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In dialogue with Luxembourg, Experts of the Committee on the Rights of the Child ask about protection from violence, both offline and online

21 May 2021

The Committee on the Rights of the Child today concluded its consideration of the combined fifth to sixth periodic report of Luxembourg on how it implements the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, with the dialogue focusing about the protection of children from violence, both offline and online, among other issues. 

Committee Experts raised concerns about the lack of criminalisation of sexual violence against children, including female genital mutilation.  Stressing the importance of early detection of violence, they asked if the Government believed legislative changes were required in that regard.  Had the Government gathered evidence about the increase in instances of domestic violence in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic?  Had it, accordingly, implemented mitigating measures? 

They also inquired about digital violence, noting that measures had been taken and the Government had shown its seriousness on this matter.  How did the Government deal with sexual content created by children themselves? The Committee believed that, when it came to the distribution of self-generated pornographic material, children should not be treated as offenders but rather as victims. 

Claude Meisch, Minister of National Education, Childhood and Youth of Luxembourg, recalled that Luxembourg had been among the first countries to ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child.  Stressing that children were no longer just an object of protection, but had become a subject of law, he said the best interests of the child, and their rights and needs, guided decision-making.  Since September 2020, during the last cycle of basic education, coding skills were developed together with mathematics skills.  This digital education would subsequently be extended to other cycles, in a transversal manner.  Regarding digital violence, a helpline assisted children facing violence who sought to get tech companies to intervene, delegates said.  The Government could contact tech companies, such as social media companies or producers of pornographic material, directly in that context.  To assist victims wishing to lodge complaints, authorities had developed a brochure on “sexting” and the distribution of intimate photos without the consent of the persons concerned.

The delegation explained that female genital mutilation and all other forms of violence, whether physical or sexual, against children were criminalised.  The commission of such offences on a minor was an aggravating circumstance, including for rape.  The Government was combatting various forms of violence, including sexual violence against children; the Istanbul Convention was applied to both men and women, and boys and girls, and awareness raising campaigns in different languages about the Istanbul Convention had been annually launched since 2018.  The ratification of this Convention had led, in particular, to the specific incrimination of female genital mutilation and the strengthening of the modified law on domestic violence from 8 September 2003. 

The delegation said that specialised assistance services for children who were victims of domestic violence had been created; it was their obligation to intervene with all children direct or indirect victims of domestic violence present in the family in case of eviction of the perpetrator.  Regarding digital violence, a helpline assisted children facing violence.  Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Government had adopted measures to ensure the continuity of the mechanisms that allowed the police to intervene in families and physically remove perpetrators of domestic violence. 

In her concluding remarks, Marguerite Krier, Government Advisor at the Ministry of National Education, Childhood and Youth of Luxembourg, thanked the Committee Experts for their interest, their remarks and their encouragement.  Luxembourg would provide additional responses in writing and stood ready to receive the Committee’s recommendations.

Hynd Ayoubi Idrissi, Committee Member and Coordinator of the Task Force for Luxembourg, thanked the delegation for the high quality, fruitful exchange.  The Committee was looking forward to reading Luxembourg’s written answers to pending questions.

Mikiko Otani, Committee Chairperson, thanked all those present for making the dialogue effective.  She extended the Committee’s best wishes to the children of Luxembourg.

The delegation of Luxembourg consisted of representatives of the Ministry of National Education, Childhood and Youth; the Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs; the Ministry of Justice; the Ministry of Health; the Ministry of Family, Integration and the Greater Region; the Ministry of Equality between Women and Men; and the Permanent Mission of Luxembourg to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

The Committee will next meet in public on Wednesday, 26 May, at 12 p.m. to consider the combined fourth to sixth periodic report of Tunisia under the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC/C/TUN/4-6).

Report

The Committee has before it the combined fifth and sixth periodic report of Luxembourg under the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC/C/LUX/QPR/5-6).

