A report by the Children's Rights Committee of the Council of Europe "deplores" the lack of effective measures taken to protect migrant and asylum-seeking children from sexual exploitation and sexual abuse in transit zones at the Serbian-Hungarian border.
In a statement, the committee said that children in these zones continue to face unnecessary risks because Hungarian authorities have not done enough to protect them, despite a few positive developments. The Council of Europe Convention on the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse ("Lanzarote Committee")
had visited the transit zones in 2017 and provided recommendations to the Hungarian authorities last year.
From continued blocking of NGO access to the transit zones, to inadequate age verification, the report outlines enduring challenges that children face there.
Minors treated as adults
The statement said the Lanzarote Committee continues to consider deplorable the fact that unaccompanied children aged 14-18 are still treated as adults under immigration procedures. Children remain detained in fenced, open-air areas with containers for shelter. Unaccompanied children aged 14-18 - especially girls - are still not cared for within the regular Hungarian child protection system, which increases their risk for sexual exploitation and abuse.
The committee is particularly concerned over the expected closing of the Károlyi István Children's Home at Fót. The Lanzarote Committee said it has not received precise information on alternative accommodation (and conditions) foreseen for the unaccompanied children.
Critical areas highlighted in report
The report said Hungarian authorities have not taken necessary steps to cooperate with Serbian authorities and properly manage waiting lists for entering Hungarian transit zones, so as to prevent possible sexual exploitation and sexual abuse of asylum-seeking children.
In addition, age verification procedures have not changed since the 2017 visit. Army doctors, whose knowledge in age verification has not been demonstrated, are still carrying out this function.
Another problem concerns language. According to reliable sources other than the Hungarian authorities, children affected by the refugee crisis do not have access to adequate interpretation support, especially for medical examinations, psychotherapeutic sessions, meetings with guardians or with social workers.
While the committee praises the "positive development" that a psychologist and psychiatrist are present in the transit zones, it remains concerned that these professionals are present for only a "very limited number of hours per week" and that communication between these professionals and children is limited, due to language barriers.