Armenia’s National Assembly ratified the Lanzarote Convention on the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse despite protests by conservative groups including the country’s largest opposition party, Prosperous Armenia.
The ratification vote took place on 11 May.
The Council of Europe’s Lanzarote Convention was signed by Armenia on 29 September 2010. It has been signed by all 47 member states of the Council of Europe and has been ratified by 44 countries.
On 11 May, the convention was ratified with 79 voting for and 12 against. The opposition Bright Armenia party did not take part in the hearing as it is boycotting all parliamentary sessions after a violent altercation took place in the parliament between Bright Armenia MPs and MPs from the ruling My Step coalition on 8 May.
The Convention aims to ‘prevent and combat the sexual exploitation and sexual abuse of children’, ‘protect the rights of child victims of sexual exploitation and sexual abuse’, and ‘promote national and international cooperation against sexual exploitation and sexual abuse of children’.
By ratifying the Lanzarote Convention Armenia is committing itself to implement ‘legislative or other measures to encourage awareness of the protection and rights of children among persons who have regular contacts with children in the education, health, social protection, judicial and law-enforcement sectors and in areas relating to sport, culture and leisure activities.’
Protests against the convention
The morning of the parliamentary hearing, members of Kamq NGO, an ultra-conservative group that has been one of the main organisers of a petition demanding the parliament not ratify the Istanbul Convention on Violence Against Women held a small protest near the side entrance of the parliament building.
The protesters demanded that MPs not ratify the convention and asked for public hearings to take place.
One of the main contentions they had with the convention was the phrase ‘sexual orientation’ in the non-discrimination clause which states that the provisions of the Convention ‘shall be secured without discrimination on any ground such as sex, race, colour, [...] sexual orientation, state of health, disability or other status’.
Protesters told My Step MP Vahe Ghalumyan as he was entering the building that they demand that the parliament ‘not legalise homosexuality’.
Ghalumyan assured them that he is not the person that would ‘legalise homosexuality’. Homosexuality, however, is legal in Armenia and has been since 2003.
My Step MP Tatevik Hayrapetyan told protestors that the Convention was a tool to impose stricter punishments for child molestation.
‘All the rest of the definitions around which you are trying to express concern over have no influence or meaning in this Convention at all’, she said.
During the hearing, opposition Prosperous Armenia MP Gevorg Petrosyan announced that his party would be voting against the bill.
‘We do not want to blame anyone, however, we are reiterating our concern that certain clauses in the convention reasonably threaten the interests of our children’s rearing’, he said.
According to Petrosyan, the Armenian Apostolic Church had also raised concerns over the convention.
‘All of them [the protestors and Church] are against the convention,’ he said. ‘We are sticking to our position that it [the convention] is not in the real interest of children’s rights.’
Another main contention raised by the protesters concerned Article 6 of the convention which states that children, ‘during primary and secondary education, receive information on the risks of sexual exploitation and sexual abuse, as well as on the means to protect themselves, adapted to their evolving capacity’.
They stated that students of primary and secondary school age were too young to be informed of such topics.
Defending the Convention
In an interview with A1plus, My Step MP Maria Karapetyan said that while many of the provisions of the convention have already been implemented in Armenia, there is still work left to do and that the convention is an impetus to get this work done.
‘We will also continue implementing new provisions [based on the convention]’, Karapetyan said. ‘The convention in this sense is just an additional incentive.’
When asked about the concerns regarding the provision on education, Karapetyan explained that the convention foresees giving children information that has been adapted to their age and intellectual capacity, for example, how they can identify early signs of dangers to their person and how to ask adults for help.
Karapetyan stressed that crimes against children are taking place online with growing frequency and that children need to learn how to use the internet properly.
‘If it’s necessary to give thousands of children general knowledge on a topic in order to save dozens of children’s lives, then we must do it’, she said.
Responding to concerns made over the word ‘sexual orientation’, Karapetyan said that the phrase inclusion simply meant that the sexual orientation a child victim of sexual abuse should not be a part of the ‘foundation’ of the investigative process into the crimes committed against them.
As for the Lanzarote Convention paving way for the Istanbul Convention, Karapetyan stated that the two are different documents and are not connected to each other.