Presentation of the Report

CLAUDE MEISCH, Minister of National Education, Childhood and Youth of Luxembourg, recalled that Luxembourg had been among the first countries to ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child.  Stressing that children were no longer just an object of protection, but had become a subject of law, he said the best interests of the child, and their rights and needs, guided decision-making.  Luxembourg had become a welcoming country for citizens from all over the world, and had adapted its international protection system, as well as revised its language teaching.  As Minister of Education, one of his first concerns had been to promote the diversification of education, to increase the number of international schools, and to adequately equip teachers.  It was important that each student be able to maximise their chances of academic success regardless of their linguistic profile; training courses should be adapted to the needs of the students.

To compensate for inequalities and ensure equal rights between students, and even to offer everyone the same chances of access to the plurilingual education programme offered in reception structures and nurseries, all children aged 1 to 4 years, who were not yet in school, had, since 2017, the opportunity to benefit from 20 free hours of supervision, regardless of their parents' income.  Another area to which he attached great importance was that of digitisation.  Since September 2020, during the last cycle of basic education, coding skills were developed together with mathematics skills.  This digital education would subsequently be extended to other cycles, in a transversal manner.  From September, a new course in digital sciences would be introduced to the lower grades of secondary education.  It was just as important to him to protect children against any risk of abuse and exploitation linked to digital communication.  He attached great importance to promoting a safer use of new information technologies.  Thus, the BEE SECURE programme, which was a government initiative of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, offered training to both students and teachers of basic and secondary education, adapted to different age groups.

Studies had shown the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the physical and psychological well-being of young people.  It was essential to ensure, as far as possible, the continuation of teaching and learning, in particular: reopening schools as soon as possible and putting in place sufficient sanitary measures; providing schools with the means to organise distance learning courses by making tablets available; and generalising and systematising the use of rapid antigen tests in all classes.  Unfortunately, the crisis had slightly delayed the new impetus that had been gained in the field of “juvenile justice”.  The collaboration with Renate Winter, a leading authority in the field, expert in family law and juvenile justice systems, and former Chair of the Committee, had enabled the Ministries of Justice and Education to move forward in this reform project focused on listening to the needs of children on education and alternatives to detention.  The Government would continue its comprehensive reform of the national legislation on the protection of young people, reform which would further strengthen the rights of children guaranteed by the Convention, in particular by a clear distinction between the protection regime and the penal regime, by the guarantee linked to the right to fair treatment and trial, and by defining a minimum age for deprivation of liberty.

Questions by the Committee Experts

HYND AYOUBI IDRISSI, Committee Member and Coordinator of the Task Force for Luxembourg, asked the delegation to provide information on any steps taken to withdraw the State’s reservations to articles 3, 6, 7 and 15 of the Convention.  Did the State party’s strategy on the implementation of the Convention include a component on the response to the COVID-19 pandemic?  What was the State party doing to strengthen its collaboration mechanism on the implementation of the Convention, to ensure horizontal and vertical collaboration?

Ms. Ayoubi Idrissi inquired about steps taken to ensure the systematic, standardised collection of data covering all areas, and measures taken to raise awareness of the Convention.

VELINA TODOROVA, Committee Member and Member of the Task Force for Luxembourg, noting the high number of babies born with an illegitimate status because their parents were not married, asked when the law modifying the status of children to make it independent from their parents’ marital status would be adopted.

On the best interest of the child, the Government had not provided sufficient information on whether this principle was systematically invoked.  Information on the training provided to government officials on this matter was also lacking.  Expressing concerns about intersex children, inter alia, she asked the delegation to elaborate on this issue.

Turning to the respect for the views of the child, she expressed appreciation for the Youth Parliament, and asked if there were steps being taken to foster the participation of younger children.  What was the status of the bill requiring the hearing of children in judicial and administrative procedures?

