EMN Inform: Accompanied children’s right to be heard in international protection procedures (2023)
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This inform provides an overview of the implementation of the right of accompanied children to be heard in international protection procedures in the European Migration Network (EMN) Member Countries and in one Observer Country, Norway, and presents their challenges, good practices and lessons learnt in guaranteeing that right.
The analysis was prepared from contributions from 25 EMN Member Countries and Norway. Overall, EMN Member Countries and Norway have legislation and practical measures in place to guarantee the right to be heard for accompanied children in international protection procedures. However, the requirements and conditions for guaranteeing this right vary across countries.
Most EMN Member Countries also allow accompanied children, in certain circumstances, to lodge an individual application for international protection either in their own name or through their parent(s) or adult(s) responsible for them. The possibility to carry out a personal interview with accompanied children is generally granted in EMN Member Countries and Norway. Again, the conditions and requirements vary, for example in relation to the
level of maturity of the children concerned, their minimum age, parental consent, and children’s consent.
EMN Member Countries and Norway have adopted different approaches to decide whether and when accompanied children should be interviewed. In most cases, decisions are taken on a case-by-case basis, when deemed necessary by competent authorities, at the request of the child, and/or at the request of the parent/responsible adult.
In some EMN Member Countries, children are only interviewed in exceptional circumstances, while in others, accompanied children are automatically invited for an interview (except, for example, where this is manifestly unnecessary or against the best interests of the child).
EMN Member Countries and Norway have put in place a wide range of safeguards to ensure child-friendly interviews and to give due consideration to the best interests of the child. Although the number and types of safeguards implemented vary, they most commonly include the use of specialised staff to conduct the interview, adapting the language to the age and maturity of the child, interviewing the child in the parents’ presence, or in their absence where this is in the best interests of the child, and ensuring confidentiality.
Parents/responsible adults may have different and conflicting interests when applying for international protection than their children, and it is important to identify such cases to ensure that children are adequately protected. Generally, any person who is in close contact with accompanied children (for example personnel at reception centres, social workers, school teachers, healthcare professionals, case workers) can identify and report such cases to the competent authorities. The latter may then opt to separate the child’s and parent’s applications for international protection, or appoint a temporary guardian or ad hoc administrator to safeguard the child’s interests.
Several EMN Member Countries and Norway have experienced challenges in ensuring accompanied children’s right to express their views in international protection procedures, primarily due to minimum age requirements and the requirement for parental consent, which may prevent accompanied children from being heard, even when this may benefit their application.
Good practices in hearing accompanied children include ensuring that staff are adequately trained to hear children, that interviews take place in child-friendly facilities, and that they use child-friendly language.