Seven leading non-profit organizations have filed a complaint with the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child in a bid to secure an international investigation into France's management of unaccompanied minors. The activists accuse the French state of "serious violations" in the protection of this vulnerable group.
France's treatment of unaccompanied minors has come under the spotlight again this week when a collective of NGOs called on the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child to denounce the "serious and systematic breaches" across the country.
The petition, which was declared admissible by the Committee on the Rights of the Child, opens the possibility of an investigation into the issue.
"Currently, thousands of unaccompanied minors depend on the voluntary support of nonprofit and grassroots organizations whereas they should, like any other minor present on French territory, benefit from state childcare protection services," noted a press statement issued by the French Council of Associations for the Rights of the Child (COFRADE) and Kids Empowerment, and co-signed by five other leading French NGOs.
The application to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child included "numerous quantitative and qualitative data, including concrete findings from the field, demonstrating serious and systematic violation of the rights of unaccompanied minors in France," said the press statement, which was issued Monday (May 3).
This is not the first time France's treatment of unaccompanied migrant children has sparked condemnations from human rights groups and humanitarian organizations. Last year, for instance, the New York-based Human Rights Watch noted that "France has for years failed to live up to its obligation to protect unaccompanied children on its territory, violating the Convention on the Rights of the Child and other international human rights instruments."
But the latest application refers the issue to the highest level since the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child is charged with monitoring the implementation of the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child.
'Denial of underage status' has knock-on effects
The grievances are numerous, but the petition cites "two main elements" responsible for the violations: "the denial of underage status" and "unequal treatment" suffered by these children on French territory.
These inequalities are manifested, among other examples, by a "generalized suspicion" towards young migrants, according to the petition, which includes detailed reports and data.
Furthermore, "the evaluation of the minority of these children is carried out in an incriminating manner, with some official protocols providing for it to be carried out directly at the police station," the petition notes, pointing to the use of evaluations based on physical criteria, such as bone tests, a controversial practice condemned by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child.
At the end of these evaluations, "these children are frequently denied protection on the grounds that their minority is disputed, contravening the principle of presumption of minority," says the petition. In such cases, most of people concerned do not have access to shelter.
Exposed to dangers, criminal networks
In an interview with InfoMigrants, Armelle Le Bigot-Macaux, head of COFRADE, highlighted the issue of territorial inequality when it comes to the situation of unaccompanied migrant children in France. "These minors are treated in an extremely variable way between [administrative] departments, it's unbearable, it's cruel," she said.
In 2019, some departments in France officially recognized just 16.6% of referred cases as minors while in other areas, the recognition rate was 100%. "The French Justice Ministry itself, in a 2018 report, noted that the differences in treatment between departments could have serious consequences on the future of unaccompanied minors," the document asserts.
Three years later, these issues are at standstill, according to NGOs. "The fear is that these minors, left to their own devices, will become real delinquents and turn society against them," said Le Bigot-Macaux. "The predators [criminal networks] are there, and they know that these young people are easy prey."
This is not the first time France has been criticized for its treatment of unaccompanied minors. In February, the French National Consultative Commission on Human Rights (CNCDH) noted that, "a foreign unaccompanied minor is first and foremost a child, who has the right to benefit from child protection and his or her basic needs must be guaranteed." it had argued. In 2018, the CNCDH also noted that the admission of an unaccompanied foreign minor should be immediate, even outside an asylum application.
The latest petition, dated November 2020, was accepted by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child in February and duly informed the French state. Since then, no official investigation has been undertaken, according to Le Bigot-Macaux, who said these delays seem normal.