programmes for migrant children living in the country, given that almost half of the children in Luxembourg were not from Luxembourg?
An Expert asked how effective the activities of Luxembourg’s parenting training programmes were because hard-to-reach families usually did not participate in such programmes. What was Luxembourg doing to reach those families and what kind of counselling was provided to parents, also taking into account the emotional needs of the child?
Concerning children with disabilities, an Expert wondered to what extent Luxembourg was adopting specific measures with a view to creating a truly inclusive society, particularly in the area of education. To what extent were children with physical and mental disabilities being included in mainstream schools and what resources had Luxembourg committed to that? Did children with disabilities have the opportunity to participate in sport and other activities on an equal footing with other children?
Response by the Delegation
The delegation said that the issue of children in conflict and the challenges facing them was important to Luxembourg and was something it was dealing with through its daily diplomatic activity, since Luxembourg itself was not involved in a conflict.
Concerning the schooling of foreign children, the delegation said that Luxembourg was currently in the process of a paradigm shift and the focus was on ensuring that the whole of society could benefit from the country’s increasingly multilingual and multicultural profile. From 2010 onwards schooling was provided to children from the age of three years old, who also had the opportunity to learn, among other things, Luxembourgish, if that was not a language spoken at home. Many immigrants had arrived from Portugal and the Balkans, and the main challenge for the children of those families was that they had no knowledge of any of Luxembourg’s official school languages. Comprehensive support was provided to those pupils and to their parents to facilitate the integration process. In September 2009, 827 new pupils were enrolled in Luxembourg’s secondary schools without having received prior schooling in the country. Additional support was provided to those pupils by a specialized team of teachers.
In 2009, a competence language approach was introduced to enable children to make progress at their own pace. The individual profile of each child was taken into account in that regard. Teaching was carried out on an individual basis under that programme, whose primary objective was to help children learn the languages of teaching in the Luxembourg schooling system. The language of teaching in primary education and the first stages of secondary education was German, but the main subjects in the second half of secondary education were taught in French.
Concerning drop-outs, a set of measures had been taken to help drop-outs back to school, including a second-chance school established in 2011. In 2012, 47 pupils completed their schooling in that institution, which was a significant number of pupils by Luxembourg’s standards.
Concerning early childhood education, the delegation said that since 2009 the number of places in crèches allocated to pre-school aged children had seen a massive increase from 4,000 to 52,000, thanks to efforts made jointly by the Government and local communities.
The delegation said that significant efforts had been made by Luxembourg in recent years to improve the consistency and complementarity of policies aimed at pregnant women. Those included measures to improve sexual and reproductive health, a programme facilitating access to contraceptives, and other steps aiming to reduce the number of abortions carried out. The project had been very effective so far.
At the same time, medical staff provided information and professional support to the target population, including young couples, young mothers, and pregnant women. In July 2013, a national programme for emotional and sexual health had been launched, paying particular attention to awareness-raising. “Baby plus” was another programme successfully implemented in the south of country, likely to spread across the rest of the country. Breastfeeding consultations were held with mothers across the country, with an input from skilled recruited professionals.
Regarding mental health, the delegation said that a programme had been in place for a while but had been intensified since 2005 to improve the psychiatric support and healthcare provided to children and adolescents. In 2006, an assessment of the mental health of adolescents and children across the country had been carried out in collaboration with several Ministries. The aim was to understand the problems facing young persons on the ground. Several recommendations were made, based on which many improvements to the system were introduced, including improved data collection practices and instruments. Particular attention was paid to early intervention mechanisms, whereby persons at risk were put in contact with the relevant services as early as possible. The first comments had been very positive so far.
A national programme for the promotion and protection of breastfeeding was drafted in 2010. Healthcare professionals and a wide range of associations active on the ground had participated in the drafting of that programme, along with an inter-ministerial committee and a group of gynaecologists. The rate of Caesarians in Luxembourg was currently around 30 per cent.
Luxembourg’s reported suicide rate was not always accurate because, as was the case with all small countries, relative figures were sometimes blown out of proportion. For example, an increase to three suicides per year from zero was deemed as excessive, even though the number went back to zero the following year. Nevertheless, Luxembourg was taking the matter seriously and was providing assistance and counselling to young persons who needed it. Communication was also established with the parents to help them deal more effectively with such issues. Separate help lines were available for children/adolescents in distress and for parents. A national suicide programme was currently being prepared.
