The Convention, the Church and Child Abuse

The torrent of recent accusations of child abuse my members of the Catholic Church has included the Netherlands. In the past weeks, the Dutch newspapers have been full of horrendous stories of sexual abuse of children by priests. Now, a newspaper reports that lawyers from a foundation that supports the rights of victims of sexual abuse have said that the State can be held responsible for these acts under the European Convention of Human Rights.

They might just be right. The lawyers refer to the case of E. and Others v. the UK of 2002. That case concerned four children who were sexually and physically abused by their step-father during the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s. The Court found that the social sevices had failed to “discover the exact extent of the problem and, potentially, to prevent further abuse taking place.” (par. 97). Therefore, the Court judged that a violation of article 3 (freedom from torture or inhuman or degrading treatment) had taken place.

These facts seem to fit the case of the abuse by members of the church well. Both cases concern abuse perpetrated some time ago; both cases concern negligence by the State to investigate what was going on. However, the Court did not give a clear ruling on the issue of time limits in E. v.UK.

Do the victims from the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s have a chance in Strasbourg? I think so.

Alexandra Timmer

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