15 November 2005

The Special Rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, Juan Miguel Petit, made the following statement on 14 November in Athens:

In my capacity as Special Rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, I carried out an official visit in Greece from 8 to 14 November 2005. During the visit, I had some 25 meetings and interacted with over 100 persons.

I thank the Government and in particular the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for having extended to me the invitation to visit the country and for facilitating all meetings with public authorities.

During the visit, I had the honour to meet the Minister of Justice, and high level representatives of the Ministry of Public Order, the Ministry of National Education and Religions, the Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of Employment and Social Protection, and the Ministry of Health and Social Solidarity. I met representatives of the Parliament, judges, prosecutors and the police. I had meetings with international organizations, NGOs, community centres, children’s institutions and a detention centre for unaccompanied minors awaiting deportation. I had the opportunity to speak with children in all these institutions.

This visit comes after a mission to Albania, undertaken from 31 October to 7 November. The purpose of visiting two neighbouring countries was to better understand trans-national dynamics of phenomena like child trafficking and migration flows of unaccompanied children.

After having been a country of origin of migration, in the last decade Greece has increasingly become a country of transit and destination of migrants. The huge and dispersed coastline makes Greece an attractive destination or a gateway to the European Union. This big flow of people on the move brought along challenges that the country was not prepared to face. I refer in particular to the situation of children, which is the one pertaining to my mandate. Unaccompanied minors can be easily exposed to the risk of exploitation and trafficking if they are not adequately protected.

Several achievements can be registered: relevant international instruments were ratified, some other are in the process of being ratified; new laws have been adopted on trafficking of human beings and on migration The law on migration will enter into force in January 2006.; an institutional framework to implement the law against trafficking was set up through the establishment of the Inter-Ministerial Task Force for Combating Human Trafficking and the adoption of an integrated programme.

Nevertheless, even though the number of registered cases of child trafficking or child sexual exploitation that was reported to me may be relatively small, the institutional capacity to respond needs to be further improved.

There is still need to improve the coverage of social programmes with specialised staff with specific expertise to work with foreign unaccompanied minors, street children, and victims of trafficking. This was recognised by all actors I inter-acted with.

The protection of unaccompanied minors is to be improved. Although the Government is making efforts in this direction, in practice unaccompanied children are too often treated as adult illegal migrants. This is particularly concerning for more vulnerable categories of unaccompanied minors, such as victims of trafficking and asylum seekers, who may end up being deported without having had the possibility to access the protection measures they are entitled to.

The situation of Roma and Roma children is a concern. I visited a Roma settlement in which housing conditions and sanitation are just not acceptable. Access to health and education is limited or lacking and social programmes are not providing assistance to the community. The State should take specific measures to improve the living conditions and the possibilities of development of Roma communities to give to Roma children alternatives other than street work or prostitution as survival strategies for them and their families.

During the visit, I looked for information on the case of the approximately 500 children who went missing from the children’s institution Aghia Varvara between 1998 and 2002. I share the conclusion of the report of the Ombudsman on the case, which indicated the overall deficiencies of the institution Aghia Varvara to adequately respond to the challenging objective of the government programme set up at the time and aimed at giving protection and social care to street children. I saw the records in which children coming and going from Aghia Varvara were registered. All the elements I gathered indicate a deficiency in the design of the educational and social methodology of the programme. During my visit in Albania, the Albanian Ombudsman informed me that only 4 of the missing children from Aghia Varvara have been located in Albania. We do not know where the others are. As a preliminary suggestion, I recommend to consider the possibility of creating a mix commission of relevant Greek and Albanian authorities, the Ombudsmen of both countries and NGOs which have worked on the case. The commission should coordinate the efforts to locate the children whose whereabouts remain unknown and identify institutional responsibilities. My perspective on this case is on the lessons that we should draw from it to prevent its recurrence in the future. For this, a more efficient and cooperative relationship between the Government and NGOs is needed to make children a recognised priority for the country beyond political, institutional and ideological disputes.

My last consideration relates to the lack of an overarching institutional set up for child protection. Institutional responsibilities are spread among different ministries without a coordinating entity. Such a coordinating body is very much needed to improve the institutional capacity to respond to the problems I referred to, together with specific measures such as specialised educators and social workers, outreach programmes, community centres, and resourced shelters. The cooperation of NGOs in the implementation of these measures, which are to be framed in an overarching policy on children’s rights and child protection, is an indispensable asset. An advisory board of civil society and public authorities to advice on the design of policies and on priority areas can be instrumental to give an institutional framework to the participation of civil society.