ANN SKELTON, Committee Member and Member of the Task Force for Luxembourg, addressing children’s right to know their origins, asked who, and on the basis of which criteria, would decide what information could children access?  What specific data would the bill being considered cover?  Would it be retroactive?
Another Committee Expert underlined the right of children to be heard in all procedures concerning them, and that this right should not be limited to the family domain.
Replies by the Delegation

In response to the questions and comments, the delegation underscored that even though the reservations could not be lifted for the time being, the Government was hopeful that this situation would evolve, notably in view of future legislative evolution.  The delegation said that once the reform bill on filiation was adopted, the Government hoped the reservations to the Convention could be lifted.  The project had been submitted in 2013; the Council of State must give a second opinion on this question.  As the bill was now in the hands of Parliament, the Government could not make any commitment regarding the timetable.  The adoption of this bill would also allow Luxembourg to turn the page on all discrimination related to children’s illegitimate status.  In 2018, a family affairs judge position had been adopted and with it a single procedure to ensure that all families, whether married or not, had access to the same judges and legal proceedings. 

A child could be heard by a judge or the person designated by the judge when the child’s best interest required it; children could be represented by their parents or a lawyer.  Children could be heard directly, or through a legal representative.  If the representative required that the child be personally heard, the judge would not oppose the request.  The child could also communicate his or her views through a letter, for instance.  The Government was unaware of any case where a child had not been heard.
                     
As regards access to origins, the reform bill on filiation would bolster that right, and would include a new article 312bis of the Civil Code, inspired by the wording of article 7 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, along with another bill which would deal specifically, inter alia, with the means of accessing information.  It reflected the formulation “as far as possible” of article 7 of the Convention.  The bill proposed that its application be retroactive and would provide access to information on origins for both minors and adults.
To raise awareness of the Convention, the Government aimed to share information with those who were most concerned, children and adolescents, through the education system, delegates said.  The awareness-raising course "Life and society", which covered among other things the rights of the child, had received a distinction award from the Global Education Network Europe.

The delegation said that there was no plan of action to implement the Convention, even though Luxembourg was committed to doing so.  The delegation hoped to draw from the ongoing dialogue with the Committee in that context.

Currently, the databases of the Government did not allow for the disaggregation of data requested by Committee Members.  The Government was aware of this matter.  Furthermore, disaggregating data was difficult due to the anonymised data in the context of the General Data Protection Regulation.  With the intent to improve the situation, the delegation was looking forward to hearing the Committee’s suggestions on this matter.

Follow-Up Questions by the Committee

VELINA TODOROVA, Committee Member and Member of the Task Force for Luxembourg, stressed that Committee Members had read the report carefully; there was no need for delegates to repeat what had been outlined therein.  The best interest principle was not about welfare or social rights per se; it was about giving priority to children’s interests in situations where they clashed with other interests.

ANN SKELTON, Committee Member and Member of the Task Force for Luxembourg, sought clarification on the legal provisions on the right to access information on a person’s origins, and how the two bills mentioned by the delegation were articulated.

HYND AYOUBI IDRISSI, Committee Member and Coordinator of the Task Force for Luxembourg, asked about business and children’s rights.  To what extent were the rights of children included in Luxembourg’s plan of action on business and human rights?

Follow-Up Replies by the Delegation

The delegation said Luxembourg respected the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.  It had adopted two action plans in this area and was considering the possibility of adopting laws to impose a duty of diligence on companies based in Luxembourg.  Children's rights were at the top of the list of rights that would be covered in any law that would be passed.

Providing information on Luxembourg’s legislative procedures, delegates said that Parliament was not authorised to put a law to a vote, and it could take time for draft bills to become law.  Turning to the articulation between the two draft bills related to access to information on origins, they said the draft bill on filiation was separated from the second bill; the Government had sought to avoid further delays.  Hence the decision to have a second, separate bill that would not interfere with the first draft bill.  There was no hierarchy between the two bills.
To uphold the respect for the views of the child, the Government did not limit opportunities of participation for children to the Youth Parliament; other age groups, including younger children, were included in other initiatives.

Questions by the Committee Experts

BENOIT VAN KEIRSBILCK, Committee Member and Member of the Task Force for Luxembourg, raised concerns about the lack of criminalisation of sexual violence against children, including female genital mutilation, as such, and sought clarification in that regard.  He inquired about campaigns rolled out by the Government and asked about their outcomes.  Had there been a change in attitude or any other positive results?  He also inquired about violence in the context of sport and leisure, and the support provided to victims, such as access to hotlines.

