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Experts of the Committee on the rights of the child note good laws in Portugal but raise questions about their effective implementation

 

Experts also Express Concerns about Austerity Measures and Child Poverty

A law on inclusive education and a law changing the school curriculum had been adopted. There were monitoring mechanisms and teams in place to collect statistics in relation to these laws. The decrease in school dropouts had been steady and Portugal was now drawing close to the European average.

On early marriages, the delegation remarked that young persons wishing to enter into one faced a series of restrictions: just like an 18 year-old could only work under certain conditions, between the age of 16 and 18 it was possible to marry but it required authorization, the concerned youths could not make that decision by themselves. The number of early marriages had been dwindling in the past years: there had been 26 marriages between two people under the age of 18 and 49 early marriages involving one individual under the age of 18.

The National Commission for the Promotion of Rights and the Protection of Children and Young People contributed to planning State interventions and assessing the work conducted by public bodies. Its composition was pluralistic: the National Commission believed that this fostered independence. The National Commission was comprised of ministerial representatives, as well as dignitaries and representatives of parents, inter alia. There were also regional technical teams established under it, which assisted 310 local commissions. The budget allocated to the National Commission was over 9 million euros.

The National Strategy devised by the National Commission for the Promotion of Rights and the Protection of Children and Young People was very collaborative in nature. The National Commission hoped to establish an observatory to address the fragmentation issue in data collection.

On child poverty, the delegation said this issue may require further action, but the Government had increased the national minimum wage by 19 per cent since 2015.  The family allowance for children and young people had been upgraded each year since 2016.  There h ad also been an increase of around 1.4 per cent in the number of beneficiaries involved in the last three years.  The 2018 budget allocated to this issue had gone up by 9.5 per cent compared with the 2016 budget.  The number of beneficiaries and the amount of social benefits for children had increased  around 5.7 per cent of the budget allocated in 2018 compared with the 2016 budget. The social insertion income for families with children had gone up 6.2 per cent in the last three years, and cuts from previous years had been reversed.  Recently, the third stage of the social inclusion benefit had been extended to young people and children with disabilities.

The Monitoring Centre for Children’s Rights would contribute to improving data collection in Portugal.

On child poverty, the delegation said this issue may require further action, but the Government had increased the national minimum wage by 19 per cent since 2015; the family allowance for children and young people had been upgraded each year since 2016. An increase of around 1.4 per cent in the number of beneficiaries involved in the last three years. The 2018 budget allocated to this issue had gone up by 9.5 per cent compared with 2016 budget. The number of beneficiaries and the amount of social benefits for children had increased around 5.7 per cent of the budget allocated in 2018 compared with the 2016 budget. The social insertion income for families with children had gone up 6.2 per cent in the last three years; cuts from previous years had been reversed.  Recently, the third stage of the social inclusion benefit had been extended to young people and children with disabilities.

Turning to the national citizenship strategy, a strategic area in the national curriculum had been created. It dealt with citizenship and covered human rights, gender equality, environmental education, sustainable development as well as health. These elements were compulsory; they were covered in the education provided to all students. Media, sexuality, democratic participation, consumer awareness, traffic safety also had to be taught.

Bill 1089 was being examined in Parliament to address sex tourism. It notably broadened penal jurisdiction. It would, for instance, cover actions carried out abroad but targeting minors normally living in Portugal.

The Government was doing a lot to raise awareness on discrimination; there were more than 100 projects ongoing on this issue through the Choices Program. The Government was committed to tackling this issue. There were also online campaigns, including on Facebook. In that context, activities had been organized in all the schools, throughout the territory, including some in collaboration with the Benfica football club. Around 20,000 children had been reached in 113 establishments across the country.

Amongst the measures taken in the context of the Government’s strategy on Roma education, there was a national study which had been carried out on the situation of the Roma in the country. Other studies had been conducted in collaboration with academic institutions. The results of such studies would inform policymaking.

Each body had its own data collection measures. When it came to domestic violence, efforts had been made so that professionals could work as a network and address fragmentation issues. This aimed to address domestic violence and its impact on children in a structured and systematic manner.

Road safety was of particular concern for law enforcement bodies, and awareness raising campaigns had been carried out on this matter. Digital citizenship was another issue of concern. Law enforcement agencies did not have a dedicated hotline but children could get in touch with a specific contact person who could pass the information on to other competent entities, such as the judiciary and social services.

To address dropout rates amongst Roma girls, the Government since  2016 had put in place a programme in partnership with Roma communities. This community-based program sought to bring down barriers between Roma and Gypsy communities and formal education in higher education. In the last edition of the programme, 33 scholarships had been awarded to Roma students, including to 17 girls. This programme also promoted gender equality. Regarding previous educational levels, a similar programme had been launched in July 2019 aiming to support 100 Roma students per year in secondary education.

