Children being doubly abused

Within the next few days, a bill on immigration policy is to be tabled in Parliament that will enable a re-examination of the state’s policy toward immigrant children who have entered the country without their families. The Ombudsman, which since early 2003 has also been the Children’s Ombudsman, has presented the relevant ministry with its proposals after studying case histories and a survey of holding centers. Until now, immigration policy included very few special arrangements for children who entered Greece without their legal guardians. Aside from those children whom the courts have characterized as victims of illegal trafficking and exploitation, who are protected under Law 3064/2002, the rest are treated the same way as adults – they are arrested, detained in custody and deported if they are found to have entered the country illegally. The only exception is when the judicial authority decides to commit a child to an institution, but the judiciary is not informed of every case in which an unaccompanied minor is arrested by the police; institutions have neither sufficient personnel nor means. The Ombudsman has been informed of many of these children, whether aged over 15 and working illegally under harsh conditions, or younger children forced to beg, work or be involved in illegal activities, often controlled by adults who cannot be found. When these children are arrested, they are held without any legal support, in conditions that are completely unsuitable for their age, and then deported. The Greek state’s international commitments, particularly those emanating from the International Convention on Children’s Rights, call for special treatment for children separated from their families and whose rights are at risk or are being violated. Finding unaccompanied children in Greece calls for an organized system of identification and investigation as to whether these children are victims of exploitation or illegal trafficking. Detaining them for illegal entry into the country should be abolished and replaced by a system of protecting them in suitable places. Where it is feasible and appropriate to return them to their home countries, this should be done through the cooperation of both countries’ social services. Until they are repatriated, and also whenever that is considered inappropriate or unfeasible, they should be accommodated and provided with the appropriate support, with opportunities for schooling and socialization. It is time for Greeks, as a society and a state, to change the way we treat unaccompanied immigrant children. Instead of just showing pity, we should take steps to support them. We must improve legislative provisions, particularly those related to their detention and deportation, and modernize the welfare system, assuming our responsibilities as their host country. For, in reality, these are just child victims who have been forced to grow up before their time. (1) Giorgos Moschos is Assistant State Ombudsman for Children’s Rights.

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