Two children who arrived in the Spanish enclave of Ceuta from Morocco in May 2021 and were being hosted in temporary lodgings for migrants | Photo: EPA / BRAIS LORENZO
Two children who arrived in the Spanish enclave of Ceuta from Morocco in May 2021 and were being hosted in temporary lodgings for migrants | Photo: EPA / BRAIS LORENZO

A new law passed by the Spanish parliament prohibits stripping migrants under age 18 to ascertain their age, a method that the UN has said violates the migrants' dignity. The law will come into force in June.

From now on, no one will be able to force a migrant child or adolescent in Spain to strip and have their genitals examined to ascertain their age. A law establishing this has been approved by the Spanish parliament and will come into force in June after the country received several warnings from international organizations -- including the UN -- attesting to the abusive nature of these procedures.

"For over 12 years, foreign boys and girls arriving in this country without their families have been made to strip and --- judging by their public hair, breasts or genitals, alongside other evidence -- have their age assessed," Minister for Social Rights Ione Belarra said last week.

"I have always thought that these methods constitute a violation of children's rights," she added, "but from now on they will be illegal."

'I felt like I was reliving things I wanted to forget'

Among those subjected to these procedures is Arcange (not her real name), a girl originally from Cameroon and victim of sexual abuse who, on her arrival at the Madrid airport in August 2017, said that she was 16.

Months later, she was forced to undress entirely and have her genitals examined on the orders of the prosecutor's office. That examination raised doubts about whether she was actually under age 18, which led to her having the protection accorded to migrants under age 18 taken away from her, according to the Fundación Raíces NGO, which brought public attention to her case.

Spain granted her refugee status in 2019 but the issue on determining her true age was left unresolved for a long time.

A resolution by the UN's Committee on the Rights of the Child established this year that the Spanish state had violated the young woman's rights and ordered that she be compensated and that her age be corrected on her ID papers.

Moreover, the committee asked Spain to ban age assessments such as the one Arcange had been subjected to as it was harmful to the dignity, privacy and physical integrity of those involved.

"Even if it was only for a few minutes, I felt bad, as if they had raped me and as if I were reliving the things that I wanted to forget," she later said.

Now the young woman is happy about the fact that "these exams will not be done any longer" and that "other people will no longer have to suffer the same things."

Response to UN's 'demands'

Fundación Raíces said that it approved of the Spanish parliament's decision to prohibit these methods. Chairperson Lourdes Reyzábal said that the law "responds to the demands expressed by the UN," even though there are aspects on the reception of minors that have not been considered and on which there is a need "to continue working."

Among them the NGO noted the "procedure for withdrawing custody of children from their parents" and the fact that there will continue to be procedures to ascertain the age of migrants even in cases in which "their appearance as children is clear" or their age "is substantiated with documents."

The prohibition of these procedures was included in a larger law on child rights and violence against them, which has been welcomed in Spain as important for their protection.

Among the new elements is a lengthening of the statute of limitations in the case of abuse. The calcolati will begin only from the time the victim is 35 and no longer from age 18.

The law was approved in the same days in which Spain had to deal with a migration emergency with the arrival in the Ceuta enclave of over 8,000 people -- including at least 800 minors -- from Morocco in only a few days.

"The state has the obligation to protect every boy, girl and adolescent," said Fundación Raíces in a statement.

Author: Francesco Rodella


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