28. April 2010
This statement was prepared by Finland’s Ombudsman for Children, whose duty by Finnish law is to promote the rights and interests of children at a general societal level.
The statement focuses on the shortcomings that the Ombudsman for Children has observed in the course of her duties with regard to the fulfilment of the rights of Sámi children.
The statement further includes a description of the duties of the Ombudsman for Children and action taken by her to promote the rights of Sámi children.
Legislation on the Ombudsman for Children and statutory duties
The duties of Finland’s Ombudsman for Children are provided for in the Act on the Ombudsman for Children (1221/2004) and the Government Decree on the Ombudsman for Children (274/2005). The Ombudsman for Children took office on 1 September 2005. In Sweden and Norway, the corresponding national offices had been founded in the 1980s and 1990s.
The duties of the Ombudsman for Children are to promote the interests, welfare and rights of children at a general societal and legislative level and to promote the fulfilment of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. The Ombudsman for Children cooperates with other authorities, organisations and actors in the field of child policy.
The basic duties of the Ombudsman for Children provided for by law are:
- monitoring and evaluating the living conditions of children and adolescents and the fulfilment of the interests and rights of children,
- monitoring legislation and other decision-making in society from the child angle, and related lobbying,
- communicating with children and adolescents and conveying information received from them into the decision-making process,
- conveying information about children to those working with children, to the authorities and to the public at large,
- developing cooperation between actors in the field of child policy,
- promoting the fulfilment of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child contains several provisions that dovetail with the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. Overall, the Convention (Article 2) requires that States Parties shall respect and ensure the rights of each child within their jurisdiction without discrimination of any kind, irrespective of the child’s or his or her parent’s or legal guardian’s characteristics (including language and ethnic origin). The following provisions specifically concern language minorities:
- Article 29 specifies that a child’s education shall be directed to the development of respect for the child’s cultural identity and language, and of tolerance.
- Article 30 states: ”In those States in which ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities or persons of indigenous origin exist, a child belonging to such a minority or who is indigenous shall not be denied the right, in community with other members of his or her group, to enjoy his or her own culture, to profess and practise his or her own religion, or to use his or her own language.”
- Article 17 specifies that States and other parties shall promote the availability of children’s programmes and books in indigenous languages.
- Article 20 specifies that attention must be paid in foster care (child welfare services) to continuity in upbringing and to ethnic and linguistic background.
The Ombudsman for Children applies the Sámi Language Act in her activities.
In practice, this means mainly that the office’s online service is available in North Sámi at http://www.lapsiasia.fi/se/ovdasiidu
The Ombudsman for Children has produced a brochure on the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child; this has been translated into North Sámi, Inari Sámi and Skolt Sámi. All the brochures may be found online at http://www.lapsiasia.fi/306
A brochure on the rights of the child in North Sámi is available online at
Moreover, the entire Convention was translated into North Sámi in an EU-funded joint project run by the Ombudsmen for Children of Finland, Sweden and Norway; this is available online at http://www.lapsiasia.fi/se/mana_vuoigatvuodat/soahpamusdeaksta
The Co-operation of the ombudsmen for children in Finland, Sweden and Norway in order to promote rights of the sámi children
The Ombudsmen for Children of Finland, Sweden and Norway entered into close cooperation regarding the promoting of the rights of Sámi children in 2007-2008. In each country, the opinions and experiences of Sámi children and adolescents concerning matters affecting their well-being were surveyed.
The results were written up in a joint publication entitled ‘ Rights of Sámi children and adolescents to participate and influence’, in Swedish ( Rätten till delaktighet och inflytande för samiska barn och ungdomar) and in North Sámi ( Sámi mánáid ja nuoraid oassálastinvuoigatvuohta ja váikkuhanvuoigatvuohta)
Also, a separate report on the Finnish portion of the survey was published as Lapsiasiavaltuutetun toimiston selvityksiä 1/2008: Sápmelašvuohta lea dego skeaŋka – Saamelaisuus on kuin lahja (‘ Being Sámi is a gift’)
A summary is available in English:
A copy of a longer summary is enclosed in this document.
Results of the survey of the opinions of Sámi children
The survey demonstrated that Sámi children and adolescents in Finland, Sweden and Norway alike appreciated the teaching of Sámi language and teaching in Sámi language greatly and were satisfied with it. Sámi children generally show a strong and positive Sámi identity. Language, in addition to reindeer husbandry, is a significant factor in the creation of this identity. The role of parents in supporting language and identity varies greatly, because their generation has not had many opportunities to learn the language, and on the other hand they may have negative experiences of Sámi identity for instance from boarding school in their childhood.
However, the survey found that children and adolescents were far from equal in their access to teaching in and of Sámi language. Lack of continuity was seen as a fundamental problem in teaching in Sámi, as there is a shortage of qualified Sámi-speaking subject teachers. There is also a lack of teaching material, and in Finland it is not possible to take the matriculation examination in Sámi in subjects studied in Sámi at school, such as biology. However, in Finland it is possible to take the matriculation examination with Sámi as the mother tongue or as a foreign language.
What emerged as a particularly serious shortcoming in Finland is that children and adolescents are not taught about the culture and history of the Sámi people. Although this was entered as an additional obligation in the national core curriculum, it is not implemented in practice.
