24 January 2011
The Committee on the Rights of the Child today examined the fourth periodic report of Denmark on how that country is implementing the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Introducing the report, Allan Rahbol Jackobsen, Head of the Human Rights Unit at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark, said that in March 2009 Denmark had launched a new strategy on international human rights cooperation which contained new commitments to the promotion and protection of the rights of the child. The Child’s Reform initiative aimed at increasing the welfare of children at risk and the basic enforcement of their rights, which put focus on children’s safety in childhood and adolescence and on children’s right to complain. Progress had been made in the area of day-care, particularly important as 97 per cent of all children in Denmark between the age of three and five were in day-care. The programme on juvenile crime the “New Start” aimed at targeting juvenile crime more effectively, while a new action plan against drug abuse had been launched in October 2010.
Torben Weyhe, Head of Section, Ministry of Social Affairs, Government of Greenland, said that in June 2009 the Act on Self-governance had entered in force, under which Greenland took over further responsibility areas from the Danish State. Children and youth had been placed on top of the political agenda of the new government elected in June 2010. Greenland was awaiting in 2011 a report from the Commission for Welfare with recommendations for socio-economic reforms to level out social and economic inequality in society.
Hallbera West, Representative of the Faroe Islands and Adviser in the Ministry of Social Affairs, said that the Government had recently decided to develop an action plan against violence at home, which would be launched this spring. The Government recognised the fundamental challenges of ensuring human rights at all levels of society and this would be an important consideration for the human rights work in the Faeroe Islands.
In preliminary concluding remarks, Marta Mauras, the Committee Expert serving as Rapporteur for the report of Denmark, said that the Committee was concerned about ensuring that children’s reforms did more in terms of prevention and protection from risks. Many questions were asked on asylum seeking and unaccompanied minors; the Committee would like to see more permanent protection measures for those children. The lowering of the age of criminal responsibility was another point of concern, and the Committee was looking forward to receiving follow-up on the impact of this measure. The Committee on the Rights of the Child remained interested in continuing the dialogue on the integration of the Convention into the national law, on a comprehensive policy on children, and on Denmark’s position on establishing a children’s ombudsman.
Other Experts raised a series of questions during the discussion, including on the incorporation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child into national law; the situation of unaccompanied minors seeking asylum and the situation of stateless children born or residing in Denmark; the “300 working hours rule” in the social welfare system and poverty, particularly child poverty and exclusion; and the above-the-average number of children placed in alternative care. The Committee asked about the structure of the relationship between Denmark, Greenland and the Faroe Islands, and the differences in the status of children between those territories. Further clarifications were requested regarding the Child’s Reform initiative and other legal reforms and systems, including the rationale for the reform, the institution in charge of children’s policy in Denmark and the process of earmarking resources for children.
The Committee will release its formal, written concluding observations and recommendations on the report of Denmark towards the end of its three-week session, which will conclude on Friday, 4 February 2011.
The delegation of Denmark included representatives from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Social Affairs, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Interior and Health, and the Danish Pension Agency. From the Government of Greenland, the delegation included representatives from the Ministry of Social Affairs and the Department of Health, while Home Rule of the Faroe Islands was represented by a representative of the Ministry of Social Affairs.
As one of the 193 States parties to the Convention, Denmark is obliged to present periodic reports to the Committee on its efforts to comply with the provisions of the treaty. The delegation was on hand today to present the report and to answer questions raised by Committee Experts.
When the Committee reconvenes in public at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 25 January 2011, it will review the combined third and fourth periodic report of Belarus on the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC/C/BLR/3-4); the initial report of Belarus on the Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography (CRC/C/OPSC/BLR/1) and the initial report of Belarus on the Optional Protocol on Children and Armed Conflict (CRC/C/OPAC/BLR/1).
