The experts had previously written to the authorities after receiving information about three cases regarding allegations of sexual abuse of several children by their fathers and violations against the mothers who sought to protect them.
In addition, the experts found that, according to the allegations, the children were victims of sexual abuse or at high risk of sexual abuse at the hands of their fathers or alleged perpetrators against whom there was credible and disturbing evidence of incestuous sexual abuse.
Despite the allegations, and in the absence of adequate investigations, the children were placed in the custody of their fathers.
Abuse allegations undermined
“We are particularly concerned about the way in which the family court has allowed the alleged perpetrator to accuse the mother of parental alienation in order to undermine the allegations of sexual abuse of the children and divert attention from the alleged abuse to which they are subjecting their partners and children,” the experts said.
They urged the French authorities to respect the “precautionary principle” and the “due diligence principle” in child protection, particularly during legal proceedings, to allow for a preventive approach in cases of uncertainty and complexity.
The views of the child also must be sought and respected, and their best interests must be the main consideration before custody decisions are made in favour of one parent.
Boost law enforcement
The experts also highlighted the need to build the capacity of law enforcement and justice officials to effectively monitor and address human rights abuses affecting these children and their mothers.
“Urgent steps must be taken to alleviate the distressing situation in which children and their mothers are being negatively affected by the lack of adequate consideration for their needs,” they added.
The experts said they have been following the workings of France’s Independent Commission on Incest and Sexual Abuse of Children (CIVIISE), whose findings confirm the concerns expressed to the Government.
Mechanism for complaints
They urged the authorities to establish an effective child-friendly complaint handling system and an investigation mechanism to process victims’ complaints.
“These efforts, including in divorce and custody cases, are essential and should go hand in hand with effective coordination between law enforcement agencies and other service providers, keeping the best interests of the child at the centre of all proceedings or decisions affecting or concerning children,” they said.
Recalling that France is a party to UN treaties on children’s rights and eliminating discrimination against women, they urged the country to “implement its obligations under these international human rights instruments”.
About UN experts
The experts who issued the statement include Mama Fatima Singhateh, UN Special Rapporteur on the sexual abuse of children; Reem Alsalem, Special Rapporteur on violence against women and girls, as well as the members of the UN Working Group on discrimination against women and girls.
They receive their mandates from the UN Human Rights Council and are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.
They are not UN staff and are not paid for their work.