UN slams Sweden for child rights failure

Sweden continues to shirk United Nations-mandated obligations guaranteeing children the right to education, prompting the international body to call government officials to testify as to why many refugee children in hiding do not attend school in Sweden.

UN slams Sweden for child rights failure

As a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of a Child (CRC), Sweden must guarantee children a number of human rights to ensure they can “develop to their full potential”, including the right to primary education.

But the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has criticized Sweden several times for failing to provide education to all children living in Sweden, according to the Dagens Nyheter (DN) newspaper.

At issue is the status of children in Sweden who have had their refugee status claims rejected and are due to be deported.

While the government examined the matter in a 2007 report, many child advocacy groups criticized the report for a lack of comprehensiveness.

The groups, which include Save the Children, the Swedish Church, and the Swedish Paediatric Society (Svenska barnläkarföreningen), are also upset with what they see as the government’s failure to prioritize the issue at the same time as children continue to suffer.

“Now the same question is up for the third time in front of the UN’s Committee on the Rights of the Child,” said Henry Ascher, chair of the paediatric association’s working group for refugee children, to DN.

“We paediatricians who deal with asylum seekers and children in hiding see what an enormous difference there is between children who go to school and those who live in dark apartments with curtains drawn together with parents who aren’t doing well.”

In a response to the latest inquiry from the UN, the Swedish government said it plans to review and update the 2007 report and on Wednesday, Karin Johansson, a state secretary under social affairs minister Göran Hägglund, will testify before the UN’s children’s committee.

While the previous report included a number of proposed changes to Swedish law, it failed to address the issue education access for “paperless” children, who often times go into hiding with their families to avoid being deported, or who have not applied for residence permits because their parents also reside in Sweden without proper permits.

While Sweden doesn’t prohibit “paperless” children from attending school or preschool, a lack of clear regulations usually result in individual teachers or principals deciding which children are accepted.

Another issue is that schools aren’t considered safe zones, which means children in hiding or their parents could be taken by police while on school grounds.

While police rarely take advantage of the situation, it can happen, according to Save the Children’s Sanna Vestin.

“Just the knowledge that police have the right to do it means that certain parents don’t dare let their children attend school,” she told the newspaper.

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Sweden to host UN Yemen talks

The United Nations intends to convene peace talks on Yemen soon after receiving firm assurances from the parties that they will attend negotiations in Sweden, the UN envoy said Friday.

Sweden to host UN Yemen talks
Yemen's Deputy UN ambassador Marwan Ali Noman Al-Dobhany during a meeting last month of the United Nations Security Council on Yemen at UN headquarters. Photo: AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews/TT

The Saudi-backed government and the Huthi rebels have shown a “renewed commitment” to work on a political solution to end a war that has driven millions to the brink of famine, Martin Griffiths told the Security Council.

“With this in mind, I intend to reconvene the parties shortly and to do so in Sweden,” he said. “I believe we are close to resolving issues to make this happen.”

“I have received firm assurances from the leadership of the Yemeni parties … that they are committed to attending these consultations. I believe they are genuine.”

Griffiths plans to travel to the rebel-held capital of Sanaa next week to finalize arrangements and offered to travel with the Huthi delegation to Sweden “if that's what is needed.”

The Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen has agreed to “logistical arrangements” to pave the way for talks including medical evacuations out of Sanaa, he added.

Griffiths announced he was close to reaching a deal on an exchange of prisoners and detainees, in a further confidence-building measure ahead of planned talks.

The United Nations had announced talks in Geneva in September that never materialized after the Huthis put forward last-minute demands.

The Saudi-led coalition has been waging a war in Yemen since March 2015 to push back the Iran-backed Huthis and restore to power Yemeni President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi, whose government is recognized by the United Nations.

Pressure to end the Saudi-led military campaign has grown following the killing by Saudi agents of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, which sparked global outrage.

Back from a visit to Yemen, the head of the UN World Food Programme warned that the country faces a full-blown famine in about six months because of the economic collapse from the war.

“What I have seen in Yemen this week is the stuff of nightmares, of horror, of deprivation, of misery,” David Beasley told the council. “Children are already dying.”

Eight million people are affected by severe food shortages, according to UN officials, who warn that up to 14 million — or half of Yemen's population — are at risk of famine.

“This is a crucial moment for Yemen,” Grffiths said of the talks in Sweden, warning that a flareup of fighting on the ground could derail the peace effort. No date for the talks was announced.

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