Report of Denmark
The fourth periodic report of Denmark (CRC/C/DNK/4) presents an overview of the measures taken since 2003 to improve children’s living conditions in Denmark, and reviews children’s conditions in Greenland and the Faeroe Islands. In 2006, Denmark introduced the Police and Court Reform, by which the district courts were made the first tier in which all civil actions and criminal cases start, and a procedure for joint deliberation and consideration between the judicial judges and the jury, also of the question of guilt, has been introduced. Fighting poverty is the main challenge for Danish development assistance, and children’s interests and rights are extensively addressed through a number of development assistance initiatives, from bilateral development cooperation with 16 countries, to provision of aid to children and young people through non-governmental organizations, to multilateral development assistance through the International Labour Organization and the United Nations Children’s Fund. On the principle of non-discrimination, key developments included adoption of action plans against discrimination, information campaigns on diversity and equal treatment, while a number of local events focused on diversity, intended to help eliminate prejudice and break down barriers and to create mutual understanding of similarities and differences. The Care Placement Reform of 2004 meant a major overhaul of the rules of the Social Services Act. The objective of the reform was to ensure that children placed in care would have the same opportunities as other children to enjoy the benefits of education, work and family life. This reform has also ensured the right to be heard of children in alternative care.
Regarding parents’ responsibility and assistance to parents in the social service area, the Government introduced in 2008 a programme called Equal Opportunities aimed to provide better initiatives to help parents. It includes initiatives to support vulnerable bilingual children in primary and secondary school and their parents and an establishment of community centres in under-privileged housing areas that will function as social and cultural gathering points and offer services such as ‘homework cafes’, etc. In 2006 Denmark introduced a day-care guarantee by law to ensure that parents are offered a day-care place for their child from the age of six months. Furthermore, Denmark continued the development of the services available to disabled children for both day care and education, and the support offered to the children’s parents in the form of improved access to compensation for loss of earnings to those caring for a disabled child at home.
In Greenland, it is expected that the protection of the rights of children in Greenland’s family-law cases will reach the same level as in Denmark. The Greenland Working Environment Act was amended in 2005 and now contains provisions as to the minimum age for admission to employment and rules to ensure that any employment involving young people under the age of 18 must enable the work to be performed in a manner that is perfectly sound from a safety and health point of view. In the Faeroe Islands, the Child Welfare Act from 2005 sets a comprehensive framework concerning children’s rights and, among others, ensures the right of a child to be heard in child welfare cases that involve them, if it is compatible with their age and maturity; sets forth an obligation of the authorities to secure adequate and secure conditions for children and young persons; and sets up local child welfare committees. In addition, an act on day-care facilities, an act on child maintenance for single parents, an act on maternity/paternity leave schemes as well as a new child welfare act have come into force.
Presentation of Report
ALLAN RAHBOL JACKOBSEN, Head of the Human Rights Unit, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark, presenting the report, provided additional information on developments since the report had been finalised, which included the Child’s Reform initiative, the day-care system, the strategy on unaccompanied minors entering Denmark, a comprehensive programme on juvenile crime and a comprehensive programme against drug abuse. In March 2009 Denmark had launched a new strategy on international human rights cooperation which contained new commitments to the promotion and protection of the rights of the child, and supported monitoring of human rights compliance, including the cooperation with international institutions. Turning to the Child’s Reform initiative, Denmark said that this was the latest Danish reform aimed at increasing the welfare of children at risk and the basic enforcement of their rights. The Reform had put focus on children’s safety in childhood and adolescence, and on children right to complain. The legal initiatives in the Child’s Reform had entered into force in January 2011 and the Government had put aside almost 125 million euros for its implementation.
The Danish Government had made significant progress in the day-care system, which was crucial since 97 per cent of all children in Denmark between the age of three and five were in day-care, so this system represented a unique opportunity to support the welfare, development and learning of all children. Denmark, like a number of other European countries, had experienced an increase in the number of unaccompanied minors who entered the country and they were regarded as a particularly vulnerable group of children whose best interest was highly prioritised in Denmark. The programme on juvenile crime the “New Start” aimed at targeting juvenile crime more effectively and helping juveniles to a better future, which included the amendment to the Criminal Code and a change in the age of criminal responsibility from 15 to 14 years. The Danish Government had launched its new action plan against drug abuse in October 2010 built on four central pillars – prevention, treatment, harm reduction and control. A central part of the action plan was dedicated to the matter of prevention and early intervention, which in relation to children and adolescents were of great importance.
