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Members of the Committee,
Ladies and gentlemen,
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to present Norway's report here today.
The Committee on the Rights of the Child and civil society
On behalf of the Norwegian Government, I want to thank the UN's Committee on the Rights of the Child for the work you do to advance the rights of children across the globe. The obligations Norway and other nations took on by ratifying the Convention help raise awareness about children's formative conditions and their rights.
I want to take this opportunity to express our thanks for the work and commitment demonstrated by the supplementary reports submitted to the Committee by Norwegian civil society, human rights organisations, the Ombudsman for Children and the Sami Parliament of Norway. I also want to especially thank the youth editorial board, which submitted its own report. These supplementary reports demonstrate the commitment, expertise and concern for children in Norway. The reports are a useful corrective in our work on improving children's rights in Norway.
Eight years have passed since Norway's last hearing. Many positive things have happened since then. I want to tell you about some of the changes that have had a major impact on children's rights in Norway. I also want to update you on some of the issues the Committee has been interested in as far as Norway is concerned.
Children have the right to participate and exert influence in all areas that concern them. The Committee wanted Norway to continue its work on adapting Norwegian law to the Convention.
Norway's laws provide good safeguards for children. In 2014, the protection of children's rights was further enhanced with the inclusion of a new provision on children's rights in the Norwegian Constitution. The Norwegian Constitution states that children have the right to have their human value respected, that they have the right to be heard in questions regarding themselves, and that their opinions shall be regarded according to their age and development. The new constitutional provision also states that children have the right to have their personal integrity protected and that the child’s best interests shall be a fundamental consideration in actions and decisions regarding children.
The Committee has also been interested in a child's right to be heard in health matters. I am pleased to report that amendments to health and care legislation have been adopted that help strengthen and clarify the legal position of children and young people as patients and users. These include children having the right to receive information, to be heard and to have their opinions regarded according to their age and maturity.
Children have the right to care and protection. Protecting children's rights has long been a key goal of the Government. Children in need of help from child welfare services and care are one of the most vulnerable groups in society.
The job of child welfare services is to ensure that all children receive the help and care they need at the right time. Child welfare services must also contribute to good formative conditions. I am pleased to inform the Committee that child welfare services in Norway are constantly being improved in line with the Convention. Parliament has recently approved amendments that will strengthen the legal safeguards of children and parents in child welfare cases. For example, children now have a statutory right to receive the child welfare measures they require, as long as the conditions in the Act are met. Children are also given a statutory right to be heard in child welfare cases. We are also currently working on a modernised Act on Child Welfare Services.
However, members of the Committee, simply changing the law is not enough. Child welfare services also need to be reinforced, both with personnel and more expertise. The Government has therefore presented a strategy aimed at improving the expertise of municipal child welfare services. The Government has also increased staffing levels in these services through earmarked funds for more staff in the municipalities. In addition, more money has been allocated to preventive measures in municipalities.
Violence and abuse are two of the most serious threats to a safe childhood. I am proud that this Government has prioritised combating violence and sexual abuse committed against children. This work shows that a lot of things are being done well, while also showing the main challenges we face with respect to violence and abuse.
I have noted that the Committee wants to ensure children subjected to abuse receive help as fast as possible. The State Children's Houses have been established to ensure that children, and other especially vulnerable groups, who may have suffered violence and sexual abuse receive good, coordinated follow-up. When a case is reported, Children's Houses help to reinforce the care these especially vulnerable victims receive. There are some challenges regarding long travel distances to Children's Houses and waiting times for interviews in a number of police districts. Several secondary units have therefore been established in some counties (Nordland and Finnmark) so that child victims receive help as fast as possible.
In 2016 and 2017, several major cases involving online child abuse were uncovered and investigated by the Norwegian police. The number of victims and volume of evidence in these cases is often very large. The offences were committed across Norway and in other countries. We are drawing up cross-sector measures to meet these challenges and contribute to a comprehensive effort against online child abuse.
I am proud to announce that on 7 May this year, Parliament consented to ratification of the Council of Europe Convention on the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse of 25 October 2007, also known as the Lanzarote Convention. The Government aims to ratify the Convention as soon as possible.
I am also proud to annouce that the Norwegian government recently proposed an amendment to the Marriage Act, setting an absolute minimum legal age for marriage of 18 years, without any possibility to make exceptions from this age limit. The bill was debated by the Storting yesterday.
Children have the right to survival and development. The Government wants to make sure that children are treated with respect and are ensured the best possible formative conditions.
All kindergartens must build on the core values set out in the Kindergarten Act and the international conventions Norway has joined, like the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Kindergartens must address children's need for care and play, and promote learning and formation as a basis for their rounded development.
Work has started on modifying curricula in compulsory education to ensure that, later on in life, children and young people can cope with work and family life better. Pupils will take a multidisciplinary approach to three topics: democracy and co-citizenship, sustainable development, and life skills and public health. These multidisciplinary topics will teach children and young people coping strategies that they will carry with them into their adult lives. We believe this is a good investment for the future.
The Government wants good, low-threshold services for children, young people and their families. Health centres and school health services do very important work helping children and young people who are struggling. The funds for these services have gradually been increased from 2014 to 2018. The number of person-years worked by health visitors and midwives as a group has risen dramatically. We have not achieved our target yet though, and will continue the work.
The Committee has previously recommended that we expand the responsibilities of child welfare services to include 15, 16 and 17 year olds unaccompanied asylum-seeking minors. Unaccompanied minors who arrive in Norway are an especially vulnerable group. They must be a high priority in all parts of immigration administration. However, the needs of these minors vary. Norway therefore offers age-appropriate living and care provision. State child welfare services have a statutory responsibility for those younger than 15. The immigration authorities are responsible for those aged 15 to 18. The Ministry of Justice and Public Security is considering making this a statutory responsibility. I want to stress that the Child Welfare Act applies to all children in Norway.
The Government is systematically striving to ensure that unaccompanied minors receive proper living and care provision. A number of measures have been introduced in recent years, such as more staff and more child expertise in reception centres for unaccompanied minors aged 15 or older. This has improved care provision for children through closer follow up and better care.
In 2016, the Government presented its action plan to combat human trafficking and a series of measures. In 2017, parliament asked the Government to set up a central unit with responsibility for following up underage victims of human trafficking and advising local child welfare offices in cases of suspected trafficking.
I know the Committee is interested in the conditions for children in prison. I would like to report that: The trial project with a special unit for imprisoned children has been made permanent and a second unit has been opened.
We are proud to inform the Committee that we have also introduced a new function in ordinary prisons for adults; namely so-called “child responsible” personell that is responsible for taking better care of children with imprisoned parents.
Members of the Committee:
Norway is a good country to grow up in. I hope our reporting shows that we have come far in our work on children's rights in Norway. Nevertheless, we acknowledge that we still face challenges and that the work must continue.
Eight years have passed since the last hearing between the Committee and Norway. My wish for today and tomorrow is that we can have a good, constructive dialogue about how to ensure the best interest of the child. I look forward to hearing the recommendations of the members of the Committee. I welcome input that could help Norway in its work on children's rights.