Press release - DC026(2017)

New report on protecting refugee children from sexual abuse reveals problems in data collection, identification of victims and their protection

Strasbour, 06.03.2017 - A new report focusing on the protection of children affected by the refugee crisis from sexual exploitation and abuse was presented today. Non-comprehensive data collection, inadequate reception conditions, problems with age verification and with identification of victims are among the key challenges identified.

While there is no aggregated data available on the total number of children affected by refugee crisis in Europe, the European Network of Ombudspersons for Children (ENOC) assesses that in 2015 at least 337,000 children were registered as asylum seekers, 88,300 of which were unaccompanied. The states surveyed have much more difficulties to provide data or estimates on the number of children who did not seek asylum.

As for the number of victims of sexual abuse or exploitation, only very few (*) out of 41 countries surveyed provided figures, while others said there were either no victims or they had no data to substantiate this. Most Parties acknowledged, however, that they are aware that there are more cases of sexual abuse than official numbers. This situation can be attributed both to the lack of capacity on the part of authorities, and to the non-reporting of the violence on part of children themselves.

“Underreporting of sexual abuse and exploitation of refugee children and identification of victims is a major challenge,” said the Council of Europe Secretary General Thorbjørn Jagland. “We realise the strain the refugee crisis has put on the member states’ authorities. However, we encourage governments to work with NGOs and set up effective data collection and child-friendly counseling services which will lead to better reporting of crimes and identification of victims”, he said.

The report focuses on children under 18 years of age. According to the Council of Europe’s Lanzarote Convention, in case of doubt, the victim should be considered a child and receive respective protection and assistance, pending age verification. Out of all countries surveyed, only Hungary does not follow this principle and treats such persons as adults which leaves them largely unprotected, also from sexual abuse. This is of major concern for the Lanzarote Committee that urges Hungary to take necessary legislative and other measures and ensure the application of the “benefit of doubt” principle.

The Lanzarote Committee invites the states to verify family links of the children with the adults who accompany them, or to verify who these adults are, if they are not their parents or primary care givers, in order to protect these children against possible sexual abuse or exploitation – either by these adults, or facilitated by them.

The Lanzarote Committee says all Parties should ensure that all persons, be they professionals or volunteer workers, who are in contact with refugee crisis-affected children be effectively screened, adequately trained, and should establish vetting practices in place.

The increased number of children affected by the refugee crisis also puts pressure on reception/accommodation facilities; children are often housed in sports halls, former military barracks or other temporary shelters. Insufficient lighting and the need to share sanitary and sleeping facilities with adults make children particularly exposed to sexual crimes and harassment. Besides, lengthy asylum procedures give an opportunity to offenders to target and groom children. The Lanzarote Committee invites Parties to ensure safe reception facilities and longer term placement solutions, for instance, in foster families.

Children should be provided with guardians who play a crucial role in building the necessary trust to help them overcome fear and cultural taboos, and enable disclosure of possible sexual exploitation and abuse. Telephone or online helplines should be established and therapeutic assistance provided.

The full text of the report will be published here by the end of the 6th of March 2017.

Interview with Claude Janizzi (Luxembourg), Chairperson of the Lanzarote Committee

Contact : Tatiana Baeva, Spokesperson/Media officer, Tel. +33 3 88 41 21 41


(*) See state replies from Turkey, Belgium, Denmark, Malta and “the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia"

Council of Europe Directorate of Communications
Tel: +33 (0)3 88 41 25 60
Fax:+33 (0)3 88 41 39 11