TORBEN WEYHE, Head of Section, Ministry of Social Affairs, Government of Greenland, said that in June 2009 the people of Greenland had celebrated the entering into force of the Act on Self-governance, which meant that Greenland could take over further responsibility areas from the Danish state at a pace which Greenland found proper. The Self-Governance agreement would not influence the children’s area formally since this area had already been under the competence of the Home Rule Government. The right to self-determination of the people of Greenland brought with it the new responsibilities to ensure the development of its population and citizens. A new Government had been elected in June that had placed children and youth on top of the political agenda and had allocated appropriate budgets for children’s programmes. A newly signed agreement with the United Nations Children’s Fund of Denmark aimed at promoting the Convention in Greenlandic conditions. In 2009, the Government had set up the Commission for welfare which in 2011 would deliver its final report with recommendations for socio-economic reforms to level out social and economic inequality in society. The essential task of the Commission was to analyse correlation between economic growth and welfare as a way to develop the possibilities for the Greenlandic people.
HALLBERA WEST, Representative of the Faroe Islands and Adviser in the Ministry of Social Affairs, said that human rights and democracy were fundamental values in the Faroe Islands and continued to form the basis for respect and enjoyment of all rights including child’s rights. The Government was responsible for education, health, social welfare and pension systems in the country. The report was the first one presented by the Government and after its submission it had been presented publicly to the population of the country. The Government had recently decided to develop an action plan against violence at home, which would be launched this spring. The Government recognised the fundamental challenges of ensuring human rights at all levels of society and this would be an important consideration for the human rights work in the Faeroe Islands.
Questions by Experts
MARTA MAURAS, the Committee Expert serving as Rapporteur for the report of Denmark, thanked the multi-institutional and multi-territorial delegation of Denmark for their fourth periodic report and said it had taken the Committee three years to programme this meeting due to the backlog and resource scarcity. As the representative of Denmark said, this was not a beauty contest but an opportunity for all to learn and improve. The United Nations Children’s Fund had placed Denmark among those top countries that promoted the rights of children and their wellbeing. The Rapporteur noted a number of issues of concern in Denmark, including the situation in the Faroe Islands which has the highest index of inequalities(GINI index) in all of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development countries; the different situation of children of Denmark and the territories of Greenland and the Faroe Islands; and the new administrative arrangements which saw local communities distributing resources and risked inequality in access to resources in territories less developed that the mainland. The Committee was also concerned about what appeared to be an excessive reaction to the behaviour of youth and adolescents, which was obvious in the lowering of the criminal age of responsibility from 15 to 14 years of age; and about the right to non-discrimination in Denmark and a possible contribution of new laws to the climate of intolerance.
The Rapporteur wished to know more about the Child’s Reform and other legal reforms, for example what was the rationale for the reform and how did the Government intend to stress prevention rather then punishment? The Rapporteur further asked who was in charge of child policies in Denmark and how the resources for children were earmarked, including the assessment of their impact. The Rapporteur congratulated Denmark on their commitment to official development assistance, which had been increased by 4.3 per cent and expressed the hope that this trend would continue, particularly in the view of the recent global economic and financial crises. The Government should examine how the corporate sector could contribute to the promotion and protection of human rights in the framework of corporate social responsibility.
KAMEL FILALI, the Committee Expert serving as Co-Rapporteur for the report of Denmark, requested clarification regarding the right to appeal and principles of fair trials in cases of juveniles and further information on the incorporation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child into the national law, including the training of judges in the rights of the child. Very few children in Denmark were aware of the Convention, it had not been taught in schools and as a consequence the Danish children might not be knowledgeable about their rights. Turning to the right of the child to be heard, the Co-Rapporteur asked what were the practices for legal proceedings, particularly in case of detention and how was the enjoyment and exercise of this right assured. The report mentioned supervision and training of the police force in this area, and the delegation was asked to provide further information about this activity, particularly in the area of putting laws and training into practice. Since Denmark did not have an institution of the children’s ombudsman, would it not be a good idea to institute it and so ensure that children had someone to turn to and express grievances? Statistics showed that on average more that eight children died of parental mistreatment and this meant it happened inside the family. What was Denmark doing about this situation, and also about the excessive use of force in cases of demonstrations involving children?
