UN hosts a special rapporteur on violence against women, girls

Jun 23, 2023 | News

Reem Alsalem, the UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women and girls, said justice systems need to reform to a child- and victim-centered approach in order to fully protect them from violence.

Alsalem discussed the intersections of gendered violence and child custody issues, and the engagement of global issues pertaining to such.

She presented her second thematic report to the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) and Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) on June 23.

Alsalem said her report focused on the deeply imbedded gender biases that pervade family court systems across the globe, which places women and children in situations of immense suffering and violence.

The tendency of family courts in many parts of the world, is to dismiss the history of domestic violence and abuse in child custody issues, especially where mothers and/or children have brought forward credible allegations of domestic abuse, The Special Rapporteur said.

She said the history of intimate partner violence against women is often neglected, so the courts can default to ruling shared custody or give parental authority to the abusive side.

Contact with both parents, regardless of treatment seems to be prioritized at any expense to the children.

“You will see in the report that there are a lot of references to this unscientific and unfounded concept of parental alienation, which is usually invoked predominantly against mothers, and it’s a way of claiming that a parent is deliberately putting pressure on the children not to engage with the other parent,” she said.

“And it’s used as a way to divert attention away from more serious issues of domestic abuse or domestic violence, of course of control, either against, in this case, the mother or child.”

Alsalem said recommendations to counteract these rulings need to be centred on the needs and testimonies of victims, and to adopt a childcentered approach that prioritizes the best interest of the child or children.

The Special Rapporteur said being in school is the best way to protect children, but from her official country visits she has found that many children do not have access to education or are being homeschooled in difficult situations.

Alsalem is also an independent consultant on gender issues, the rights of refugees and migrants, transitional justice and humanitarian response.

Her report included a brief on her international visits to Libya and Türkiye.

“I have left Libya feeling deeply disturbed at the widespread, systematic, and grave levels of violence faced by Libyan women and children, including girls. Femicide, or the killing of women on multiple grounds, is rife; as are acts of physical, economic, political and domestic violence in the private and public sphere,” Alsalem said in her end of mission statement.

“Moreover, I am equally distraught by the credible and multiple reports I received of profoundly discriminatory and dehumanising treatment endured by non-Libyan women and children, including girls, as well as horrific levels of torture, sexual violence, abduction for ransom, detention, trafficking in persons, forced labour and unlawful killings,” she said.

Alsalem said it is imperative for the public to support the efforts being made by public servants and human rights defenders who are tirelessly working towards ensuring the protection of women and girls in Libyan society, and across the globe.