A United Nations report says Spain’s government must do more to protect children from domestic violence and sexual abuse.

It believes courts need to overcome bias against women, and to apply a gender-sensitive, child-centred approach.

Eight independent experts have produced a study for the United Nations Human Rights Commission.

It criticises court cases where there is a history of child abuse but decisions from judges often favour male parents, where there is reasonable cause to suspect them of being abusive towards children and their mothers.

The experts were particularly concerned at the case of Diana García M, who recently lost custody of her 6-year-old daughter after being accused of hindering the relationship between the child and her father.

Despite a history of domestic violence and evidence suggesting he had committed sexual abuse against his daughter for years, the father was granted full custody by the court of Pozuelo de Alarcon in the Madrid region.

“Despite clear guidance to the contrary in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, courts continue to determine that it is always in the child’s best interest to maintain contact with a parent, even when those parents are violent or abusive,” the experts said.

“A root cause of this problem is a discriminatory bias against women, which results in their testimony being perceived as less credible than that of men.”

“Women are even less likely to be believed when they report physical and sexual violence,” added the experts.

The report contributors say they have regularly shared their concern with Spanish officials and say they continue to hear about new cases of mothers losing custody of their children to abusive fathers.

THEORY OF PARENTAL ALIENATION

Accused of allegedly making it harder for fathers to contact their children – a phenomenon dubbed ‘parental alienation’ sees women punished by the courts instead of securing protection for their offspring.

The theory of parental alienation, while lacking credible scientific support from the UN experts, reflects the idea that when a child fears or avoids a parent, it is due to the other parent’s influence, rather than the child’s own experiences.

While the parental alienation concept is theoretically gender-neutral, research carried out in Spain and opinions of experts following the issue have demonstrated that in a number of countries, including Spain, mothers have been regularly accused of resorting to ‘parental alienation’.

That has involved them saying that fathers have committed child abuse during court battles involving custody.

Although banned by recent Spanish legislation, theories about ‘parental alienation’ appear to continue to play a role in court decisions in Spain, according to the UN report.

“Guided by regressive theories such as parental alienation, courts in Spain and other countries are failing to ensure children’s right to be free from violence and women’s right to non-discrimination,” the experts said.

“Spain must do more to make all officials in the justice system apply a gender-sensitive, child-centred approach to cases involving child custody and domestic violence,” they concluded.

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