Parents in Marginalized and Vulnerable Situations, Family Life and Children’s Best Interests: A.I. v. Italy

Dr. Gamze Erdem Türkelli is a Research Foundation (FWO) Flanders Post-Doctoral Fellow at the Law and Development Research Group, University of Antwerp*

Introduction

On 1 April 2021, the First Section of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) rendered its judgment in A.I. v. Italy (Application no. 70896/17). The judgment sheds light on the States Parties’ obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) in relation to children’s rights and the rights of parents in situations of vulnerability and marginalization (of the parent and the child) as well as of cultural diversity where the family in question belongs to a minority culture in the State Party.

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Anti-vaxxers before the Strasbourg Court: Vavřička and Others v. the Czech Republic

By Katarzyna Ważyńska-Finck, PhD researcher at the European University Institute and
a former assistant lawyer at the European Court of Human Rights.

Compared to our ancestors, we are lucky to have at our disposal safe and effective vaccines against illnesses such as polio, measles or hepatitis B. To ensure that the number of immunized people is high enough to prevent diseases from spreading, some governments make vaccinations compulsory. This is especially the case for childhood vaccination schemes. However, some parents who oppose to having their children vaccinated against these illnesses are ready for lengthy legal battles to challenge the mandatory vaccinations as violating their human rights. In a recent judgment the European Court of Human Rights refuted the applicants’ claim that the Czech compulsory vaccination programme violated their Convention rights.

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Victims of ‘vulnerability’: Balancing protection, privacy and participation of child victims in X and Others v. Bulgaria

By Prof. Dr. Ton Liefaard[*], Jessica Valentine (LL.M)[†] and Lisanne van Dijck[‡]

‘This is a sad case’ begins the joint partly concurring and partly dissenting opinion of Judge Spano and others in the case of X and others v. Bulgaria. The judgment, delivered by a Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) on 2 February 2021, certainly concerns sad circumstances: three children (siblings) were abandoned by their mother and placed in an orphanage in Bulgaria where they were allegedly victims of sexual abuse before being adopted by an Italian couple. The separate opinion notes the case concerns ‘some of the most vulnerable of applicants that have come before this Court’. The applicants allege that, following their claim that they had been subjected to sexual abuse at the orphanage, the Bulgarian authorities failed in their positive obligation to protect them against that treatment and in their obligation to conduct an effective investigation into those allegations.

In a divided judgment, the Grand Chamber ultimately found that the Bulgarian authorities had breached their procedural obligation under Article 3 of the ECHR, which requires authorities to conduct an effective investigation into arguable claims of torture, inhuman or degrading treatment. Although the Bulgarian authorities had taken a series of investigative steps, the Grand Chamber ultimately found that these had not met the required level of ‘effectiveness’. One of the reasons for this was a failure to take any steps to involve the victims in the investigation (§208). In its interpretation of Article 3, the Grand Chamber took into account other applicable international instruments and in particular the Council of Europe Convention on the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse (the ‘Lanzarote Convention’).

The joint separate opinion by Judge Spano and others suggests that the majority’s desire to respond to the applicants’ ‘sad story’ leads it astray (§2). The decision, according to this opinion, potentially exposes future child victims to excessively intrusive and unreliable investigative measures (ibid). We argue below that the dissenters’ reading risks overlooking the procedural rights of children.

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