Other Experts then asked a number of questions, pertaining to, among other things, the structure of the relationship between the mainland and the territories of Greenland and the Faroe Islands. There were differences in the status of children in different parts of Denmark, and the Committee did not have sufficient information about the implementation of the Convention in the territories. Were the initiatives mentioned in the report, including the Child’s Reform, also applicable in Greenland and the Faroe Island, or only in the mainland?
Regarding the respect for the views of the child in the case of unaccompanied minors seeking asylum, there was a concern that those children were not individually interviewed during the process. The delegation was also asked to comment on a rather high number of work accidents involving children in Denmark. Another Expert said that despite the fact that Danish children were among the happiest in the world, there still was space and room for progress. The delegation was thus asked to provide information on the Government’s position on optimally combining the roles of parents, government and children themselves in exercising the right to information and the right to privacy.
An Expert recognised the work of the civil society in Denmark whose report, with which one might agree or disagree, had enabled the Committee to have multiple perspectives about the situation of children’s rights in Denmark. Turning to the programme on democracy taught in schools in Denmark, the Committee noted that the Convention as such had not been incorporated in the curriculum or in the teachers’ education. How did Denmark make the Convention and the rights of the child known to Danish children, teachers, the public, refugees, unaccompanied minors and others?
Committee members further wished to know more about the right to acquire nationality in Denmark. There were many stateless children of foreign origin, particularly from Palestine, who were denied nationality. The rules of acquiring the nationality were rather complex. How did the Government plan to treat stateless children born and raised in Denmark? How would the Government extend the right to nationality to stateless children either born and raised in Denmark, or born elsewhere and raised in Denmark?
The Chairperson said that Denmark should be very proud of its achievements and that others should learn from their best practices. This particular report presented by Denmark had not followed the reporting guidelines, regardless of it being very rich in information. The Committee wished to see analysis and self-criticism in periodic reports, and this had not been visible the Danish report. The Committee wished to know why reservations still existed and why a comprehensive action plan had not been developed and put in place. Regarding poverty programme and the rule of 300 working hours for a family as a cut-off line for Government assistance, the Chairperson asked if there was any analysis available on this new rule.
Response by the Delegation
Responding to the questions related to the Child’s Reform initiative, the delegation said it was a comprehensive reform that entailed a number of reforms in different areas of social welfare. Its main objective was to ensure the welfare of the child and the involvement of local communities in its provision. The amendments included enhancing the safety of children through strengthening the system of foster families; and giving the children the right to appeal from the age of 12, lowering it from the previous 16 years of age. A major function of the Danish social system was the appeal system, which was further expanded and this enabled for example, the reporting of cases of abuse by unrelated individuals. Amendments also included the principle of early interventions vis-à-vis children in difficulties, and this was supported by the extension of access to professionals, such as teachers and day-care personnel, to discuss concerns. Legal obligations of professionals to report child abuse were also extended. The reform had also strengthened the local authorities’ supervision of placement facilities. The whole reform was supported by research into the efficacy of interventions, results of which were disseminated to social workers throughout the country.
Asked how Denmark defined a “child at risk”, the delegation explained that social workers were educated in handling and identifying a child at risk. It was hard to exactly define this group, but the essence was in having professional social workers. Another mechanism to ensure that identification of a child at risk was appropriate was through the appeal system which a child could use to complain against being treated as a child at risk. The whole appeal system, including the Appeals Board had to take the side of the child and ensure his or her best interest. A lot of efforts were put in educating social workers, case workers and educators in identifying vulnerable children. The central legal framework was very clear and the local authorities had to promote the best interest of the child; some had developed guidelines to identify vulnerable children and children at risk. It indeed was an area where a delicate balance must be struck in recognising the risk and vulnerability and not under-react or over-react.
