The Council of Europe’s Group of Experts on Action against Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (GREVIO) finds that many countries lack enough protection for children and domestic violence victims. GREVIO, which monitors implementation of the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (Istanbul Convention), has published an annual report* focusing on child custody, visitation and domestic violence drawn from its evaluations thus far.
Describing strengths and weaknesses in implementing treaty articles 26, 31 and 45 relevant to domestic violence victims and decisions made on child custody and visitation, the report shows that while all states parties to the treaty have taken positive steps, “the road ahead is long” because implementation has been too inconsistent. Women victims of domestic violence who leave their abusers are often confronted with threats of harm to their children, and the report notes an “alarming rate of homicides of both women and child victims, which are reported regularly in the media across Europe”.
GREVIO also highlights that many states recognise harm done to children who witness domestic violence and provide for the obligation to inform relevant authorities of suspicion or confirmed incidents witnessed by children, or where children have been direct victims of violence.
In Montenegro and Italy, for example, GREVIO observed that domestic violence in the presence of children entails aggravated sentences. In both Italy and the Netherlands, committing violence against women in the presence of a child is equated to a form of child abuse. In Andorra and Montenegro, witnessing such violence is considered tantamount to experiencing it directly and legislation calls for the same level of protection and support by statutory agencies. Andorran legislation defines women who have been the object of gender-based violence as well as their minor children as “victims”, and they can be granted social, psychological and medical support.
In Spain, GREVIO welcomed a recent change to Article 156 of the Civil Code that removes the requirement of both parents’ consent for psychological counselling and support for common children. The perpetrator thus can no longer prevent his children from attending counselling sessions – a frequent obstacle to children receiving psychological support. In another positive example (Denmark), the Danish Stalking Centre offers psychological support to children who have witnessed the effects of stalking. GREVIO also praised five state-funded Children Aid Centres in Poland, created in 2018 and run by the Foundation Empowering Children, which offer free-of-charge psychological, educational and legal support to abused children and their guardians.
* The report covers findings made by GREVIO in the course of its first baseline evaluation procedure launched in 2016, and which is still on-going. It covers the situation in 20 state parties but only at the time of GREVIO’s evaluations