VELINA TODOROVA, Committee Member and Member of the Task Force for Luxembourg, stressing the importance of early detection of violence, asked if the Government believed legislative changes were required in that regard.  Had it gathered evidence about the increase in instances of domestic violence in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic?  Had it, accordingly, implemented mitigating measures? 

She also inquired about digital violence, noting that measures had been taken and the Government had shown its seriousness on this matter.  How did the Government deal with sexual content created by children themselves?  The Government said it did not have statistics about unnecessary surgeries performed on intersex children, Ms. Todorova noted.  Could the delegation explain how it approached parents and medical personnel to prevent unnecessary surgeries or treatments?

HYND AYOUBI IDRISSI, Committee Member and Coordinator of the Task Force for Luxembourg, requested information on the recruitment of foster families.

ANN SKELTON,  Committee Member and Member of the Task Force for Luxembourg, said that, while the Committee had received positive reports on the State party’s efforts to ensure access to education for children with disabilities, critics said the Government risked perpetuating a specialised approach, which was detrimental to concerned children.  Could the delegation outline the rationale of the Government’s policies?
Replies by the Delegation

The delegation explained that female genital mutilation and all other forms of violence, whether physical or sexual, against children were criminalised.  The commission of such offences on a minor was an aggravating circumstance, including for rape.  The Government was combatting various forms of violence, including sexual violence against children; the Istanbul Convention was applied to both men and women, and boys and girls, and awareness raising campaigns in different languages about the Istanbul Convention had been annually launched since 2018.  The ratification of this Convention had led, in particular, to the specific incrimination of female genital mutilation and the strengthening of the modified law on domestic violence from 8 September 2003.  Specialised assistance services for children who were victims of domestic violence had been created; it was their obligation to intervene with all children direct or indirect victims of domestic violence present in the family in case of eviction of the perpetrator.  They also provided psychological services for children and young adult victims on a voluntary basis in the follow-up to obligatory assistance beyond the eviction period and in other violence cases regardless of eviction.  They could be approached by the children themselves and their families, as well as by any institution or non-governmental organization and judges.

Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Government had adopted measures to ensure the continuity of the mechanisms that allowed the police to intervene in families and physically remove perpetrators of domestic violence.  For example, advice was provided in four languages to people forced to flee their homes in the context of the confinement and there were assistance services for adult and minor victims.  A national daily helpline on domestic violence (phone 2060 1060/ email info@helpline-violence.lu) to assist persons involved in the circle of violence and victims had been created.  Help concerning domestic violence was  available on the website www.violence.lu for those involved in the cycle of violence.  The website also offered information on assistance services.  The national helpline on domestic violence had been put in place in 2020 and police could be contacted in emergency cases.  Domestic violence awareness and prevention actions had been launched in different languages via the media and social networks for the public and the families (adults and children) to encourage them to take action and get help. 

A new system for the protection of victims of violence and mistreatment would be developed in collaboration with various partners.  Luxembourg had made an effort to improve coordination to enhance the provision of assistance.  A helpline for children was in place to facilitate access to support and the lodging of a complaint related to mistreatment.

Regarding digital violence, a helpline assisted children facing violence who sought to get tech companies to intervene.  The authorities could contact tech companies, such as social media companies or producers of pornographic material, directly in that context.  To assist victims wishing to lodge complaints, authorities had developed a brochure on “sexting” and the distribution of intimate photos without the consent of the persons concerned.

In the past few years, there had only been three intersex children who had been through operations in Luxembourg; the Government remained vigilant and followed the recommendations of the Ministry of Family Affairs.

On access to education for children with disabilities, delegates remarked that there were specialised centres that made resources available to schools and children with specific needs.  Pupils with disabilities who had to attend “competency centres” that had been created for them were still registered with regular schools.  The Government needed to work on non-formal education to foster inclusion, so that all stakeholders could meet the needs of children with difficulties.  The objective sought was integrating each child in regular schools, unless the needs of the child required a different form of schooling, subject to the consent of the parents of the child.  Over 99 per cent of children with disabilities in Luxembourg went to regular schools.

