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Edwin Alejeandro Martinez Rojas

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Edwin Alejeandro Martinez Rojas

Supreme Court of Colombia

10 December 2014

CRC Provisions:

Other International Provisions:
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (State’s duty to provide adequate protection to the unity of family, and special protective measures be taken to ensure child develop –physical, intellectual, and morally –in a healthy manner)
American Convention on Human Rights (protect the rights of the child and take protective measures to do so)
Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 12 (right to privacy)  

Domestic Provisions:
Colombian Constitution, Article 13 (special protection of children) Article 15 (right to privacy)
Colombian Penal Code
Children and Adolescents Code, Article 14 (rights of the parents in regards to the upbringing of the child), Article 33 (right to privacy and protection from arbitrary or unlawful interference of privacy)

Case Summary:

The parents of a 12-year-old girl accessed her email account and found that an 18-year-old male, with whom she was in a relationship, was subjecting her to sexual abuse. They asked the Colombian Family Welfare Institute to intervene because the man, whom the daughter was living with full time, was violating her right to education by not allowing her to go to school. The girl also tested positive for narcotics and marijuana. During the victim’s time at a rehabilitation center, she reported that the defendant had sexual relations with her, abused her mentally, and forced her to partake in drug use.

Criminal charges for child sexual assault were brought against the man. He argued that the email evidence cannot be used against him on the ground that it was obtained illegally because the parents infringed on their daughter’s right to privacy when they accessed her email account.

Issue and resolution:
Right to privacy. The issue before the Court was whether surveillance of children’s online activity by their parents in cases of suspected abuse is a violation of the right to privacy. The Colombian Supreme Court reviewed the criminal court’s decision to admit the emails into evidence. The Court held that parents did not violate the child’s right to privacy if they access the child’s online activity when they suspect the child is in an abusive relationship.

Court reasoning:
The Court declared that the right to privacy is not an absolute right, and that parents are “constitutionally and legally authorised to assist, guide and control the communications of their underage children only for the purpose of protecting and guaranteeing the fundamental rights of children and adolescents” when they are employing their parental authority.

The Court noted that under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, parents have a duty to provide special protection to the child. Further, when the family’s goal is to protect the child, the parents must take reasonable protective measures such as knowing with whom the child is interacting “in everyday spaces, including access to internet networks and their contents.”

The Court drew the line, however, by declaring parental intervention “illegal and reprehensible” when the breach of privacy does not concern the protection of the child. The parental duty to protect does not allow for a violation of the child’s right when the reason for intrusion is not for the child’s well being.

Excerpts citing CRC and other relevant human rights instruments:

In original Spanish language:
[2.3] La Organización de las Naciones Unidas proclamó la Declaración de los Derechos del Niño, bajo la consideración de que éste, por su falta de madurez física y mental, necesita protección y cuidados especiales, con el fin de que pueda tener una infancia feliz y gozar, en su propio bien y el de la sociedad, de los derechos y libertades, que en ella se enuncian. El instrumento insta a los padres, hombres y mujeres, a las organizaciones particulares, autoridades locales y gobiernos nacionales a que reconozcan tales derechos y luchen por su observancia con medidas legislativas y de otra índole, que establezcan una protección especial fundada en su interés superior y prevalente.

Además se reitera el derecho de los niños a no ser objeto de injerencias arbitrarias o ilegales en su vida privada, ni de ataques a su honra y a su reputación

En la Declaración Universal de Derechos Humanos se proclama que toda persona tiene todos los derechos y libertades enunciadas en ella, sin distinción alguna de raza, color, sexo, idioma, religión, opinión política o de cualquiera otra índole, origen nacional o social, posición económica, nacimiento o cualquier otra condición.

Luego, El Pacto Internacional de Derechos Civiles y Políticos, exhortó a los Estados partes a respetar y a garantizar, sin distinción alguna, entre otros, los derechos de todo niño a que se adopten las medidas de protección necesarias que su condición requiere, tanto por parte de su familia como de la sociedad y el Estado.

La Convención Americana sobre Derechos Humanos reiteró la obligación de los Estados americanos de proteger los derechos de los niños y adoptar las medidas de protección que su condición requiere, lo mismo hizo el Pacto Internacional de Derechos Económicos, Sociales y Culturales con énfasis en las medidas especiales que se deben adoptar para la protección de los derechos de la niñez y de los adolescentes.

El Protocolo Adicional a la Convención Americana sobre Derechos Humanos en materia de Derechos Económicos, Sociales y Culturales, insiste en que los Estados partes se comprometan a brindar una adecuada protección al grupo familiar y a adoptar medidas especiales de protección para los adolescentes que les garantice la plena maduración de su capacidad física, intelectual y moral. Se reiteran los derechos de los niños, insistiendo en que se deben implementar las medidas de protección que su condición requiere, por parte de su familia, de la sociedad y del Estado, debiendo crecer al amparo y bajo la responsabilidad de sus padres.

As translated by CRIN:
The child – due to a lack of physical and mental immaturity – requires special protections and rights so that the child can enjoy a happy childhood for himself and for society. The Rights of the Child urges parents, citizens, relevant organizations, local authorities, and State governments to recognize such rights, strive to observe them through legislation and establish special protection founded in the top prevalent interest. Children should grow up in an atmosphere of happiness, love, and understanding with a family that allows the full and harmonious development of their personality. Additionally, the interest of the child must be addressed in all measures of concern by public or private social welfare institutions, administrative authorities, and legislative bodies.

Moreover, the right of the child to be free from arbitrary or unlawful intrusion of their privacy and free from attacks upon their honor and reputation.

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights calls upon States to respect and ensure without discrimination the rights of every child and to adopt the necessary protective measures needed on behalf of the child’s family, society, and State.  

The American Convention on Human Rights reiterated the obligation of the American States to protect the rights of the child and to take relevant protective measures. Additionally, the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights but an emphasis on special measures to be taken for the protection of the right of the child and adolescents.

The additional protocol to the Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights recognized by the American Convention on Human Rights emphasizes State parties need to commit to providing adequate protection to the family unit and special measure of protection for adolescents that ensures the full development of their physical, intellectual, and moral capacity. Here, the rights of the child are reiterated, insisting that States  must implement protective measures that their condition requires,on the part of  his family, society, and the State, and must grow the care under the responsibility of their parents.

CRIN Comments:
CRIN believes this decision is consistent with the CRC. Article 16 CRC protects children from arbitrary and unlawful interferences with their privacy and Article 5 obliges States to respect the responsibility of parents to guide children in the exercise of their rights in accordance with the child’s evolving capacities. Although in some cases interfering with a child’s privacy will be in their best interests and necessary to protect them from harm, the Court missed an opportunity to set clear criteria in order to avoid overbroad parental interference with children’s privacy.

SP 9792-2015, Radicación n° 42307

Link to Full Judgment:
Judgment available on request.

This case summary is provided by the Child Rights International Network for educational and informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice.