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Contempt for Children’s Rights in France

Translated Thursday 30 November 2006, by Laura Wheeler

Undocumented immigrants. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which we adopted seventeen years ago, is not being respected in our country. Those targeted first: school children, whose parents are undocumented aliens.

What can one say, when government representatives enter public schools to seize foreign children, some of whom are mere babies, and detain them in retention centers, or when they refuse unaccompanied minors the possibility of requesting protection while entering French territory?

In France, we are far from respecting the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which proclaims: “The States agree to respect the rights outlined in the present Convention and guarantee them to any child appearing in their jurisdiction, without any distinctions, regardless of any considerations related to race, color, sex, language, religion, political opinion or other factors related to the child or to his parents or legal representatives, including nationality, ethnic or social origins, present situation or fortune, handicap, birth or other situation.”

This statement comes from Article 2 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which, like all international conventions, takes precedence over national legislation, unless the latter were to be more favorable to the concerned persons. Article 4 prescribes that States shall take any measures needed to ensure that such rights are respected within their territories. Seems obvious enough.

The French government is trying to prevent children from working illegally in France by sending them back to their respective countries along with their parents (similarly, it sends young victims of prostitution back to their native countries).

Traumatized individuals

Moreover, it is leading a merciless struggle against "clandestine" students who are "hiding out" in our schools. It thinks it will solve the problem of delinquence among minors by lowering the age of legal adulthood and by studying “deviant” behavior in subjects as young as three years of age.

The status of children of undocumented immigrants is increasingly uncertain with each passing day: the Minister of the Interior needs to meet his quota of 25,000 people sent back to their native countries - regardless of their age - before the year is out.

But it’s not that easy to wage war against children, as Nicolas Sarkozy has been discovering over the past two years, crossing swords with the Educational Network without Borders, which is mainly made up of parents and teachers, but which is gaining more and more support among the grassroots population.

Truly, education is a fundamental right, which every State must grant to all – regardless of national origins.

Two million people below the poverty level

The minister attempted to give the impression that he was relenting. But he has only accepted granting legal status to 6,000 of the 30,000 families in question, by imposing extremely selective criteria, and which in fact he does not always respect.

This is feeding the resistance. Today, in France, children are living hidden – afraid to go to school, to sleep at home, or to wake up in the morning. Government authorities are creating life-long trauma.

And that is without taking into account those who are surviving on next to nothing, because the State cannot get rid of them, or the two million people living below the poverty level, who depend on such networks as the “Baby Branch” of the association “Restaurants du Coeur”*.

Cities and schools throughout France are going to make children aware of their rights, although on a daily basis, what they hear about is their duties (and homework).

Interestingly, the French Unicef committee has decided to promote children’s rights in association with Ikea, the Swedish furniture giant.
And just the other day, Nicolas Sarkozy made the following statement (or Freudian slip): “Mankind is not just another merchandise.”

Translator: Laura Wheeler
Author: Émilie Rive
Date published: Nov 20

* Translator’s note: Restaurants du Coeur - a humanitarian organization established by French comedian Coluche which provides free meals to the poor.

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