On the balance between the penal system and early intervention, the delegation said it was a delicate issue, but the Child Reform initiative was focused on prevention of problems rather that repair of problems existing for a period of time already. Following-up on this explanation, a Committee Expert underscored that there were discrepancies between the attention and commitment given to work with children at the level of the local communities, and the need for training, resources and multidisciplinary teams needed for this kind of work. How did Denmark resolve this tension? Responding, the delegation said that during the last 10 to 15 years there had been a steady growth of resources dedicated to activities for children and particularly children at risk at the local levels. The central question here was whether those resources could be shifted toward prevention for the best interest of the child. On the question on what measures were taken to ensure there was fairness in treatment of children throughout Denmark, the delegation said that the answer lay in how the system was constructed. It was possible to ensure objectivity in how a child was supported through the appeal system; for example, if parents thought they were not receiving the support they were entitled to, they could appeal.
Regarding the treatment of children in Greenland and the Faroe Islands compared to the mainland, the delegation said that the social legislation of Denmark was not applicable in those territories. An Expert noted that the responsibility for the implementation of the Convention in these territories was with Denmark, to which the delegation said it was the competence of the authorities of Greenland and the Faroe Islands to ensure compliance. What was the role of the State of Denmark vis-à-vis the implementation of the Convention in those territories, an Expert asked and enquired if it would be possible for lessons to be learned and shared in order to reform the law in Greenland with the positive experience from Denmark? The delegation said there was already cooperation with the Greenland Government in making this legislation, but it must be kept in mind that Greenland had different conditions from those of Denmark and that must be taken into account when making the new legislation. The Kingdom of Denmark was composed of three constituencies, Denmark, Greenland and the Faroe Islands which meant in practice that it was up for Greenland and the Faroes to decide for themselves and adopt laws, in all areas apart from foreign affairs and policy and integration. A lot of Conventions reflected this constitutional order, to the extent that only after a careful consideration with Greenland and the Faroes, it would be decided if those territories would adhere to the provisions of that Convention.
Responding to questions on the Article 40 reservation, the delegation said it was still not possible to withdraw this reservation. The minor offences were simple cases for which the penalties were fixed as a matter of the scale, which meant that maximum fine was 3,000 Dkr, or around 400 euro. In terms of the incorporation of the Convention, the delegation said that Denmark had decided not to incorporate it in its national laws. After the ratification Denmark had taken continuous steps to ensure that the national legislation was in line with the Convention. The Government took its international obligations seriously and had underlined time and again efforts to ensure that those human rights obligations it had undertaken were respected. The question was whether the Convention would have more strength if incorporated in the national law; the way the Convention was used in Denmark was such that incorporation in the national law would make no difference whatsoever and the important fact was that the text was ratified. Training of judges in the Convention was a part the system. Concerning juvenile judges, the Government presented the initiative introducing juvenile judges in District Courts in order to ensure expertise in dealing with children and youth.
Responding to another question, the delegation said that the Danish system was highly decentralised in the content and methods of teaching. It had its benefits but also challenges, which meant that specific themes and knowledge could not be imposed. On the positive side, the system ensured that local concerns, needs and conditions were taken into account. The education system was notorious for participation of students in designing the instruction which enabled schools to function in a highly democratic and participative manner, which would not be possible to ensure if the decisions were made centrally. The content and the curriculum of the Danish primary and lower secondary school still contained the knowledge about the rights of children flowing from the international obligations of Denmark, including from the Convention on the Rights of the Child. There was no formal approach to rights training whereby the main purpose of the school was not to provide knowledge about the sources of rights, such as specific texts, instruments or conventions, but on understanding and exercising of those rights in their lives.
Regarding unaccompanied minors seeking asylum in Denmark, they were in the competence of the Immigration Service. Those minors who were not mature enough to undergo the official procedure would be automatically granted stay permit. Acts of war, or similar circumstances in the country of origin would be taken into account in making the decision, as would other factors according to the principle of the best interest of the child. An Expert asked for further clarifications concerning the amendment made in December 2010 and the possibility of repatriation, and whether this would violate the best interest of the child and the principle of non-discrimination.
Further Questions by Experts
MARTA MAURAS, the Committee Expert serving as Rapporteur for the report of Denmark, in a second round of questions and comments, said that the high number of children placed in alternative care was an issue of concern. Behavioural problems or lack of respect for the rules of the households were universal issues applying to youth worldwide, and it was not very clear why it was so often evoked in Denmark for placement of children in alternative care. Regarding the number of children living in poverty and the new rule of 300 hours of work in order for a family to qualify for government assistance, the Rapporteur said it might not be the right approach, particularly for the one third of the poor who were not Danish and who could find it more difficult to access jobs.
