The child protection debate starts.jpg

The child protection debate starts

By: Cecília Pires

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THE DISAPPEARANCE of Madeleine McCann has already launched a major debate about the Portuguese legal system and how it looks after child protection.

In a special debate focussing on Madeleine’s case, Portuguese cable news channel SIC Notícias invited five experts to discuss the issue on Tuesday (May 8) evening.

The question on the table was whether an update of the Portuguese law on protecting children against crimes such as paedophilia and illegal adoption, as well as internet predators, would be effective.

Luis Filipe de Carvalho, a lawyer and expert on criminal laws, said he felt public opinion was changing. “More and more,” he said, “the secret of justice must be an exception and not the rule.

“It is time Portuguese legislators reflect on the reality of our changing modern times.”

He did, however, defend the Portuguese police on the criticism receive on their investigation of the case:

“They really are constrained in talking about the case. There’s nothing they can do about it.”

Maria do Sameiro, a criminal psychologist and profiler, said profilers were already working on the McCann case. But she added: “Profilers are more usually used in serial cases, where the crime fits in to a certain pattern.”

However, many aspects revealed already by investigators indicated signs of possible motives and that, she said, justifies their coming to the scene.

Alexandra Simões, a specialist on child protection at the Instituto de Apoio à Criança, a child protection state organisation, was asked what is being done to change Portuguese laws on child protection.

Her reply, although fairly optimistic, revealed legislative dallying. She remembered that this issue is one of the main subjects of the Lisbon Agenda at the European Commission, which is trying to create a unique line of legislation for all member states on the child protection.

With considered caution, Ana Vasconcelos, a child psychiatrist, made an analysis on what a child’s behaviour could be in a situation like the one facing Madeleine.

“She is suffering by being separated from the parents and she might even be getting used to being alone for short periods of time. However, she can not be prepared for living with this type of separation.”

Also joining the debate was Luis Villas Boas, the director of Refúgio Aboim Ascenção, in Faro (a childcare organization dedicated to cases of abandon) and also a clinical psychologist.

He praised “the extreme competence of the Portuguese police”, adding; “They do not need lessons from anyone in the world.”

The Madeleine case, he said, is one of those extraordinary cases that nobody is expecting to happen, particularly the parents.

He said everyone knows that Portuguese people love their children – “despite the fact that UNICEF reports say we have some of the worst statistics on child protection.”

This, he said, was a phenomenon that, in his opinion, was more due to the excessive databases sent to this kind of organisation than from the reality of the country concerned.”

He shared the group’s view that legal changes are needed, and urgently.

With the debate on Child Protection coming to the fore in Portugal – unfortunately for all the very wrong reasons – The Resident invites all its readers to participate, sending suggestions, ideas or just an opinion on the issue to: [email protected]