A necessary law to fight against child abuse

2 min
Pianist James Rhodes, one of the driving forces behind the Child Protection Act.
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The Spanish Parliament has given the green light this Thursday to the organic law for the protection of children and adolescents, with only PNV and Vox voting against it. The law aims to have the same impact in the field of child abuse as the law against gender violence had in 2004. In this sense, the main novelty of the law is that the statute of limitations for sexual crimes against children will not start to run until the victim turns 35, while now it was triggered at the age of 18. This meant that an abuse penalised with ten years in prison would prescribe five years after the victim turned 18. Often, however, it took victims many more years to become aware of the abuse or to muster enough courage to report the aggressor, and this meant that in many cases the justice system found that the alleged crimes were already time-barred.

From now on these crimes can be prosecuted for much longer. At least until the victim is 40 years old, and in the most serious cases, which have higher penalties, until the victim is 55 years old. This is a substantial change that sends a very clear message to paedophiles: justice will now have much more room to pursue these crimes, and victims will not come against the wall of the statute of limitations. This is a victory for entities that have long been fighting for these legal changes, such as the Vicki Bernadet Foundation, or campaigners such as pianist James Rhodes, himself a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. In fact, the bill is also known as the Rhodes law.

The law, however, goes much further and tries to introduce a cultural change in society, as explained by the minister Ione Belarra. Thus, it makes it compulsory to report any suspicion of violence against a child, it will create the figure of the "welfare coordinator" in schools, it eliminates the concept of parental alienation syndrome (SAP), highly controversial among experts, and introduces age as a ground for discrimination. It also strengthens social services, considering them "agents of authority". This last point may leave families defenceless when facing the administration, for example when fighting for custody. Another point that will have to be worked out over time is the encroachment of powers that may exist, which has already led to the abstention of JxCat, PDECat and Bildu, in addition to the opposition of the PNV. Catalonia already has a Pact for Children since 2010 that includes some of these measures, and we will have to see how they are applied without interfering in the competences of the Generalitat.

In any case, the bill is a step forward and must serve to put an end to the law of silence around abuse and violence against children. It is not something that should remain within the four walls of a house: we must protect minors and give them enough confidence as a society so that they have the courage to denounce it. This alone is a huge cultural and paradigm shift.