KAMEL FILALI, the Committee Expert serving as Co-Rapporteur for the report of Denmark, asked whether a possible root cause of many children appearing to be in alternative care might be a parent suffering from mental health problems; evidence from other countries indicated that 20 per cent of modern families might suffer from this problem. Concerning the mental health of children, which should now be put on the agenda, an Expert asked how Denmark was addressing Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder and what other methods were recommended before medication was prescribed. Was there a possibility of investing more in prevention and in better use of primary health care in school to prevent a number of cases from going to specialised clinics? Denmark had achieved much in the area of children with disabilities and the Co-Rapporteur wanted to hear more about the measures to further improve the welfare of those children.
Other Experts than asked a number of questions, including about the role of parents and children in placing decisions. Could Denmark clarify if they could reach those families experiencing problems in raising children? A proportion of the children stayed in the system for a longer time, the average length of stay was three and a half years, which meant there was not much intervention and not much planning. Only a small proportion of children had a care plan; 60 per cent of the placements were not consistent with the policies and, there were mistakes in the social work with those children. What were the reasons for this state of affairs? On abuse and neglect, an Expert asked if the new initiative strengthened the identification of those cases and if the perpetrator was a family member, what measures were taken to protect the child.
Another Committee member noted that Denmark had a comprehensive plan on combating child abuse and asked if the action plan was recently updated. If Danish children were abused or sexually exploited abroad, what services, in addition to health services were in place, and were there compensation systems available? On adolescent health, an Expert said that child obesity was a problem and it was even an indicator of child poverty. The issue that stood out in relation of adolescent health in Greenland was teenage pregnancies and abortions. What health services were available to adolescents and were there comprehensive adolescent health policies in both Greenland and Denmark? The delegation was also asked about illicit transfer and child kidnapping and did Denmark have data on abduction from or to Denmark by a parent? What was Denmark doing to protect Danish spouses whose children were abducted and taken to countries which had not ratified the Hague Convention? Were there any children living in prison with their incarcerated mothers and how was their welfare and their rights assured?
Response by the Delegation
In pre-trial detention, a child was heard before the decision was made, the delegation said, and as any with any other person the child had the right to appeal after the decision was made. Denmark was not contemplating the establishment of a children’s ombudsman because young people had several possibilities to express grievances: they could file a complaint with the ombudsman for social affairs, benefit from the recently extended appeal process, or contact the National Council for Children, which had recently been receiving permanent funding from the Government. This attitude towards the institution of a children’s ombudsman was based on the opinion of the Government that the existing institutions and mechanisms were sufficient, the delegation said.
On the issue of social poverty in Greenland and the Faroes, a member of the delegation from Greenland said that a number of reform processes in Denmark were not adapted to specific realities of Greenland, which was more resource poor and felt the needed to chart its own direction in further socio-economic development. The authorities were developing the strategy, expected in 2011, which would frame the political vision for children’s development and children rights for the next 15 to 20 years. Socio-economic reforms in Greenland were necessary if it was to become a self-sustaining country in the future; those reforms must encompass education of children, state of low-income families, and support for welfare activities in the society.
Answering the questions related to child poverty in the Faroe Islands, a representative from the Faroese delegation said that the people of the Faroe Islands enjoyed high standards of living, a generous social benefit system and a well-functioning family support mechanism. Further on the questions by Experts on the situation of children in the Faroes, the delegation said that sexual abuse of children was a complicated issue, of which only social and not criminal aspects were in the competence of the Faroese authorities. The reporting and alternative care systems were in place, while the regulations allowed for a medical examination of a child without parental consent in cases of suspected child abuse.
Concerning the Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, which had not been extended to Greenland and the Faroe Islands, the delegation said that the large majority of the Greenland parliament was in favour of adopting the Protocol, and this was now work in progress as the national legislation had to be adapted soon. The Faroes would also consider the signing and the ratification of the Optional Protocol.