Measures were taken through a consistent inter-ministerial approach to promote a more balanced diet combined with increased physical activity, as a means of fighting against obesity levels. Obesity rates had been on the decline in recent years. Alcohol abuse issues had been analysed with help from an international group of experts and measures were taken to educate the population on the risks involved in the excessive consumption of different types of alcohol.
Concerning children with disabilities, the delegation said that parents were free to decide what type of school their children would attend. Some parents chose specialized rather than mainstream schools because they found that their children learnt more and progressed more quickly there. Also, children in need of intensive physical assistance were often in specialized centres, because it would be extremely difficult for them to attend mainstream schools. Children with autism were integrated in mainstream schools and followed the same curriculum as other children but with additional assistance. Special accommodation in mainstream schools was provided to children with special needs to enable them to complete assignments and take exams. All public buildings must be accessible to persons with disabilities.
A substantive debate on young offenders had been going on for almost 20 years. Delinquents must be regarded and treated as victims, not as criminals. Luxembourg had always been reluctant to create closed institutions for children because closed institutions were seen as a form of punishment. As times changed, closed institutions for minors were created to ensure that children were not placed in the same institutions as adult detainees, which would have been the only other option. A new security centre for young persons had been built and would soon be opened under the authority of the Ministry for Family Affairs.
Concerning solitary confinement in closed institutions, the delegation said that there was a security isolation unit where the maximum duration of confinement (10 days) had been applied only once. The minor involved had used excessive violence against other detainees and security personnel, which constituted an exceptional incident. Boys and girls were held in the same security centre but on different floors. Children under the age of 15 years old were only very rarely placed in security centres.
Criminal laws for young persons did not exist in Luxembourg, so, strictly speaking, there was no deprivation of liberty for minors, only corrective measures which sometimes involved detention. Young offenders were not convicted of crimes; they were rehabilitated so they would not re-offend, which accounted for the absence of a fixed time period for the detention of minors. The focus was on providing young offenders with a plan for the future, as a means of ensuring that they would not re-offend.
The number of foster families was on the rise in Luxembourg and the system of foster family placements was expected to be used more widely in the future. As Luxembourg was a multicultural country, it was important to take into account the cultural environment of the child and find a foster family which would provide the same or a very similar cultural and linguistic environment.
Children above the age of 16 years old could only very exceptionally be tried as adults by a youth judge. That happened very rarely in cases where very serious and violent crimes had been committed, such as murder or abduction.
Luxembourg had ratified the Optional Protocol on children involved in armed conflict in 2002 and had recently included special provisions in its criminal code to cover the principles of the Optional Protocol. In accordance with a recent 2013 European Union directive, Luxembourg was in the process of preparing a new bill for unaccompanied minors.
Immigration into Luxembourg had been different from that into France and Germany which mainly consisted of North African persons, so female genital mutilation was not as serious a problem as in other European countries. Nevertheless, in 2011, an awareness-raising initiative had been launched by the National Women’s Committee in collaboration with non-governmental organizations and the Ministries of Health and Family Affairs, targeting healthcare professionals. Civil society organizations had been informed of the issue and were prepared to deal with it in case it escalated in the future.
RENATE WINTER, Committee Member acting as Country Co-Rapporteur for Luxembourg, said that there were not many problems in Luxembourg but the challenges that remained were difficult ones. There were many good practices in Luxembourg from which other countries could learn a great deal. Luxembourg, too, could learn a lot from other countries, for example Switzerland on the issue of juvenile justice. Remaining challenges in Luxembourg included legislative needs, mainly to do with the provision of specific definitions in legislation. The Committee commended the country on the progress it had made, and, bearing in mind that Luxembourg had all the necessary resources, believed that it could improve even more the situation of children’s rights.
JEAN-MARC HOSCHEIT, Permanent Representative of Luxembourg to the United Nations Office at Geneva, thanked the Committee for its contribution to the interactive dialogue and said that peer reviews were extremely important exercises. Comments, questions, and recommendations would allow Luxembourg to move forward. Luxembourg had always been involved in international exchange and reflection, and was keen to get its standards and practices up to the ideals set by the Convention. Despite being a small country, Luxembourg had many specificities and, therefore, was facing very specific challenges. The outside view which Committee Members had provided was very useful.
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