Follow-up Questions by Committee Experts and Answers by the Delegation

LUIS ERNESTO PEDERNERA REYNA, Committee Chairperson and Co-Rapporteur for Portugal, pointed to a discrepancy between the information provided by the delegation orally a few minutes ago and that included in the documents submitted to the Committee regarding the number of early marriages. Could the delegation provide some clarification on the figures?

The delegation explained that compulsory education was 12 years long in Portugal, regardless of a person’s cultural background.

On early marriages, the delegation acknowledged that there were some inconsistencies. Although the delegation could not for the moment explain the discrepancy, perhaps the information included in the report did not distinguish between marriages between two minors and marriages between a minor and an adult. For instance, in 2018, there had been 32 marriages in which both the bride and the groom were under 18, and 79 marriages in which either the bride or the groom were under 18.

Questions by Committee Experts

BRAGI GUDBRANDSSON, Committee Expert and Co-Rapporteur for Portugal, stressed that poverty was an important issue. A piecemeal approach was not sufficient. Radical, cross-cutting measures were necessary. What was the Government planning to do in that regard?

Were there plans to increase parental leave in the country? He expressed concern about the prevalence of sexual abuse.

Turning to breastfeeding, he asked if the Government was encouraging it and if it would take steps to make it easy for working mothers to breastfeed while working.

Almost all children who were removed from their families were institutionalized. The number of young children in institutions was a source of great concern. The Committee must be apprised of the State party’s plans to implement the provisions of the Convention related to institutionalization.

It was obvious that the State party was doing well on education. He asked questions about the provision of comprehensive sexual education, notably to prevent violence in intimate relationships?

SUZANNE AHO ASSOUMA, Committee Expert and Co-Rapporteur for Portugal, sought to obtain information on children with disabilities. What measures were being taken to detect disabilities and prevent as well as flag any potential mistreatment?

She requested information on access to healthcare, including paediatric care, notably in far flung areas, and medical coverage for children over the age of 12.

What was the vaccination rate in the country? What strategies were deployed to encourage vaccination? She enquired about measures put in place to tackle obesity.

How did the Government go about changing mentalities and behaviour on sexuality? Were there child psychiatrists and psychologists in sufficient numbers in Portugal? She requested information about the number of beds and details about the mental health institutions and the prevalence of HIV/AIDS.

Could the Government provide information on the housing policy in the country? How were homeless people, notably in Porto and Lisbon, accessing basic services and sanitation?

ANN MARIE SKELTON, Committee Expert and Co-Rapporteur for Portugal, asked about measures in place for foreign children arriving in the country, and whether the best interest of the child was applied for all of them. She requested information about the process used to determine the age of individuals when their claim to be minors was contested.

She sought clarification on the naturalization policy, notably on its application to children born in foster care.
The delegation would like to hear more about plans to build detention centres for migrants, as well as the Government’s plan to develop alternatives to detention for children.

The age of criminal responsibility was high – 16 years – and this was a positive feature of the Portuguese system. Was the Government doing enough to create non-custodial alternatives for children under the age of 16? How was the Government measuring the effectiveness of the system?

Turning to the Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, she asked about measures put in place by the Government to implement it.

BRAGI GUDBRANDSSON, Committee Expert and Co-Rapporteur for Portugal, asked if the authorities helped parents of children with behavioural problems in order to avoid institutional placement. On education, he applauded Portugal for the pre-school system, but noted that there were challenges, particularly the ratio of staff to children, which was too low. Portugal faced a problem: translating all the good policies and laws that had been adopted into actions. This was a structural problem, which was in part due to the fact that the National Commission for the Promotion of Rights and the Protection of Children and Young People had regional offices the work of which had to be harmonized.

LUIS ERNESTO PEDERNERA REYNA, Committee Chairperson and Co-Rapporteur for Portugal, asked what measures the State had taken to implement the Optional Protocol on armed conflict. Would it criminalize the recruitment of minors?

Replies by the Delegation

The delegation explained that there were multiple hotlines available in the country for children, including one managed by the Ombudsman’s Office which was dedicated to children. Of these hotlines, the Social Security Institute’s Social Emergency Line operated 24 hours a day. Professionals working for these lines were qualified, had received specific training, and were able to refer children to the relevant governmental services. These professionals also benefited from ongoing training.

The participation of young children in bullfights was not permitted. The participation of children between the age of 12 and 16 required the authorization of the competent governmental authorities. In deciding whether to grant permission to participate in bullfighting, these authorities ensured that the animal with which the children would interact was proportional to the child’s weight. There were five non-governmental organizations that inter alia taught bullfighting. These organizations had 57 participants -- 11 girls and 46 boys, 19 of whom were over the age of 16. The law only allowed children over the age of three to attend bullfighting events with their parents.

