The Improving Justice in Child Contact project was set up to tackle the ways in which child contact (communication, such as phone calls or visits) between a child and a parent they are not regularly living with) and the court processes which decide court process can harm rather than protect children and their parents, as well as the failures of these processes to uphold children’s participation rights.
On June 10 2020 the Improving Justice in Child Contact project worked with Women Against Violence Europe (WAVE) Network and the European Women’s Lobby to host an international seminar on these issues. Over 80 people attended the seminar, from more than 20 countries.
The seminar was hosted by Professor Kay Tisdall, who highlighted how key children’s participation rights are to all of children’s rights being made real – and therefore the value of the Improving Justice in Child Contact project in working to enhance children’s participation rights in decision-making about child contact.
Laura Albu, on behalf of European Women’s Lobby, presented first on the gaps in the implementation of the Istanbul Convention across Europe around child contact specifically. The Istanbul Convention recognises that contact orders present serious safety risks for women and children in cases of intimate partner violence and obliges states to ensure that judicial orders take domestic violence into account. Nevertheless, the European Women’s Lobby’s analysis has found that only 35% of countries in the analysis have specific provisions to ensure that domestic violence is considered by the Courts, and that in 71% of countries children would be forced to have contact with perpetrators of abuse, against their own wishes. Laura reported that the consequences of these failures had been fatal for women and/or children in countries including Belgium, Finland, Italy, Hungary, Serbia and Spain.
Professor Shazia Choudhry, on behalf of Women Against Violence Europe, presented on the experiences of the family court processes in England. Her research found, matching Laura’s presentation, that failures of the Courts to understand and consider domestic violence led to unsafe decisions, and women and children being put in danger. One woman in her study reported that she wished she had never gone to hospital, had just kept on coping with the abuse from her partner – because what happened in the Courts stopped her being able to protect her children from abuse. Shazia described failures of the Courts to uphold children’s rights, with many examples of Courts not listening to what children had to say, including where children were saying that they were frightened.
Dr Marsha Scott, on behalf of Improving Justice in Child Contact, made the final presentation, highlighting that across all five countries of the Improving Justice in Child Contact project, despite all the different legal systems and processes, we see the same issues: children being treated as collateral damage. Marsha also emphasised that children’s and women’s rights and inextricably linked, and that a key part of the IJCC project is to make those links visible. Marsha described the work Yello!, the young experts advising the Improving Justice in Child Contact project. Yello! had designed two animations to support young people affected by domestic violence, because they wanted young people to know that they were not alone. A key part of this work was that young people were designing materials for other young people, so these were authentic.