93rd Session of the Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC)
8th May – 26th May 2023
Review of Finland
15th–16th May 2023
By Eunike Mangampa / GICJ
On the 15th and 16th of May, the Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) convened to review the combined fifth and sixth periodic reports under the Convention on the Rights of the Child and Finland’s initial report on the Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Pornography. This meeting was attended by the Finland delegation, notably comprising eight ministries, the permanent mission in Geneva, and the government of the autonomous region of Åland.
However, a common concern that the Committee has voiced pertains to the need for further consideration of minority groups in its policy implementation. The Committee expressed concerns on issues such as the limited inclusion of Romani, Sami and migrant children in equitable education initiatives, lacking accommodation for children with disabilities, and others. The Committee also addressed the discrepancy in standards between Åland and Finland.
Regarding the optional protocol, the Committee’s concerns were mainly regarding missing data points and a lack of progress reports on initiatives such as the Development Indicator Framework instituted in June 2021. Another primary concern of the Committee was that Finland’s amendment to the criminal code only regulates the trafficking of children. In response, the Committee called for a distinction to be made between child trafficking and the sale of children to comply with definitions set under international law.
Composed of 18 independent experts, the CRC monitors a state’s implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. If ratified, this body also monitors the implementation of the optional protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict and another optional protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography. Under Article 44 of the Convention, state parties have an obligation to regularly submit reports on the steps that have been taken to implement the Convention in their respective countries further. This report is then subject to examination by the Committee, where concerns are addressed and recommendations provided through its concluding observation.
Finland ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the 20th of June 1991. On the 10th of April 2002, Finland ratified the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict. Then on the 1st of June 2012, Finland ratified the other Optional Protocol to the Convention on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography.
Finland’s last meeting with the CRC was during the 57th Session held in 2011, where Finland’s fourth periodic report (CRC/C/FIN/4) was considered.
Progress Achieved by the State Party
- Action Plan for the Prevention of Violence Against Children
- National implementation plan for the Lanzarote Convention
- Action plan to implement the Istanbul Convention
- Action plan to implement the national Barnahus project
- Handbook on the investigation of crimes against children, issued by the National Police Board
- Action Plan against Trafficking in Human Beings
- Amendments to Chapter 20 of the Criminal Code on sexual offences
- Government proposal (HE 144/2022 vp), according to which sexual offences and human trafficking offences are dealt with urgently
- Collection of statistics on child sexual abuse and exploitation
Statement by Finland
As head of the delegation, Ms. Krista Oinonen, Director of the Unit for Human Rights Courts and Conventions from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, began by highlighting Finland’s various achievements. One of the first achievements that the representative highlighted was Finland’s National Child Strategy. This strategy aims to act as a blueprint to develop a “rights-based national strategy rooted in the convention.” Ms. Oinonen notably mentioned that children’s participation was central to developing this strategy. The strategy tackles issues by creating national action plans, such as implementing the Lanzarote Convention (protection for children against sexual exploitation and abuse) and the Istanbul Convention (combating violence against women). This meeting is particularly noteworthy because it is the first time the Government of Åland has been included.
Other notable achievements noted by Ms. Oinonen included Finland’s legislative reform that increases the right to sexual self-determination, such as basing the definition of rape entirely upon consent. Ms. Oinonen also mentioned that a new law was put into force requiring all criminal cases against minors to be dealt with urgently, further protecting children in criminal proceedings. To this end, Finland has launched a series of capacity-building initiatives that aims to educate public officials, including those working in law enforcement, on the child’s rights, especially their right to participate in the democratic decision-making process.
Ms. Oinonen also brought up Finland’s new initiatives in education, migration and climate change. In education, the representative mentioned Finland’s various initiatives to ensure equitable access to education, especially for children with special educational needs and those coming from a low socioeconomic background. Ms. Oinonen then pledged to continue accepting refugees in vulnerable positions, particularly unaccompanied minors. Finland has been a pioneer in increasing children’s participation, as seen in their consultation sessions with children in drafting their climate act reform.
The interactive dialogue was opened by Ms. Faith Marshall-Harris, who congratulated the Finland delegation on their achievements, especially regarding the development of the first National Child Strategy and their new legislation related to sexual offences in the criminal court.
Convention on the Rights of the Child
Mr. Bragi Gudbrandsson, who led the inquiry on violence, focused on the various groups that are most vulnerable to it. He questioned the Finland delegation on the implementation of the non-violent action plan. The representative from the Ministry of Justice provided details on this action plan, which has targeted initiatives that work to prevent specific forms of violence, such as honour killings and digital violence. The representative mentioned that the plan included 32 measures tackling a different aspect of violence. Another representative from the delegation also acknowledges that domestic violence has increased in some regions in Finland since 2013.
