At it's 11th regular session held on 14 April, 2016 the National Assembly of the Republic of Srpska unanimously adopted the Annual Report of the Ombudsman for Children of the RS, which is an indicator in itself about the National Assembly stand point regarding the Institution but also about agreement on necessity to find systematic solutions in different fields in order to improve the whole system of the children's protection.
The increased visibility of children and their needs in the society has been noticeable in recent years, which is very encouraging.
Important improvements in protection of the rights and interest of children have been made not only in the legal framework but also in development of an environment in which the subjects of protection became more sensible. However, the legal framework and adopted bi-laws in the field of juvenile justice unfortunately have not yet came fully into the force (the list of institutions, humanitarian organizations and works of the local communities in which these children would participate free of charge have not been prepared; establishment of the education center and institutions that would fulfill right to education has not been completed). This puts a question mark to the fulfillment of the rights of these children.
The new Law on Social Protection contributes to the protection of children for it prescribes more rights but also more categories of children that could access these rights. However, the fulfillment of the rights are under the question mark also in this area as the facilities necessary for the right for daily accommodation and care have not been established in all local communities
Important contribution to improvements in protection of children against different forms of violence, abuse and neglect is development of the Protocol on proceedings in cases of violence, abuse and neglect of children and introduction of different programs of prevention of violence in education system.
Even though the protocol regulates standards and defines procedures of proceedings, actions undertaken by some competent institutions ignore these standards and fail to adequately react and support the child. The lack on annual reports on peer violence and violence on children is of special concern. These reports are not goal in itself but their analysis should indicate which parts of the system of protection should be strengthened in order to provide adequate response to children's needs.
The complaints that the Institution have reacted upon during the reporting period refer to all areas of children's life. However, the biggest number the complaints point out the situation of children in processes of divorce or ending the ex-marital relationship; the protection of children from different forms of violence; and children's rights to education.
In the proceedings related to divorces or ending the extra-marital relationships, the children's right and best interests are often violated. The right to contacts and seeing the parent that the child does not live with is often jeopardized as well as the right of the child for financial support. Even though the practice indicates that there is no efficient protection of children in these case and that statistics warn that a number of children whose rights are violated in these proceedings increase every year, there is no action taken by the competent authorities in order to find solutions which could have an impact in this area.
The Family Law in the Republic of Srpska is the only one in the region that still regulates that the centers for social welfare arrange contacts between the child and the parent with whom the child does not live. All other countries transferred this competence to the relevant court.
The practice also indicates the lack of mechanisms to be used when the children need to demand fulfillment of their right to financial support. There is no official data about number of cases related to the alimony nor data about sums that are assigned, why there is withdrawal from the procedure even when the parent is employed and why the centers for social welfare can but do not have to initiate procedures. The payments directly from the salaries are not regulated by the law as the priority comparing to other expenditures. It can be concluded that the child does not have priority to receive the alimony but has to wait for the improvement of financial situation, payment of loans etc. Also the process of adoption as the most complete form of family and legal protection is jeopardize by the current legal regulations.
The system has yet to establish a mechanisms which would ensure contacts of children with a parent with whom they do not live and to exercise their right to alimony. Establishment of these mechanisms require changes in the Law on Family.
Protection of children from different forms of violence, abuse and neglect requires changes in the Criminal Code in addition to continuous application of the Protocol. These changes should respond to children's need and their right to protection. The Criminal Code should send a clear message to the children, even if no child is a victim of a sexual abuse, that the system is there to protect them. Among other things this means that perpetrators of criminal acts that harm children will face stronger punishment, that they will be prevented to work with the children and that access to the objects used by children will be denied to perpetrators. Also, there should be increase in age limit of the consent to sexual intercourse (currently it is 14 years). All these changes would make accountable those who manipulate with children, harass and abuse them in worst possible manner for satisfaction of their own needs.
Establishment of the register of the perpetrators of the criminal act of sexual abuse of children could be a measure which will contribute to better protection of children from persons who are known as perpetrators. The aim is to monitor such persons in order to eliminate possibilities for any kind of their engagement in activities with children.
In addition to the changes in legislation and harmonization with the requirements of the Convention, bi-laws are important part of the system. Unfortunately, the adoption of bi-laws is often delayed which jeopardize the exercise of the rights of the child. One of examples is the book of rules on condition of work of school kitchen. Although the law on primary education regulates that the minister is in charge of adoption o such book of rules, the bi-law has not been adopted so the issue of children's nutrition while in school has not been regulated pursuant the legal regulations.
