The Italian Parliament approved new legal provisions for the protection of unaccompanied migrant children.
The Act of Law of 7 April 2017 no. 47 encompasses all the basic elements for a good integration, like the age assessment process, reception standards, the promotion of reception by foster families and higher standards for guardianship, easier access to health care and education,
More than 21 thousand children - teenagers and sometimes younger children - arrived alone in Italy in 2016.
They often faced dramatic journeys without parents and other adult figures, or lost them on the way. Once in Europe, these children count among the most vulnerable, easy prey to exploitation and violence.
Therefore it is essential to regard them, rather than migrants or refugees, as "unaccompanied minors" and commit to strengthening, as does the law, their protection and care.
The new provisions passed by the Italian Parliament on 26 March 2017 entered into force on 6 May 2017. They harmonize the Italian national legislation on child protection and on immigration, in a single organic text, which fully reflects the fundamental principles of the United Nations Convention on the Rights.
What does this law provide?
The terms of age assessment and identification procedures are set in the law for the first time ensuring uniformity nationwide.
That ensures a formal decision on age assessment and identification, an obligation to officially notice it to the concerned child and/or the guardian, as well the right to challenge such decision in court. The new procedure also ensures greater care, including the presence of cultural mediators throughout the procedure.
For the first time the law provides an organic reception system for unaccompanied children, with facilities dedicated exclusively during the whole period of stay in the country.
Children may remain in first reception facilities no more than 30 days. Subsequently, they shall be received in homes of the national protection system for asylum seekers and unaccompanied minors (SPRAR), with facilities spread throughout the national territory.
A national database will secure the reception of all children arriving in Italy to the centers located in every regions, based on the availability of seats and the children's specific needs.
The law provides that the local Juvenile Court can extend the application of protection measures after the age of majority, until 21 years.
Italian authorities shall have a specific duty to search the parents of each child. The search outcomes shall be communicated to the concerned child and to the guardian. The competent authority to decide whether and how to repatriate the child shall be on the Juvenile Court and no longer on the Ministry of Labor and Social Policies.
It will be easier for a child to obtain a residence permit and access her or his rights/services, even before a guardian is appointed.
The immigration authority will grant either a residence permit for children or for family reasons (when the child is put in foster care).
At the age of majority, the authority may grant a residence permit if the person has a valid passport and suitable accommodation. The nex law amends the pre-existing regulation by including measures to expedite the process.
Within three months from the date of entry into force of the law, every local Juvenile Court must establish a list of avaliable "volunteer guardians" to ensure each minor a representative and properly educated adult. The law also prioritizes the reception by foster families.
Schooling and care
The bill provides greater safeguards for the right to education and health even before children obtain a guardian. New measures are designed to overcome the bureaucratic impediments that over the years have prevented unaccompanied children to fully exercise these rights, such as to enjoy full coverage by the National Health Care System or to be admitted to vactional training, as well as to obtain the final qualification, even when they no longer may have a residence permit after the age of 18.
Finally, the law provides the opportunity for children to obtain support measures after attaining the age of majority, until 21 years.
Right to be heard and to legal aid
Unaccompanied foreign children are expressly recognised the "right to be heard" in administrative and judicial proceedings, even in the absence of the guardian.
The law sets a specific provision for children to access legal aid.
Child rights organizations shall also have the right to challenge and obtain the cancellation of decisions which impair the rights of unaccompanied minors, as well as and to intervene in judicial decisions concerning them.