A report adopted today by the Committee of the Parties to the Council of Europe Convention on the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse (“Lanzarote Committee”) “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.
Following up on a visit to transit zones in 2017 and recommendations made to the Hungarian authorities last year, the Lanzarote Committee has determined 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 (such as trainings put in place and the setting up of shaded areas).
From continued blocking of NGO access to the transit zones, to inadequate age verification, the report outlines enduring challenges that children face there.
The Lanzarote Committee continues to deplore 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 Hungarian regular child protection system, which increases the risk of sexual exploitation and abuse.
The committee is particularly concerned over the expected closing of the Károlyi István Children’s Home at Fót. Despite explanations given by Hungarian authorities, the Lanzarote Committee has not received precise information on alternative accommodation (and conditions) foreseen for the unaccompanied children.
Furthermore, Hungarian authorities have not taken necessary steps to co-operate 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.
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 again limited, due to language barriers.