Society 15/04/2021

Law to improve protection for minors approved

After two failed attempts, Parliament provides new tools for fight against child violence

2 min
Child Protection Act dealing with violence against children

BarcelonaThe state law to protect children and teenagers against violence is becoming a reality. After two failed attempts - in 2016 with the PP government and in 2018 with the PSOE government - the Spanish Parliament has approved this law on Thursday, which will now only need the approval of the Senate to come into force. Also known as the Rhodes Act because of the involvement of pianist and sexual abuse survivor James Rhodes, it aims to improve the protection of minors with new tools.

In the parliamentary debate, the Minister for Social Rights and Agenda 2030, Ione Belarra, celebrated the approval of a law that she considered "essential and extremely urgent" and sent a message of support to children: "If someone hurts you at home, ask for help at school. If someone hurts you at school, ask for help at home. None of what happened to you was your fault." The PSOE believes that the law helps children to grow up "without violence and without fear" and builds "a more humane and democratic society".

The minister stressed the importance of the new law extending the statute of limitations until the victim is 35 and tried to "convince" those who did not vote in favour. "The function of this law is a paradigm shift, a cultural change, as the gender violence law was in 2004. Violence against children is not acceptable," said Belarra, who also thanked the child organisations for their work, as well as James Rhodes, who was present in the chamber during the debate.

The busiest moment in the chamber came after Belarra accused the Church of covering up sexual violence against minors "too many times". "We are not here for comfort, we are here to do something for children," said the minister. These words made PP benches stand up and the Speaker had to intervene.

The law has finally been approved with the votes in favour of the PSOE, the PP, Unidas Podemos, ERC, Ciudadanos, Compromís and Más Madrid, while PDECat, JxCat and Bildu have abstained considering that the rule invades regional competences, whilst PNV - also because of competences - and Vox have voted against.

Here are six of the changes that will be applied to combat child violence.

1. Extension of statute of limitations

This was one of the most common petitions from organisations that deal with sexual abuse: the precriptive period needed to be longer. The agreement arrived to on Tuesday means that the statute of limitations for crimes against minors will only be triggered after the victim's 35th birthday, as opposed to the 18th. The definition of violence has been widened to incorporate crimes committed online and on social networks.

2. Obligation to communicate suspicions

One of the new duties which has been included in the law is informing the authorities of any suspicion that violence against a child or teenager is taking place. The idea is that society should be more protective, especially professionals that have regular contact with minors. Minors gain right to be informed, not only listened to, during administrative and judicial processes, as well as the right to report somebody personally and directly.

3. Welfare coordinators

The law introduces "welfare" coordinators in schools, whose job will be to work against bullying. Together with training for workers who spend longer with minors, this is one of the measures directed at detecting danger at the earliest stages. New specialisation of police, prosecutors and judges will aim to avoid revictimisation, and information will be held in centralised files.

4. Gender perspective

Another change is the elimination of the parental alienation syndrome (SAP): a father accusing his ex-partner of manipulating or interfering with the child against him. The law has been defined with a gender perspective and without allowing SAP to be used, in the absence of scientific support, to blame the mother. Actions of the state pact against gender violence and proposals for equality are incorporated, such as the ex officio suspension of the visiting regime when a protection order has been issued and there are indications that the child has witnessed or suffered violence.

5. Social workers considered "officers of authority"

One of the controversial points, which does not convince organisations, is that the law has recognised social services as "officers of authority". This has generated misgivings because this power may leave families defenceless against the administration, for example in cases in which guardianship is withdrawn due to lack of protection. With regard to juvenile centres, tools have been proposed to enable children and teenagers to file complaints without suffering reprisals and to reinforce the Public Prosecutor's Office's supervisory role.

6. Age as a motive for discrimination

In order to be able to implement all the changes, the approval in Parliament envisages the reform of around fifteen laws. One of the reforms should be the modification of hate crimes to also include age as a ground for discrimination.

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