Core part of the implementation of the Convention is continuous monitoring of impact of existing legal framework, measure and policies on children and evaluation of their real effectiveness. The practice indicates that these analyses are lacking.
Important part of the implementation of the Convention is collection of data and keeping of records relevant for all segments id childhood. The practice indicates the lack of collection of data and analysis of gathered information. The analysis of data about number of children whose rights were violated about their age, sex, about competent bodies, whether the legal regulations were applied or not in protection of the rights and interest of the child, would point out the parts of the system of protection that need to bee strengthen. The data collection and analysis would improve the functioning of the system of protection.
The Institution insists on regular reports on children's rights implementation in different fields. Such reports are not the goal in itself, but should have a function of monitoring of developments and issues with the aim to resolve the situations which make the system inefficient. These reports, at the same time, represent the basis for interventions in the current legal framework.
It is important to establish regular professional oversight of proceedings of competent bodies to ensure equal access in implementation of laws related to protection of children and fulfillment of their rights. The oversight should have the role of prevention not just within the bodies that have been overseen but also within other departments that deal with the issue.
The fact that there is a court's decision that annuls a school's decision and that the inspection did not recorded violations of regulations in the school although the oversight was conducted, confirms the fact about necessity of a comprehensive analysis of the approach in inspection's work.
It is important to undertake the following actions to further improve the protection of the children's rights:
- Development and adoption of the long-term strategic document for children which would define long term policies, measures, and activities for improvement of the children's position in all segments of the society. Such document would mobilize all competent institutions and organizations and would set priorities in dealing with identified issues in different departments. The RS Government tasked the competent ministries to develop the strategic plan for improvement of the position of children in the Republic of Srpska with its conclusion from 5 December 2015.
- Programs of prevention in the health care of children and prevention of all kinds of risky behavior should be part of curriculum so the children could learn more about consequences of alcohol, drug and nicotine abuse from early age. Also, children should learn more about eating healthy, importance of regular exercise, problems in adolescence and reproductive health.
- Establishment of the Foundation to support children with difficult medical conditions and rare diseases. These children face difficult struggle, long term treatments and strong therapies. The establishment of the fond should, in addition to the financial support, provide for better information share, faster procedures and equal access for all children regardless costs of treatments.
- Report on violence on children for 2015 should include data collected for 2014 for the fact that after the First report on violence on children in 2013, which was discussed by the Government, there was no report in the following year.
- Strategy for families in the Republic of Srpska 2009-2014 defined the strategic and operational goals, programs, measures and plans for implementation of measures as the basis for monitoring of development of family life and support for it. The activities from the strategy have covered the period 2009-2014, there are no results of the activities undertaken in order to prepare the new strategy.
Considering the number of appeals of citizens and children submitted to the Institution, it is clear that visibility of children is increased as well as their right to be protected. Also, the sensibility of governmental, non-governmental sector and media for the issues relevant for children's life has improved. The number of appeals also indicates increased visibility of the Institution and confidence that citizens have for the Institution's activities
However, the worrying fact is that a number of citizens addressed to the Institution before to relevant bodies expecting that only if the Institution reacts the competent body will act.
The Annual Report state the statistics of individual appeals and cases which indicate the measures and interventions to be undertaken in different fields to improve the response of the system of protection.
The number of ex officio case and recommendations given by the Institution were increased in the reporting period while the decrease in number of appeals related to the work of the social welfare centers is noticeable.
A number of appeals submitted, points pout the violation of children's rights, mainly of those with disabilities and rare diseases, who are over 18 years old. Taking into account the current legal regulation the engagement of the Institution in such cases is disputable. This indicates the need for amendments and changes in the Law on Ombudsman for Children which would define as the"child"any person who regularly attends the secondary school and who exercise their rights from the field of the social protection in accordance to the Law on Social Protection.
Childhood is the period in life which defines the future of a person. If children feel unprotected by adults who do not recognized their need and right to protection, the consequences for development of the child could be extremely harmful.
In relation to the roles and responsibilities of the state in the implementation of the Convention, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child specifically emphasizes that the fulfillment of the children's human rights should not be understood as a humanitarian or charity work but as the responsibility of the state in accordance with the clear legal obligations toward every child.