Armenia’s vulnerable children: key findings of the Commissioner for Human Rights report

Following the visit to Armenia of the Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe Mr. Nils Muižnieks between the 5th and the 7th of October 2014, a special report has been recently issued. The report provides a clear analysis of the human rights landscape in Armenia from the perspective of the administration of justice, effective investigation into allegations of human rights abuse, rights of women and gender equality. Furthermore, it examines issues that need to be addressed and makes recommendations regarding amendments that are likely to facilitate progress in this field.

Domestic violence. Prenatal sex-selection. Juvenile justice.

As resulted from the report, several human rights issues in Armenia describe realities that challenge an effective child protection system. From this perspective domestic violence, prenatal sex-selection and the lack of a child-friendly justice system appear to be some of the top child protection concerns in the country.
To begin with, the Commissioner expressed his concern about the absence of a child-friendly approach in the context of the criminal justice system in Armenia, emphasising that more efforts are to be paid at both legal and practical levels in order to ensure the respect for children’s rights in line with the UNCRC’s requirements.
Secondly, despite the fact that domestic violence is a serious concern in Armenia, there is a general lack of consensus about the seriousness of this phenomenon at societal level: “Domestic violence is seen as a private matter and raising it outside the family sphere is considered shameful. Women who voice complaints or attempt to escape a violent situation are generally perceived as endangering family unity and stability. Under the guise of preserving the family, acts of violence, which mostly affect women and children, remain unaddressed.”

The issue of domestic violence equally affects the wellbeing of children, who are affected both as directs victims and witnesses. The Commissioner has stressed that this approach needs to be changed through appropriate political measures and awareness-raising campaigns where civil society organisations and media ought to play an important role. Furthermore, the report emphasises that the number and the overall capacity of shelters for victims of domestic violence is limited in Armenia. These shelters are expected to provide medical, psychological, social and legal support that can be crucial to the victims. Nonetheless, they only serve the needs of women and children who find themselves in the extreme situation where their lives are threatened. Although the Armenian authorities have promised in several occasions that these shelters would be state-funded, they are being exclusively run thanks to NGO engagement.
Furthermore, prenatal sex-selection is a worrying child protection issue in the country. The skewed sex-ratios between boys and girls at birth is alarming: the United Nations Population Fund reported in 2013 that figures show that to every 114 males, 100 females are being born Armenia. It appears that the region of Gegharkunik has the most skewed sex ratio – up to 124 to 100. “Resort to pre-natal sex-selection, i.e. selective abortions of female foetuses, is especially likely in families who already have three or four girls. This practice is widely believed to relate to the following factors: a deeply rooted preference for sons, decreasing average family size, and easier access to modern reproductive technologies. Sons are seen as essential in continuing the family line and in supporting their parents when they are aging. (…) NGOs expressed caution at the link made between prenatal sex-selection and demographic concerns in Armenia, and emphasised that the measures taken to address this issue should not lead to a restriction of women’s reproductive rights.”

The report also emphasises the fact that Armenia has not ratified the Convention on Human Rights and Biomedicine of the Council of Europe that prohibits the use of techniques of medically assisted procreation “for the purpose of choosing a future child’s sex, except where serious hereditary sex related disease is to be avoided.” However, the Commissioner was informed that the Ministry of Health is working on a legal initiative which aims to restrict the disclosure of the sex of the foetus before birth. Regarding the recommendations to tackle this issue, the Commissioner has highlighted that the following steps should be considered by the Armenian decision-makers: the collection of reliable data on sex ratios at birth and regular monitoring of their evolution; the development and promotion of guidelines on the ethical use of relevant technologies; researching and addressing root causes of the inequalities that drive sex-selection, including raising the status of women in society and effective implementation of equality and non-discrimination policies; support of the equal value of girls and boys.

Read the full report here.

Read the summary of the conclusions (infographics).

Listen to the interview released by the Commissioner for Osservatorio Balcani e Caucaso.