Rohan was born in Israel to a Filipina mother. He lived here all his life, was a student in the Israeli school system and saw himself as an Israeli in every way. When he was 13 he was deported from Israel solely because his mother was living here without a permit. With this expulsion the government violated both the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which it signed in 1991, and Israeli law.
The UN convention defends the human dignity of the child. It recognizes the child as a person unto himself, with opinions, desires, feelings, needs, a feeling of identity and interests that aren’t necessary identical to those of his parents. Inter alia, the convention imposes an obligation to hear the child out and take his welfare into account first and foremost in any administrative or legal procedure that could harm him.
Israeli law also imposes on the authorities the obligation to hear any person – and a child is a person – before making any decision that may harm them. But Rohan was held in custody and deported without being given the opportunity to say his piece. He was expelled illegally in an outrageous fashion, just a few hours before the hearing on the appeal his lawyer had filed against the deportation decision.
This shameful expulsion led a group of top-notch lawyers to volunteer to defend the rights of these children and ensure that the government complied with the applicable law. I couldn’t help but respond to this deportation, and I wrote to the attorney general asking that he make sure that hearings are held for the children being deported. To our delight the response was effective. We learned that the Justice Ministry, under the commendable leadership of two deputy attorneys general, Dina Zilber and Dr. Roy Schondorf, and in conjunction with the relevant government ministries, decided that the Population and Immigration Authority procedure must be amended.
The new procedure establishes that before a decision is made to expel a child aged 12 or older, their view will be heard by a border control supervisor, and the child’s view, and their best interests in general, will be a major consideration in the supervisor’s decision. To ensure proper implementation of the procedure, appropriate instruction will be given to all border control supervisors. The decision is welcome. It’s an important step in the state’s recognition of each child as having his or her own personality and rights, and especially in its upholding the law on deporting children.
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This revised procedure, however, does not yet fully comply with the state’s obligation under the UN convention, which holds that even a child who is younger than 12 is entitled to a personal hearing before deportation and that their best interests must be the main consideration in the decision.
The Israeli procedure bypasses a large group of children subject to deportation who are entitled to the rights under the convention, and lacks clear standards regarding its implementation. Moreover, under the convention children are entitled to a hearing not only before a border control supervisor but before any court that hears appeals on deportation decisions; this issue must be addressed as well.
The obligation to give a child a hearing before deporting them does not negate or contradict the policy on deporting illegal aliens. But just as one does not punish a criminal without a legal procedure, in keeping with the rights that the law confers on the defendant, a child should not be deported except through a procedure that preserves their legal rights. This is how a state of law behaves, and this is what morality and logic demand.
Yehudit Karp is a former deputy attorney general and was vice chairwoman of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child.