As regards the media and mass communications, the children and adolescents considered that by and large the image they give of the Sámi people does not correspond to what the Sámi people are today. The media continue to project a highly stereotypical image of the Sámi (they tend to get drunk, they wear traditional Sámi dress, they are ‘old-fashioned’). Children and adolescents would like to have more services in Sámi on the radio, on TV and on the Internet. Also, particularly in Finland and Sweden it would seem that children outside the Sámi homeland know little if anything about the Sámi people and culture, and these are not included in their curriculum.
The children are very attached to their northern homeland. They would like to keep better in touch with their Sámi friends living all around the country or the northern region. Children living outside the central communities of municipalities would particularly like more opportunities for leisure activities.
The respondents considered that they have very little interaction with the autonomous Sámi cultural administration (i.e. the Sámi Parliament). At school and at the municipal level, there was great variation in how they could influence matters concerning the Sámi language.
Joint conclusions on the reports by the Ombudsmen for Children of Finland, Sweden and Norway
The survey results were very similar in all the Nordic countries involved. The joint conclusions of the Ombudsmen for Children recommended closer cooperation between the governments of Finland, Sweden and Norway to ensure the fulfilment of the language rights and equality of education of Sámi children.
Better and closer cooperation between the governments of Finland, Sweden and Norway is needed and would be most useful especially in:
- production of teaching materials in Sámi languages,
- teacher training and further education in Sámi languages (also for native speakers of the national majority language),
- drafting of curricula for the teaching of Sámi culture and history, and
- enabling better communication between schools in the Sámi homeland (and, by extension, between children and adolescents).
Moreover, the national broadcasting companies of Finland, Sweden and Norway should engage in more cooperation to produce programmes for children and adolescents in Sámi languages.
The Sámi Parliament should engage in closer cooperation with children and adolescents, for instance by setting up youth councils or similar bodies for Sámi speakers under the age of 18.
The results of the survey have been communicated to the governments of Finland, Sweden and Norway and to the Sámi Parliamentary Council, which entered a positive note on this in the conclusions of its meeting in November 2008.
Regarding Finland, I would particularly like to emphasise the following:
- The problems in the teaching of Sámi language have regrettably persisted in recent years. There have been some positive developments, one of the most important of which is the Sámi-language children’s programme jointly produced by the Finnish Broadcasting Company (YLE) and Swedish Television (SVT), Unna Junná. Also, the suggestion of setting up a youth council in connection with the Sámi Parliament has been favourably received in Finland. The autonomous Sámi administrative bodies began to highlight the importance of safeguarding the language rights of children and adolescents in their statements during 2008.
- According to the Recommendation of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe on the application of the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages by Finland (21 November 2007), Finland should as a matter of priority establish a comprehensive national plan for education and teaching of and in Sámi language, including the evaluation of teaching of and in Sámi language. The education authorities (the Ministry of Education and the National Board of Education) have not acted upon this recommendation.
- The most serious problem in the current situation is that 60 to 70 per cent of underage Sámi children live outside the Sámi homeland, and education legislation does not uphold their language rights. The legislation should be amended so that children are equally entitled to Sámi language teaching outside the Sámi homeland. Also, at present the fulfilment of children’s language rights depends too much on how active and demanding their parents are.
- The greatest shortages in teaching materials and continuity of teaching are in the teaching of and in the Inari Sámi and Skolt Sámi languages. Both are listed among the world’s endangered languages. There have been 11 pupils receiving basic education in Inari Sámi in municipalities in the Sámi homeland, and four pupils receiving basic education in Skolt Sámi.
- More information on modern Sámi life and culture must be disseminated to the majority population in Finland – adults and schoolchildren alike – both at school and in broader publicity campaigns.
- Also, government support is needed for Sámi children’s and youth organisations and for youth work, Internet-based and otherwise, among Sámi adolescents. The Youth Policy Division of the Ministry of Education has taken a positive attitude to the development of Sámi youth work, evidenced by the fact that this is included in the Government’s Child and Youth Policy Programme of 2007.
- In social and family services, support for Sámi parents should be developed with special reference to the traumatic experiences some of them have had through assimilation policy in their childhood (e.g. boarding school). Also, the Sámi language and culture should be taken better into account in child welfare services and in child placements outside the home. The definition of the interests of the child in section 4 of the new Child Welfare Act (2008) provides for taking the ethnic and language background of the child into account, but very little practical efforts have been made to this end.
The Ombudsmen for Children of Finland, Sweden and Norway have applied to the Youth Committee of the Nordic Council of Ministers for funding to jointly hire a coordinator for the rights of Sámi children. So far, no positive funding decision has been received. The Ombudsmen for Children of Finland, Sweden and Norway will next discuss the matter at their meeting in Copenhagen at the beginning of next June. The aim is to find a joint solution.
My wish is for the Special Rapporteur to recommend that States allocate funding to the strengthening of cooperation between the Ombudsmen for Children of Finland, Sweden and Norway in the area of the rights of Sámi children. Our joint survey forms an excellent foundation for this, and all the Ombudsmen for Children are willing to undertake action in this area.
I have noticed discussion in the Norwegian Sámi Parliament about the idea to set up the office of a separate Sámi Ombudsman for Children. I am personally not in favour of this, as it would unnecessarily decentralise the supervision of the rights of children. The rights of children of indigenous peoples must be taken into account and mainstreamed as part of the general system of supervising the rights of children in these countries. The Ombudsmen for Children of Finland, Sweden and Norway are very much in favour of continuing to consider and strengthen the perspective of Sámi children in their work.
Jyväskylä, 29 April 2010