A law passed in January to cater for children in out-of-home care has yet to be brought into force pending changes aimed at increasing protection, according to the lawyer revising it.
“The law is being amended, not because there was something wrong but because we are adding to it.
“Among other things, we will be introducing a therapeutic and secure facility for minors who are under a care or court order or in voluntary care,” said Andy Ellul, a legal consultant to the government.
Asked why the matter was not flagged before and therefore included in the original law, he noted that the urgency for such a facility was raised in very recent court judgments and ongoing cases. Dr Ellul referred to cases of minors under the care of the State who could not be sent to a residential home or foster carers, with some even having been jailed for a few months.
While the law allowed them to be held under lock and key, a new provision would be an added tool for the court.
The law is being beefed up
A Child Protection Bill was tabled in Parliament four years ago by President Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca, then family and social solidarity minister. The draft law was then revised by her successor as family minister, Michael Farrugia, and the new Bill was approved by the House last January, but a legal notice bringing it into force has not been published yet.
Dr Ellul said the law was being beefed up and appealed for no one to turn the issue into a political ball, considering the sensitivity of the law’s subjects: children.
The government preferred to put the law on hold, rather than adding new provisions following implementation, because it wanted a holistic approach. “The law will be repealing three others: the Children and Young Persons (Care Orders) Act, the Foster Care Act and the Placing of Minors Regulations. We paused implementation until the beginning of next year so we could have a more holistic law,” he said.
The revised law binds the court to consider the wishes and opinion of the minor in their best interest before any decision. In terms of obligations, while the law already caters for offences within the circle of trust of the child, this will be extended to include people such as sports coaches, tutors, etc. This follows recent international discussions about the Council of Europe’s Convention on the Protection of Children Against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse, also known as the Lanzarote Convention.
A clause in the law on the obligation to assign a tutor to unaccompanied migrant children has raised some concerns.
According to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, in cases where no family members can be found, the child shall be accorded the same protection as any other child permanently or temporarily deprived of their family environment.
Dr Ellul noted that the law was being changed so that the tutor’s responsibilities would include guardianship, and this provided unaccompanied migrant children with added protection.
“Unaccompanied migrants are considered as any other minor under this law. All minors on Maltese territory will be afforded protection. Now, apart from being under the State’s protection, unaccompanied migrant children will also have a tutor – a guardian – who will take care of assigning a lawyer, a doctor, etc, to them and ensure that the child gains ownership of any possible inheritance back home,” he said.
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