The rights of unaccompanied children during the lockdown in Italy

By DCI ITALY

 

Introduction

The emergency created by the COVID outbreak in Italy has been particularly severe. It was the first country in Europe that had to respond to the health emergency and to the consequent social emergency generated by the spread of the virus and by the extremely strict containment measures.

Generally speaking, we must say that the attention that children and adolescents have received during the COVID emergency and the measures approved by the government and the public administrations have been very weak, they haven’t been a political priority.  Children’s needs and rights have not been considered and attended as such. All children have had to renounce to socialization, sport, the rights to play outdoor, they have been obliged to adapt the way of relating with their peers and with the school, they have faced complex family situations, they have adapted to online education, but not all with equal opportunities. All of them have seen their rights compressed.

During the lockdown, the almost 10 million of children who live in Italy have risked to become invisible, above all those who live in situations of particular vulnerability such as boys and girls living outside their family of origin or without any reference adults, such as the many unaccompanied foreign minors residing in the country. In July 2020, 5.202 unaccompanied children were registered in Italy by the national authorities[1], almost all of them living in residential care facilities. DCI Italy operates mainly in Genova, region of Liguria, which hosts around 191 unaccompanied children.

Impact of COVID19 for unaccompanied children: main observations

The lockdown had a first direct consequence for children living in institutions: the closure of the residential care facilities and other restrictions linked to the living conditions which resulted in the suspension or interruption of educational and occupational activities and a situation of aggravated social isolation. Such situation was clearly affecting the principle of non-discrimination, of the best interests of the child, of participation, as well as other social rights, and contravening art. 27 of the CRC on the right of every child to a standard of living adequate for his or her physical, mental, spiritual, moral and social development.

As a direct consequence of COVID19, the residential care facilities hosting unaccompanied foreign minors had to put in place a series of restrictions to protect the health of children and educators operating within them, in accordance with the provisions issued at national level. In practice, this has resulted in the impossibility to leave the facilities, to attend training or working courses and to meet the guardian. In addition, due to the poor resources of the facilities, many children were unable to attend the lessons remotely because the informatic devices were not sufficient to allow all minors to connect and follow the lessons on line, thus giving rise to discrimination not only between one facility and the other, but also within the same structure.

In this period it was fundamental to guarantee the stability of the reception conditions to avoid transfers that were not strictly necessary, to allow children to remain in the facility even after the age of 18, and to ensure the appointment of guardians. There were, however, some transfer cases that made it necessary to isolate the transferred child, while waiting for the outcome of the medical result, that could have been certainly avoided. With regard to the appointment of guardians, instead, in general this has been guaranteed in Liguria, although, due to the poor availability of volunteer guardians, institutional guardians have been appointed.

Another important aspect related to the principle of non-discrimination and the best interest of the child concerned the phase immediately after the lockdown, when visits to relatives living in the same region were authorized by the Government. Initially the guardians seemed to be excluded from this, but then, also thanks to the request for clarification sent from DCI Italy to the responsible of the social services, the latter, together with the Local Juvenile Court, agreed to consent also to the encounters between minors and their volunteer guardians.

The lockdown period also affected the normal development of administrative procedures and the functioning of social services. In particular, with regards to the procedure for applying for international protection, although according to a ministerial circular the police headquarters have been closed to the public during the lockdown phase, the same circular foresaw the possibility to go there to apply for international protection. In practice, at least in the Genoese territory, this provision has unfortunately not been applied, thus violating a fundamental right of the CRC (art. 22). We know how formalizing such a request as a minor rather than as an adult makes a fundamental difference with respect to the principle of prioritization.

DCI Italy actions to uphold the rights of unaccompanied children during the COVID19

In view of the situation created by the pandemic, DCI Italy has undertaken some actions aimed at upholding the rights of unaccompanied children, including:

  • Communication activities to open residential care facilities and allow children to go out and meet with their guardians, in respect of health protection.
  • Socio-legal, psychologic and educational online support for children.
  • Online training and support for volunteer guardians.
  • Online training and supervision for staff working in residential care facilities hosting unaccompanied children.
  • Remote social mentoring for young migrants (former unaccompanied children).
  • Advocacy action: prolonged support of the social services disposed by the juvenile court to all unaccompanied children coming to age during the emergency for a period of 6 months.

In order to guarantee, to those minors coming of age during the emergency period, to receive a prolonged support, DCI Italy addressed a note to the President of the Juvenile Court to adopt the measures foreseen by art. 13 Law 47/2017 for all those minors that have undertaken a path of social integration, to receive a prolonged support aimed at the success of  such path and at gaining autonomy. In particular, since all the undertaken projects of social integration had been suddenly interrupted, DCI Italy decided to request to the Juvenile Court to release the measure of the so called “prolonged support”, provided by law, to all unaccompanied children who were coming to age during the lockdown. As a result of this initiative about 30 minors have been able to benefit from this support, for a period of six months after reaching the age of 18, that allows them to carry on their social integration path. This period of 6 months might be extended (maximum up to 21 years) if the conditions continue to exist.

The main implication of this successful advocacy action was that those children were not driven away from the facilities and did not find themselves in the street in the middle of the lockdown.

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[1] Ministry of Labour and Social Policies, Monthly monitoring report on the presence of unaccompanied children in Italy (data as of 31 July 2020).

 

This post is also available in: FR, ES

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