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UN: give children say in court cases

Lack of Child Rights Act in Malta is a concern

Children in Malta should be given a greater say in legal proceedings that concern them, a United Nations specialised committee has said.

Migrant children receive no guidance and have no possibility to appeal the outcome of age determination

The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child had praise for Malta’s efforts towards inclusive education and applauded numerous policy initiatives concerning equality, sexual health and the creation of a Children’s Commissioner.

But the accolades were tempered by concerns about the lack of a dedicated Child Rights Act, inadequate legal safeguards for children involved in court and the way with which asylum-seeking minors were detained, treated and cared for.

The committee assessment is part of a periodic review carried out on all countries that have ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Ratifying a convention signals a country’s willingness to be legally bound by its provisions.

Although Malta signed the UN’s child convention back in 1990, the committee found not all national laws are in full compliance with the convention.

It noted with concern that children in State care are in a legal limbo between the ages of 16 and 18 – not yet adults according to the law, but no longer eligible for state care.

Children were also given limited access to be heard in legal proceedings during cases which concerned them, with the committee adding that “the age of hearing the children... is often too high”.

Foster care capacity remained “insufficient”, it said, and children in institutional care were not given enough support in their transition to adulthood.

But the committee’s most pressing worries related to the rights of migrant children: from children born stateless due to authorities’ refusal to register their birth, to the policy of automatically locking up minors until age assessment confirms they are underage.

“Children... receive no guidance... and have no possibility to appeal the outcome of age determination,” the committee said, adding that detained children were given minimal open-air leisure time, offered “inadequate” health services and made to use common showers and toilets with adult detainees.

Furthermore, authorities made no effort to identify migrant children who might have been involved in wars and in need of specific psychological help, the committee added.

Neil Falzon, who heads local human rights NGO Aditus, joined the UN committee in congratulating the Government on its efforts to improve children’s lot, but added that many of the committee’s concerns mirrored those of local NGOs.

“We would have liked the committee to have given more attention to some of the issues we raised concerning transgender children’s access to education, but its findings concerning migrant children and children with disabilities are welcome,” Dr Falzon said.

Human Rights Watch children’s rights researcher Alice Farmer believed the committee’s recommendations made “common sense”.

“Malta can and should do more to protect unaccompanied migrant children, by prohibiting their detention,” she said.

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