Opinion

Israel’s Illegal Deportation of a 13-year-old Child

Rohan Peres wtih his mother at an appeals hearing on their deportation.
Meged Gozani

With determination, expediency and callousness, 13-year-old Rohan, who is Israeli by circumstance, was deported from Israel, where he was born and raised, and sent to the Philippines, whose connection to him is that his mother is a Filipina who was living illegally in Israel. All Israelis who value morality should be deeply ashamed of this, since they are indirectly responsible for this terrible deportation, which was carried out in their name by their country, by their government.

In the face of this moral injustice, media outlets beat the claim into the brains of Israelis that the deportation was legal because the state has the right to expel people living in the country illegally. It does not.

The argument is similar to the argument that the state, whose criminal code authorizes it to punish offenders, has the authority to punish an individual however it sees fit, even without legal process designed to prevent false convictions. Deporting Rohan without allowing him the right to be heard at the administrative and judicial level is tantamount to imposing a criminal sentence without judicial process. Israel violated his right to be heard and other rights guaranteed by the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. His deportation was illegal and should be rescinded.

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Israel ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1991, committing to implement its provisions. The fundamental value enshrined in the treaty – from which all the children’s rights and all of the obligations of the state are derived – is respect for the child. The convention applies to all children within the state’s jurisdiction, whether or not they are citizens or residents of the state.

The convention includes four fundamental principles, which are also deemed individual rights: the right of children to be freely heard in any administrative or judicial proceeding relating to them and the obligation to consider their views in coming to a decision; that the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration in all actions concerning children, and that all decisions indicate how they reflect this as a consideration of supreme importance; the obligation to respect the principle of equality and nondiscrimination; and the obligation to ensure the child’s right to life, survival and development.

These principles emphasize that children are human beings and therefore deserving of respect, and that they have individual rights. A child is not an object and not property. Children are independent, separate beings with their own interests, thoughts, opinions, desires, needs and feelings, which are not necessarily the same as those of their parents and not necessarily derived from their parents’ acts or failings.

In none of the decisions approving Rohan’s deportation did those deciding his case hear him out – hear his views, his feelings, his fears, his needs or his desires. That alone makes the expulsion illegal, violating as it did Rohan’s clear rights according to the UN convention. It also violated the fundamental principle of due process, which also applies in Israeli law, requiring the views of the person affected to be heard.

Furthermore, there is no explanation in the decisions as to how the judges complied with their obligation to put the child’s best interests first. The possibility that the life of the child, whose emotional problems were known by those deciding his case, might be destroyed was only mentioned in passing. This despite a professional opinion that Rohan’s deportation would cause him irreversible harm.

The general and unproven assumption that he may benefit from being with his extended family in the Philippines — unproven if only because it contradicts Rohan’s own statements — is a fundamental distortion of the obligation to consider the best interest of the child. This consideration must be based not on general assumptions but on evaluating the best interests of the specific child. In practice, the boy is being punished for his mother’s failings and was also detained in violation of the principles of the convention and the principles of Israeli law.

The ruling in his case should have been the reverse: If his best interest requires him to remain in Israel, then his explicit right under the convention to live in a family environment should be respected, and he should be allowed to live here in Israel with his mother. Furthermore, and space does not permit going into detail, the decision violates both Rohan’s right to equality and his right to develop, which were not considered at all.

These rights were so blatantly violated as to make the decision to expel him illegal. Rohan must be returned to Israel, with his mother, for proceedings on his future that are held in compliance with the UN convention.

New right to file a complaint

In April 2014, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child was given the authority to hear individual complaints on the violation of children’s rights. In my opinion, if Rohan is not returned to Israel to correct the injustice done to him, human rights groups in Israel would do well to consider submitting a complaint to the committee on his behalf.

This column was written not only to prevent the violation of the rights of the children whom the government intends to expel in the future, but also to call upon the government to reexamine its deportation policy and adopt the recommendations of previous governments that children attending school in Israel not be deported. That is so the best interest of the child and respect for the child are the policy principles guiding every government, and so the state faithfully complies with obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.