Summary in english

This report reviews the human rights framework for children’s right to protection against violence, abuse and neglect.

Chapter 1 of the report introduces the backdrop for and the purpose of the report.

Neglect and violence and abuse of children are serious social problems which have major consequences for the children concerned. Even though violence and abuse are normally conducted by individuals, the authorities has a responsibility for preventing and combating such actions. Violence and child abuse is thus also a human rights problem. The State is obliged by several human rights instruments to protect children from violence, abuse and neglect, and to assist and follow up the children who are exposed to this.

This area of human rights law has seen a rapid legal development in the last decade, in line with changing societal norms. Some practices that were deemed acceptable a few decades ago are now actions the authorities must protect the child from. New conventions, obligating States to protect women and children from violence and sexual abuse, have also been acceded to by Norwegian authorities in the last few years.

The purpose of the report is thus to provide an up-to-date and general overview of the human rights framework obligating the authorities to protect children from violence, abuse and neglect, as well as to put this human rights responsibility on the agenda. The purpose is also to create a clear guide where the reader easily can orient themselves in the various elements of the State’s human rights obligations towards children. The report was written with a particular view to the legal obligations, using legal methodology, with practitioners of law as an important target audience. Nevertheless, the report aims to inform everyone who works with, or has an interest in, children’s human rights protection against violence, abuse and neglect.

Chapter 2 provides a brief overview of the most important human rights that regulate the State’s duty to protect children from violence, abuse of neglect. We focus on the five most important human rights instruments in this context: the Norwegian Constitution, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child with the Additional Protocol, the European Convention on Human Rights, the Lanzarote Convention and the Istanbul Convention. We also address how these human rights should be interpreted in Norwegian law, and other relevant legal sources to inform the application and interpretation of the conventions.

Chapter 3 defines the most important terms that will be used in the report. «Children» means someone under the age of 18. The terms «violence» and «abuse» do not have an unambiguous definition in human rights instruments or in literature on human rights. Therefore, we review how the terms have been used under the five human rights instruments mentioned above. In short, the review shows that children should be protected from all forms of violence, including physical violence, psychological violence, economic violence and sexual violence.

The main emphasis of the report is in Chapters 4 and 5.

Chapter 4 highlights some elements that generally need to be taken into account when discussing the government’s obligations. Even though human rights oblige States and not private individuals, States have a human rights duty to prevent, avert and investigate violence and abuse between private individuals. These are formulated differently in the different conventions and the strength of the requirements varies. However, since children are particularly vulnerable and because violence and sexual abuse of children are of a very harmful nature, the State generally has a comprehensive obligation to protect children from such acts. In this chapter, we review some overarching principles that are important for the implementation of the State’s obligations. An important basic principle is that States must take a rights-based approach to the work on violence against children, meaning that the work must be based on and centered to the rights of children. We also review the four general principles that the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has underlined must serve as the basis for the interpretation of all rights in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and their significance for the work on violence and protective measures. These are (i) the principle of non-discrimination, (ii) the principle of the best interest of the child which shall be a primary consideration (iii) the principle of the child’s right to life and development and (iv) the principle of the child’s right to voice his or her opinion and to be heard.

Chapter 5 reviews the State’s specific obligations under the various human rights instruments. The chapter is organized by topic and reviews what can be derived from all the sources of law under the relevant point. In general, the requirements span over several areas and sectors. An assessment of these requirements constitutes the most comprehensive chapter in the report. The following specific obligations are reviewed in this chapter:

  • The State must ensure that several acts, including all forms of violence and sexual abuse of children, are criminalized.
  • The State must also implement protective measures at a societal level, such as training of professionals and awareness-raising, dissemination of information and treatment programmes aimed at preventing perpetrators, in particular sex offenders, from re-offending.
  • The State has a duty to ensure that mechanisms are in place that can identify children who are at risk of violence, abuse and neglect.
  • The State shall moreover have mechanisms in place that make it possible to report violence, abuse and neglect, e.g. by open telephone lines.
  • Furthermore, the State must in some cases take steps to avert violence and child abuse. When a report of an alleged risk against children is out forth, the authorities must respond immediately by launching investigations to decide whether the risk is real. In the investigations, the authorities must carry out an autonomous, proactive and comprehensive risk assessment of the reality and immediacy of the risk of violence against children, also by obtaining their own evidence. Where the risk is real and immediate, the authorities must immediately take reasonable measures to prevent violence or abuse of the child in question.
  • Human rights also require the authorities to investigate reports of violence and abuse against children, and, depending on the circumstances, also prosecute such violence. Moreover, there are several procedural requirements in place to safeguard children’s rights in cases that end up in criminal procedures. Children have a right to information and to be heard in all cases concerning them, including where they are victims in a criminal case.
  • Both parents and children have the right to family life with each other. When considering taking measures to protect children by interfering with the family life, this right must be assessed and considered at all stages.
  • If a child has been the victim of violence or abuse, the State is also obliged to follow up the child, e.g. by counselling or follow-up from a psychologist and other health services.
  • A child who has been the victim of violence, abuse and neglect shall also have access to justice and the opportunity to take cases of alleged human rights violations to courts or other bodies, where they shall also be able to put forth a claim for compensation.
  • Human rights law also call on States to cooperate internationally in the work with violence and violence prevention.

Overall, the review illustrates that human rights law provides concrete guidelines for how the authorities must, through legislation and in practice, protect children from violence, abuse and neglect.

This report does not assess whether Norwegian legislation or administrative practices complies with these obligations. It is thus not possible to draw a conclusion on whether Norway complies with these requirements. The report does, however, refer to some Norwegian judicial decisions with the aim of highlighting the content of the human rights obligations, which thereby sheds light on Norwegian laws and practices. Notwithstanding, we have not included any analyses or complete reviews of Norwegian law and practice in light of these decisions.