The delegation explained that the services offered by “competency centres” could be accessed in the centres proper, or competency staff could go to classrooms to provide support.  Some of the classes of the “competency centres” were located in schools.  The centres could be described as resource centres.  Both parents and pupils could use their services. 

The website www.violence.lu was being developed in order to be more user-friendly and accessible and would be available in four languages (French, English, German and Portuguese).  Responding to questions on suicide and drug addiction among adolescents, the delegation said the national mental health programme would be reactivated after being put on hold during the pandemic.  The aim would be to detect risk factors for suicide among schoolchildren.

Questions by the Committee Experts

BENOIT VAN KEIRSBILCK, Committee Member and Member of the Task Force for Luxembourg, thanking the delegation for the responses provided, requested updated figures on child poverty, and asked the delegation to explain what measures had been taken to address that issue.  He inquired about the Government’s approach to drug use.  Was it a public health approach or a criminal approach?

Turning to school enrolment, he asked how the Government tackled the school dropout rate, notably in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.  School dropout and exclusion were issues that did not appear to spare Luxembourg, he noted.

Did the Government have a programme to address violence in schools? Mr. Van Keirsbilck sought additional information on deprivation of liberty of minors, notably as regards remand and pre-trial detention.  Under what conditions could children be detained in custodial facilities?

He also asked about the independence of lawyers appointed by judges to represent children and employers’ access to children’s criminal records.

HYND AYOUBI IDRISSI, Committee Member and Coordinator of the Task Force for Luxembourg, broached the topic of the detention of migrant children, and the practice of returning unaccompanied migrant children.  In such contexts, how was the best interest of the child principle upheld?

Regarding the Optional Protocol on children and armed conflict, could the delegation provide information on its capacity-building efforts to improve the detection of children involved in armed conflict and provide them with rehabilitation services.

VELINA TODOROVA, Committee Member and Member of the Task Force for Luxembourg, turning to the Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, drew the attention of the delegation to the guidelines published by the Committee.

The integration of the definitions set forth in the Optional Protocol into the national legislation of Luxembourg was a cause for concern.  Could the delegation comment on this matter?  There was no need to reiterate the importance of disaggregated data.  Were there any plans to collect such data related to the issues falling under the scope of the Optional Protocol.

The Committee believed that, when it came to the distribution of self-generated pornographic material, children should not be treated as offenders but rather as victims.

ANN SKELTON,  Committee Member and Member of the Task Force for Luxembourg, welcoming the ratification of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on a communications procedure by Luxembourg, asked about measures in place to facilitate the use of its procedures by children.

Replies by the Delegation

Delegates said there was a high-risk of poverty for single parent families, which    accounted for 5 per cent of the population but a much higher percentage of poor households.  The same held true for migrant children and members of the Portuguese community.  A project had been launched with the United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights which focused on studying inter-generational perpetuation of poverty.  The Government would share its results with the Committee.

From the beginning of the confinement, the Government had striven to keep schools open and offered as many in-person classes as possible, despite the COVID-19 pandemic.  A website had been created to support training at home for basic, elementary and secondary education.  Psychosocial professionals provided support to both students and parents to help them cope with the isolation.  Laptops and tablets had been made available to pupils who had requested them.

The Government had developed the “Choice + Programme” to inform children and their families about drugs and their use to prevent addiction.  After participating in the programme, children could obtain a certificate that they could show to prosecutorial authorities to avoid certain negative consequences.  The participation in the “Choice + Programme” for young adults intended to avoid a modification of their judicial records.  As regards school attendance, the figures shared with the Committee covered public schools only.  The drop in attendance mentioned by the Committee did not concern private schools and thus did not provide a full picture.  Overall, school attendance in private and public schools taken together had not gone down in Luxembourg.

Turning to pre-trial detention, delegates said minors were not subjected to it, but they could be placed in institutions for up to three months.  Prosecutors could in some exceptional cases and if they deemed a placement in an institution inadequate, ask juvenile judges for the permission to prosecute minors from the age of 16 on under regular laws, whereby they could be held in preventive detention.  This was, however, a rare occurrence, and, in any case, children were detained separately from adults.  There were alternatives to preventive detention of children, such as the prohibition of visiting certain people, and the imposition of a curfew.