Denmark was very anxious to prevent violence against children and would soon be launching a campaign to ensure that children knew their right to life without violence. Concerning the high number of work accidents involving youth, the Government said it paid particular attention to youth in working environment, which included promulgation of laws, policies, inspection, and other measures. On the Internet and society, with the aim of protecting children, the delegation said that child pornography blocking filters were developed blocking access to suspicious sites while the police encouraged Internet suppliers to block access. A special thematic publication about information technology was developed for the curriculum, which promoted critical knowledge and a culture of critical reflection about the material available on the Internet and how to develop proactive and progressive ways of obtaining and accessing information from the Internet. The focus of other activities was on equipping the child with the knowledge and awareness about the dilemmas and risks of communicating over the Internet with an unknown person.
The “300 hours rule” had been introduced in 2007, with impact assessment conducted in 2008 which demonstrated that one third of the families were in employment half a year later. This rule applied to families in need for social welfare where both spouses had the ability to work. This was not the only way or the only social welfare scheme available for families in Denmark, and there were other mechanisms to fight poverty and social and economic exclusion. On the issue of nationality, particularly for stateless children born in Denmark, the delegation said that those children could benefit from the naturalisation law of 1992, although they would not automatically have the right to nationality.
The Government programme Denmark 2020 aimed to develop indicators of poverty, as a foundation for policies combating poverty and exclusion, and had committed to reducing the number of people living in poverty. Denmark had a relatively high degree of placements of children in alternative care compared to other Scandinavian States, which might be due to the differences on adoption laws and practices. The drop however had been registered recently, the reasons of which were not entirely clear. Placement often had poor results for young people, so the Government aimed to develop different solutions in cooperation with local authorities; one such programme which showed a lot of promise was support to parenting and if placement could not be avoided, doing so with the child’s rights in mind. The United Nations guidelines for alternative care had been taken into consideration when the legislation was constructed; the law ensured that the children could stay in one place.
Answering questions regarding children’s mental health and over-prescription for treatment of Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder, the delegation said that the prescription of medicines was not a decision taken lightly and was monitored by the National Board of Health, which could limit the right of the doctor to prescribe such treatment. Denmark was trying to increase access to mainstream education for children with special education needs, and to reduce the number of segregated schools. This had a major impact on resource allocation and teachers’ training, which had been reformed in 2007 to include special education.
Denmark placed greatest priority on combating sexual violence against children and would launch a comprehensive national strategy on child abuse at the beginning of 2011. The strategy had been developed in cooperation with key stakeholders, including non-governmental organizations, which were specialised children issues and rights. A compensation system for victims of sexual abuse was in place in Denmark. The 2003 action plan against sexual abuse was still valid. Denmark did not have a stand-alone adolescent health policy; still the issues affecting adolescent health had been in focus, such as smoking, alcohol use or obesity. Every child and adolescent was entitled to health promotion and education services, and schools and health institutions cooperated in providing comprehensive services. General health and preventive policies towards tobacco and alcohol in the Faroe Islands also targeted adolescents.
Further Questions by Experts
In the third round of questioning, Committee Experts asked a number of additional questions, including the application of the international code on marketing of breast milk in Denmark and what the plans for the establishment of this code were. Given that the Danish law did not make school directors or school boards responsible for bullying, and parents were not held responsible, did local committees have a role to play? How did the Inuit, particularly their children, enjoy their identity and cultural rights?
Another Expert asked about youth in conflict with the law and what the difference was between places of detention for juvenile offenders and the prisons. Regarding trafficking in persons, an Expert asked the delegation to clarify the measures taken to protect vulnerable unaccompanied minors and street children, to inform the Committee about prosecution measures against trafficking in persons and to explain the help-line system in place for children victims of trafficking. On children and armed conflict, a Committee member asked if a built-in system to identify children arriving from countries affected by conflict existed.
Further on asylum-seeking children, the report claimed that those children were provided by legal assistance, called “Permanent personal sponsor”, and this being a very interesting institution, a Committee member asked for more information about this worthwhile practice. The Chairperson asked additional questions about medical exams for age-determination in case of asylum-seeking children and for clarifications on refugee and migrant children that might have been involved in hostilities in their countries of origin.