To combat the persistent effects that austerity measures might still have on children, the Government had reinforced social benefits. The conditions of the allocation of the family allowance had been extended. which made possible a larger increase of the allowance for families with lower income, single parents and large and more vulnerable families, in case of children up to 3 years old. Social insertion income had been reinforced. Between 2012 and 2018, the monthly average value of the Social Insertion Income benefit had increased 38 per cent by beneficiary and 20.3 per cent by family. In January 2019, there were 219,194 beneficiaries covered by the Social Insertion Income.  In the case of households with children, there was an increase of income of over 30 per cent. Specific programs targeting the most vulnerable people were also being developed, such as the Operational Program for Assistance to the Most Deprived aiming to give food support and other measures aiming to bolster their autonomy. This Program had supported around 79.000 final beneficiaries, representing around 30,000 households. There was also a “social tariff” system that ensured access to goods and services such as electricity for families in difficult situations.

The Ministry of Science and Education had set up a “Pro-Child Laboratory” against social exclusion and poverty. It involved various partners from different sectors and benefited from a 3.2 million euro budget from the Ministry, as well as additional funds from other partners. This laboratory sought to foster the development of children who were socially disadvantaged. It linked the private and public sectors, and academics and people working on the ground. It contributed to scientific evidence-based policymaking.

When it was not possible to identify anybody in the community who could take care of a child that had to be removed from his or her home, placement measures were considered. The number of children in placement care had been reduced in the last 10 years. In 2015, there were about 8,297 children in placement care. That number had gone down to about 7,307 in 2017. This was mainly due to an investment in training of professionals from different entities with competence in this area; the creation of specific teams on health care and the creation of child and youth protection commissions; the reinforcement of social security technical advisory teams in court; and  increasing the network of specialized responses such as Family Support Centres and Parental Counseling.

The Pro-Child Laboratory had developed projects to keep children in their families and to reunite children with their families. A multi-system intervention model for families at risk was also implemented by the Laboratory to increase the success rate of family reunifications.

Protocols had been put in place to assess potential foster families and assess their family dynamic.

Over 800,000 meals were served every day to 1.2 million children in schools. School canteens remained open during holidays to provide food to children from disadvantaged families.

On the number of cases of abuse, the delegation said that according to the Global Peace Index, Portugal was considered the third most peaceful country in the world. A new website had been set up by the Government to provide access to justice-related data, including in English. On abuses committed by priests, it was important to remember that members of the clergy were tried in the same courts as other citizens. The profession of the plaintiff was not recorded.

The 310 local commissions had created and carried out activities to prevent sexual abuse against children. In that context, games were organized which raised awareness about certain indicators related to sexual abuse.

Portugal parental leave included an initial parental leave for childbirth of 120 consecutive days, paid at 100 per cent of reference remuneration; or 150 consecutive days, paid at 80 per cent of reference remuneration. In the case of a 150-day leave period, where each parent enjoyed at least 30 consecutive days, or two equally consecutive 15-day periods, the daily amount was 100 per cent of the reference remuneration. The leave could be increased by 30 days if each parent exclusively enjoyed a period of 30 consecutive days, or two periods of 15 consecutive days paid at 83 per cent of the reference wage. “Exclusive” mandatory paternity leave could last up to up to 20 days at full salary. These 20 days could be taken at different times, within six weeks after birth, but the first five days had to be taken immediately after the birth. After this, the father had an additional optional leave of five days to be taken at the same time of the mother’s leave.

Public funding was provided to a number of organizations working with lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex youth, and the Government also provided them with various support services.

On children with disabilities, the delegation explained that a new legal regime and monitoring mechanism on the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities had been set up, which included an independent body operating under the Portuguese Parliament. The single benefit for children with disabilities had been increased. Social security provided support to these children. It ensured monitoring and carried out inspections to prevent ill-treatment in residential care or foster homes.

On inclusive education, the delegation said schools had to mobilize the resources available to ensure everybody could participate in life. There were 90,000 pupils with special needs. A new law would set up multidisciplinary teams to support them. There were specific resources for children with disabilities, such as dedicated centres that received 10 million euros in budget from the Government and that were equipped with technological resources to provide services to these children.

Turning to juvenile justice, the delegation said the age of criminal responsibility was 16 years. Between the age of 12 and 16, children were covered by the educational guardianship law, whereby when a child committed an offence they could be taken into educational guardianship, that is placed in educational centres. It was applied very cautiously by judges. There were alternatives to placement in educational centres, such as community work. Every year, the Government looked at the reoffending rate of children who had been placed. In 2018, that rate stood at 19 per cent.