Ms. Rosario Correa inquired about the risk of children, including unaccompanied minors, being expelled and returned to their home country after the tightening of Finland’s asylum policy. This was later elaborated by Ms. Marshall-Harris, who further explained that the new policy has allowed border guards to close the eastern borders completely. To this, the Finland delegation clarified that the legislation did not permit the closing of borders and that the right to seek asylum still existed in Finland. Furthermore, the Finland delegation replied that an indicator framework for the extradition of asylum seekers was being developed.
Ms. Marshall-Harris also brought up the reports documenting asylum-seeking children that were detained on the grounds of “family unification.” She stressed that the Council was strongly against pre-trial detention for children. The Finland delegation clarified that the detention of families was rare, and in such cases, children were detained only to prevent them from being separated from their families. They mentioned that the detention of unaccompanied minors was only done in exceptional circumstances. When children are detained, the delegation explained, a social worker will be assigned to meet with them and provide them with the necessary support. Finland is now developing a new policy to hear children under 12 more systematically.
Ms. Marshall-Harris expressed concerns about the accessibility of education for minority children. She mentioned a “knowledge gap between migrant children and local children.” This problem was exacerbated by the disparities in funding across the country, leading to concerns over if there was sufficient funding for teachers in Sami and Roma communities. The Finnish delegation responded by acknowledging this discrepancy, a study they have carried out shows that while Roma children were performing well, they had much lower participation rates in early childhood education. They highlighted their various programs and initiatives for Sami and Roma minorities. They mentioned that over one million dollars had been invested in developing a distance learning program for the education of Sami children. Finland’s national Roma policy also includes further support for the education of Roma children.
Ms. Marshall-Harris also added concerns about the recently amended Early Childhood Education Act, which still does not include the right to education in sign language for children. The Finland delegation clarified that new provisions addressing special education were added in 2022, which now guarantees children sign language interpretation in their early education.
One of Mr. Gudbrandsson’s first points of inquiry was regarding the measures taken to improve child participation in the legislative process. A representative from the Ministry of Justice explained that a consultation guide for law drafters has been updated, which outlines how children should be consulted in the drafting of laws.
Regarding the protection of children’s rights by businesses, Mr. Gudbrandsson noted that although there is a national implementation plan for the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. He expressed his concerns about the National Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Legislation on strengthening the human rights performance of Finnish companies, and the prevention of child labour which has yet to be completed. Without legislation that strictly regulates business activities, there is a lack of monitoring. To this, the Ministry of Economic Affairs & Employment representative expressed Finland’s commitment to promoting responsible business conduct. The representative explained that the National CSR Act did not reach a political consensus in the past government, and hence now, Finland’s approach is to wait for EU-level legislation. Although Finland already has a committee on CSR, the delegation believed harmonised legislation at the EU level would be the best course of action.
Having led the questioning for education, Ms. Marshall-Harris commended Finland’s new reform that makes education free up to the age of 18. However, she questioned whether these measures were also available for children in Åland. The Finland delegation replied that Åland had taken steps to introduce free education in their upper secondary school. Further plans were also being made to expand this benefit to all students in Åland.
Mr. Gudbrandsson inquired about aligning Åland’s discrimination legislation with Finland’s equality act. The representative from Åland mentioned that Finland’s new act on discrimination is also implemented in Åland.
Optional protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography.
As Committee Expert and Rapporteur on the report of the Optional Protocol, Ms. Hynd Ayoubi Idrissi led the questioning on the Optional Protocol. She explained that the Convention distinguishes between the sale of children and the trafficking of children, whereas Finnish legislation only criminalises child trafficking and not the sale of children. While the sale of children implies a commercial transaction, this is not always the case with trafficking. Ms. Ayoubi Idrissi expressed her belief that Finnish legislation has yet to capture this implicit meaning behind the sale of children and urged Finland to amend its legislation also to criminalise the sale of children. While there was no concrete reply to this specific issue, the delegation mentioned that Finland had lengthened the sentence for sexual offences against children to comply with the Optional Protocol.
Ms. Faith Marshall-Harris expressed her overall satisfaction with the replies from the Finnish delegation while noting a few remaining questions that should be addressed in the future. On the other hand, Ms. Hynd Ayoubi Idrissi reiterated the need for legislation that specifically criminalises the sale of children. To reply, Ms. Krista Oinonen affirmed Finland’s commitment to fully implementing the Convention. She mentioned their plans to translate the Council’s concluding observations to be distributed in Finland.
Position of Geneva International Centre for Justice
Geneva International Centre for Justice commends Finland for its various reforms that have furthered children’s rights, especially regarding their right to safety and self-determination. However, we call for Finland to extend these rights to all members of its population, regardless of demographic, to fully embody the Convention. We echo the recommendations that the Committee has made by urging Finland to criminalise the sale of children in their legislation, stop the detention of children and take further steps to implement their Non-Violent Childhood Action Plan effectively.