Response by the Delegation
Responding to questions on child abduction, the delegation said that there were about 20 to 25 cases from Denmark to other parties and about 15 to 20 cases per year from other parties to Denmark. The rule of adoption without consent of parents had been changed in 2009 and was aimed at parents who were permanently not able to take care of them. So far, there had only been one adoption carried according to those new rules and there had been some reluctance among the social workers to use the new rules.
Regarding children of incarcerated parents, children under three were allowed to be taken to prison with the parent, but only after social workers had assessed the situation and found it in the best interest of the child. The Government had a special institution, called family home, where a sentence could be served with children up to 15 years old.
Concerning breast feeding, the delegation said breastfeeding was recommended in Denmark on the basis of international guidelines and the new national database was now being established. A recent study in Denmark demonstrated a drop in the number of children bullied in schools, which might be a result of action against bullying in schools. Bullying was viewed as a multifaceted problem, a pattern of negative group dynamics, to be resolved by providing children with positive and constructive tools rather than focusing on sanctions. As for the responsibility for taking action against bullying on the local level, legislation had been recently passed which called for the establishment of plans of action and over 90 per cent of schools had them.
Asked for further information on the Inuit and the enjoyment of their cultural rights, a representative of Greenland said that 90 per cent of the population were Inuit. The school system was free, while primary education up to age ten was compulsory. The official language was Greenlandic.
Denmark was building more places in pre-trial detention, which could have been one of the concerns related to lowering the age of criminal responsibility from 15 to 14, the delegation said. In 2007, Denmark had launched an action plan to combat trafficking in persons, under the responsibility of the national police. This plan had been externally evaluated and those findings would be included in the new action plan 2011-2014, that had been currently formulated. Victims of trafficking would often be granted a residency permit; if this permit would be refused, a so-called reflection permit would be granted, which was valid between 30 and 100 days. Upon return to the country of origin, victims were offered assistance though the International Organization for Migration, based on individual needs. The Government had secured funding for the help-line for children for another three years, and was also monitoring the demands and possibilities for further strengthening of the child phone, which nevertheless was not the only way of reporting concerns.
On the issue of identifying children subjected to serious harm in their country of origin, such as armed conflict or traditional harmful practices, the delegation said that there was no specific in-built system to identify those children, but this information was routinely sought as part of the asylum procedure. Unaccompanied minors would be allocated a permanent sponsor, who would help guide the child through the system; upon the granting of asylum, a child would be appointed a guardian. Speaking about age determination, the delegation said that the consent of the minor was necessary in order to conduct examination.
Preliminary Concluding Observations
MARTA MAURAS, the Committee Expert serving as Rapporteur for the report of Denmark, in preliminary concluding observations, thanked Denmark for its commitment to cooperation in human rights and for the new developments reported to the Committee today. The concerns were in the direction of trying to assure that children’s reforms did more in terms of prevention and protection from risks. This required a slightly different vision, which might inspire the legislation in Greenland. Many questions were asked on asylum seeking and unaccompanied minors; the Committee would like to see more permanent protection measures for those children. The lowering of the age of criminal responsibility was another point of concern, and the Committee was looking forward to receiving a follow-up on the impact of this measure. The Committee on the Rights of the Child remained interested in continuing the dialogue on the integration of the Convention into national law and on the comprehensive policy on children. The Danish position on the child’s ombudsmen should still be discussed, as the Committee did not fully agree with the explanation provided. In closing, the Rapporteur thanked the delegation for the very candid answers on health, in particular adolescent health and the absence of a comprehensive policy, and on education.
ALLAN RAHBOL JACKOBSEN, Head of Human Rights Unit at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark, thanked the Committee members and said that the examination before the Committee today made up an important part of Denmark’s international obligations in the area of human rights. It was important to have an opportunity to discuss the important issues; that was not to say that agreement would be reached on all of them. Finally, Mr. Jackobsen thanked all Committee Experts for their questions, comments and remarks; their concluding observations would be taken back to Denmark where they would be given due consideration and when the time came, would be made widely available.
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