In addition to standard legal guarantees related to criminal procedures, the Criminal Code of proceedings of Luxembourg set forth additional guarantees for minors, such as the obligation to record proceedings.  Minors had the right to choose their lawyers, except if they did not know one, in which case a lawyer was designated to them by the police or judicial authorities, delegates assured.  Judicial decisions could be filed in a special registry that was distinct from criminal records; these decisions were not accessible to the public and could only be seen by certain authorities.

On self-generated intimate photos and the practice of sharing them, also known as “sexting”, delegates explained that, if a young couple was sharing intimate photos with one another, that act was not penalised.  If a third child gained access to these materials and shared them with others, the person who produced the material was considered as the victim and the person sharing the material was deemed to be victimising them.  The Prosecutor’s Office adopted a pedagogical approach in such cases. 

On unaccompanied minors, delegates said that a consultative commission, comprised of a group of professionals from multidisciplinary teams, had been created recently to assess the situation and form an opinion on the best course of action, considering options such as returning the child to their country of origin, taking into consideration the higher interest of the child.  It considered factors such as family tracing reports, the ability of family to care for the child, the opinion of the child and their guardian.  This was taken into consideration by the Government and the Administrative Court.

Luxembourg was aware that certain domestic legal definitions pertaining to child pornography were not aligned with international conventions.  The Government was currently reviewing them.

Follow-up Questions by the Committee

HYND AYOUBI IDRISSI, Committee Member and Coordinator of the Task Force for Luxembourg, said there were other European States that wished to draw inspiration from the way in which Luxembourg dealt with migrant children.  However, she stressed, specialists were needed to assess the situation through the lens of the best interest of the child.  Assessing the best interest of the child was both important and difficult.  What happened if the child was unwilling to return to the country of origin?  Recalling that the Committee’s jurisprudence on this matter was clear, she asked if there were any measures in place to avoid the detention of children.

BENOIT VAN KEIRSBILCK, Committee Member and Member of the Task Force for Luxembourg, asked if migrant children who were accompanied by their family also benefited from an assessment based on the best interest of the child principle.  It was recommended that young children not be put in institutions, or that this be avoided to the extent possible. 

ANN SKELTON, Committee Member and Member of the Task Force for Luxembourg, asked if children in Luxembourg knew they could bring complaints before the Committee.

Follow-up Replies by the Delegation

Delegates, addressing the question on possible avenues when the family and the migrant child rejected the decision to send back the child to the country of origin, stressed that the Consultative Commission took such facts into account.  The Government examined factors on a case-by-case basis, striving to take all relevant information into account.  Regulations provided that experts could also be called to provide an outside opinion.  The majority of decisions by the Commission recommended that children stay in Luxembourg, delegates said.  Some children benefitted automatically from protection, such as children coming from Eritrea or Syria, without having to go before the Commission.

On the possibility for children to bring complaints before the Committee, the delegation replied that children were informed about their rights by social services, the Ombudsman fir Kanner a Jugendlecher and their attorneys-at-law.

Concluding Remarks

MARGUERITE KRIER, Government Advisor at the Ministry of National Education, Childhood and Youth of Luxembourg, thanked the Committee Experts for their interest, their remarks and their encouragement.  Luxembourg would provide additional responses in writing and stood ready to receive the Committee’s recommendations.

HYND AYOUBI IDRISSI, Committee Member and Coordinator of the Task Force for Luxembourg, thanked the delegation for the high quality, fruitful exchange.  The Committee was looking forward to reading Luxembourg’s written answers to pending questions.

MIKIKO OTANI, Committee Chairperson, thanked all those present for making the dialogue effective.  She extended the Committee’s best wishes to the children of Luxembourg.

Link: https://www.ungeneva.org/en/news-media/meeting-summary/2021/05/dialogue-luxembourg-experts-committee-rights-child-ask-about

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