In recent days, the Lanzarote Convention has caused a stir in online platforms and in the media.
The Fact Investigation Platform has selected the most important facts about the convention, as well as tried to address the false and manipulative claims on the subject.
The history of the Convention
The Council of Europe Convention on the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse was adopted in 2007 in Lanzarote (Canary Islands, Spain).
So far, the Convention has been ratified by 46 of the 47 CoE member states, including Russia, Azerbaijan, the Czech Republic, Latvia, Georgia, Germany and the United Kingdom.
The convention is available on the official website of the Council of Europe in several languages, including Armenian, Russian and English.
Armenia signed the Convention on September 29, 2010. Azerbaijan ratified it in December 2019. Only Ireland has not ratified the Convention. By the way, the latter was one of the first to sign it, but has not yet ratified it due to the inconsistencies between the Convention and the National Law on the Online Sexual Exploitation of Children.
Purpose of the Convention
According to the authors of the Convention, the main purpose of the Convention on the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse is to protect the rights of children, and envisages to criminalize child prostitution and pornography, as well as to monitor perpetrators.
The explanatory report notes that according to UNICEF, approximately two million children are used in the “sex industry” each year. “There are more than one million images of some ten to twenty thousand sexually abused children posted on the Internet. Of these ten to twenty thousand children, only a few hundred are identified. The rest are anonymous, abandoned, and most likely still abused.”
It is stated in the Convention that given that criminals are now widely using information technologies, it is necessary to enhance international cooperation.
The Convention also provides for the protection of the child within the family. According to Article 14, when the parents or persons who have care of the child are involved in his or her sexual exploitation or sexual abuse against him or her, the victim shall be removed from his or her family environment, but it is emphasized that the conditions and duration of such removal shall be determined in accordance with the best interests of the child.
In an interview with Fip.am, Tatevik Aghabekyan, Programs Director of the Sexual Assault Crisis Center, said that at present there are no levers to temporarily remove a child or restrict parental rights if the violence has taken place with the parent’s knowledge or if he or she could assess the risk but did nothing. “This convention provides an opportunity not only to take a serious approach to the issue, but also to provide shelter so that the child can be far from the parent until it is revealed whether the parent is a risk to the child or not.”
As an example, Aghabekyan cites a case when a 13-year-old child was married off and the case was closed on the grounds that the boy did not know the girl’s age. Another similar incident took place with a 15-year-old girl when families reconciled and the case was closed on the same grounds. “The Criminal Code regulates only the punishment of this type of crime, and nothing is provided for the prevention, protection, or, more importantly, the provision of social assistance programs for the rehabilitation of the same child in the future. We do not have a social assistance program. There is no agency where a child can temporarily stay and receive the professional support he or she needs after being subjected to abuse,” Aghabekyan says.
Education on sexual exploitation and sexual abuse
One of the most discussed topics related to the Convention refers to the education component.
In particular, there are critical opinions on teaching about sexual violence in schools.
There is a reference to education in the second chapter of the Convention, which deals with sexual abuse and means of its prevention. Seven articles refer not only to the education of children, but also that of professionals working with them (teachers, psychologists, social workers, etc.).
Article 5 states that the state shall take the necessary measures to ensure that persons working directly with children have sufficient knowledge of sexual exploitation and sexual abuse against children and are able to identify such violations in order to report any suspicions to law enforcement authorities.
Article 6 states that Each state that has ratified the Convention shall take the necessary measures to ensure that children, during primary and secondary education, receive information on the risks of sexual exploitation and sexual abuse, as well as on the means to protect themselves, adapted to their evolving capacity.
It is emphasized that teaching methods can be agreed with parents. “This information, provided in collaboration with parents, where appropriate, shall be given within a more general context of information on sexuality and shall pay special attention to situations of risk, especially those involving the use of new information and communication technologies,” the Convention reads.
It is noteworthy that no event, manual or methodology has been developed for this purpose yet.
Tatevik Aghabekyan notes that the child is not told about the types of sexual abuse within the framework of raising awareness about the topic of sexual abuse. Rather, the child is taught about the boundaries of the body. According to her, the age of sexual intercourse in the country has sharply decreased, in which case the child needs more knowledge and cannot be limited to the warning that pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases can be the result of sexual intercourse. In this case, it is necessary to teach about psychological preparedness.
“According to the Convention, Armenia shall raise the awareness of the children taking into account the cultural and age characteristics of children. Manuals need to be developed. Teachers need to be trained. It is clear that if someone enters my 6-year-old child’s classroom and says there is such a thing as rape, I will be against it too. However, there is no manual yet, no mechanism has been developed and vilifying it at this stage it is not constructive criticism,” says Tatevik Aghabekyan.
The term “sexual orientation”
The use of the term “sexual orientation” in the Convention has given rise to much speculation.
In fact, the term occurs only once in the entire text of the Convention, in the context of providing equal assistance to victims. Thus, Article 2 stipulates that states are obliged to take measures to protect the rights of victims without discrimination, “regardless of sex, race, colour, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, association with a national minority, property, birth, sexual orientation, state of health, disability or other status”.
The principle of non-discrimination is enshrined in a number of other legal documents, including the Council of Europe Convention on the Counterfeiting of Medical Products and Similar Crimes Involving Threats to Public Health, which was ratified by Armenia in 2016.
In fact, the assertion that the term “sexual orientation” was first introduced in the legal norms of the Republic of Armenia under the Lanzarote Convention is wrong.
On sexual intercourse between minors of different age
The topic of sexual intercourse between minors, which is discussed in the convention, also became a subject of much discussion.
In particular, Former member of the Supreme Judicial Council, former Minister of Justice Gevorg Danielyan noted on his Facebook page that amendments have been made to the Criminal Code in previous years on the basis of the Convention, and, as a result, people under the age of 16 can have sex by mutual consent.
“Based on the provisions of the aforementioned convention (Article 18), a number of amendments were made in the Code, the most extraordinary of which was that the liability of those who have not yet turned 18 was removed, although the 16-year-old is already subject to criminal liability. For example, young men between the ages of 17 and 18, some of whom are already in their second year at the university, may have sex with a 12-year-old minor based on “mutual consent” (moreover, sex does not matter either), and his act will not even be considered a crime,” former minister wrote.
In reality, however, the Convention does not provide grounds for such amendments in the domestic legislation.
By Article 18 (1), states shall be obliged to establish criminal liability for engaging in sexual activities with a child who has not yet attained the legal age for sexual activities. And although Part 3 states that that the provisions of the paragraph are not intended to govern consensual sexual activities between minors, it is mentioned in Part 2 that each state shall decide the age which it is prohibited to engage in sexual activities with a child.
It should be noted that no amendments have been made to the Criminal Code so far. Sexual intercourse or other sexual activities with a person under the age of 16 are considered punishable under Article 141 of the Code. In terms of the age threshold for sexual intercourse, the article has remained unchanged since the year of its adoption (2003).
Thus, we can state that false comments have been made regarding the Lanzarote Convention ratified by the National Assembly. It is noteworthy that Gevorg Danielyan and PAP MP Gevorg Petrosyan, who have spoken against the ratification of the Convention and have seen dangers in it, considered it expedient to sign it when they were ministers, without expressing any concern. For more details, see this article of the Fact Investigation Platform.