Follow-up Questions by the Committee Experts and Responses by the Delegation

An Expert said that there was an increasing amount of research that showed that killing animals in front of children had a deleterious effect on their emotional development. She encouraged the delegation to consider this and start a reflection on a complete ban on any involvement of children in bullfighting.

Another Expert asked if the Government intended to align its policies on breastfeeding with the recommendations of the World Health Organization. On children with disabilities, the per centage of children integrated in mainstream school still seemed low. Would the Government revert the institutionalization of children with disabilities? He asked if there were rules strictly forbidding adolescents from participating in labour that could endanger their lives. If so, why were there children participating in bullfighting?

An Expert asked the delegation for its point of view: did bullfighting contribute to the development of a violent mentality in children?

LUIS ERNESTO PEDERNERA REYNA, Committee Chairperson and Co-Rapporteur for Portugal, said the delegation had yet to answer questions on the consumption of drugs, the two Optional Protocols and HIV/AIDS.

Turing to juvenile justice, he said children who had committed offences were the subject of stigma.

Another Expert sought clarification on juvenile justice for children under the age of 16. What was the process to address the situation of children under the age of 16 who were in conflict with the law?

Responding to these questions and comments, the delegation said that concerning the entry and exit of minors in the Portuguese territory, the Government did not have a database on children on the move. It did, however, monitor entries and exits through national borders. When minors entered the country without a visa, they could be held in temporary accommodation for 60 days with their families.

On Portuguese children participating in wars, the Government had not recorded any Portuguese children travelling abroad to take part in armed conflicts. There were children who had been taken abroad by their parents wishing to join foreign armed forces. There were also Portuguese children born abroad to parents taking part in armed conflicts. The Government was monitoring their situation closely and taking steps to repatriate these children.

Intersex children and female genital mutilation were completely different issues. Interventions on intersex children were carried out by health professionals and had to be suited and tailored to each case. There had been five cases detected last year. Extremely specialized paediatric teams were seized of the matter, in conjunction with the families. The best course of action for each child was determined in light of the latest scientific knowledge. Interventions were only made when they were in line with the best interest of the child. They were not carried out at random.

On obesity, campaigns and programmes were rolled out to detect children who were at risk. Concerned children and parents were informed of steps that could or should be taken to address this issue. Multidisciplinary teams comprised of nutritionists, psychologists, doctors and nurses, when possible, were mobilized in that context.

On the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict, the delegation said Portugal criminalized the recruitment of children in military, paramilitary or armed groups. There could be a 10 to 25 year-long prison term imposed for such offences.

On the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, a law on the information society and another one on e-commerce provided that intermediary providers had to immediately inform competent bodies when they detected illegal activities. Further, legal procedures related to sexual crimes would be strengthened thanks to a bill which was still at a preliminary drafting stage. Providers of banking services also had to report activities they suspected were related to illegal activities, including child pornography.

On bullfighting, the delegation explained that, in Portugal, the bulls were not killed in the ring, except for two stadiums that were located close to the border with Spain. Special regulations were in place for these two stadiums.

Turning to healthcare, the delegation explained that the vaccination rate was 97 per cent. While it was difficult to recruit mental health professionals, the medical orders had been making efforts to find more applicants. There were no children in the country that did not have access to regular or emergency check-ups, whether they were Portuguese or migrants.

Concluding Remarks

SUZANNE AHO ASSOUMA, Committee Expert and Co-Rapporteur for Portugal, in concluding remarks, thanked the members of the delegation. There remained challenges to overcome as well as harmful practices that had to be addressed.

ROSARIO FARMHOUSE, President of the National Commission for the Promotion of Rights and the Protection of Children and Young People of Portugal, in concluding remarks, said the Government was investing in education and promoting equality by focusing on the most vulnerable groups. The strategies and plans related to children’s rights would be put into practice; the Government was doing everything it could to make sure they were fully implemented. Portugal would devote special attention to children and young people living in contexts that made them vulnerable.

RUI MACIEIRA, Permanent Representative of Portugal to the United Nations Office at Geneva, in concluding remarks, said Portugal was committed to human rights. It counted on the recommendations of the human rights treaty body system. Portugal had been closely involved in the 2020 process to strengthen the treaty body system. He stressed the important role of civil society.

LUIS ERNESTO PEDERNERA REYNA, Committee Chairperson, thanked the delegation. The Committee’s overarching aim was to assist countries in implementing the Convention. It had been a frank and open dialogue. What was good for children was good for Portugal. The Committee extended its greetings to the children of Portugal, he concluded.