On its 17th session held on 5 April 2017, the National Assembly of the Republic of Srpska adopted unanimously the Annual Report of the Ombudsman for Children for 2016. This unanimous adoption reflects the position of the National Assembly towards the Institution but also the common understanding of the need to have systematic solutions in different sectors that would ensure improvement in the system of protection of children.
Pursuant to the Law, each calendar year Ombudsman for Children submits the Annual Report to the RS National Assembly. The Report presents the activities and work of the Ombudsman for Children in the reporting period, give an overview on appeals that indicate the violation of the rights of the child on different basis, and proposes measures and activities to improve the system of the children's protection.
The visibility of children and their needs has increased in recent time. This is the result of raised awareness of the society on importance but also specificities related to protection of the rights and interest of children. The better understanding of the main principals of the Convention is also notable, but not with all subjects of protection and not in exercise of al rights.
Increased number of citizens who address the Institution of the Ombudsman for Children we see as an improvement and result of increased trust in the work of the Institution. More citizens who address the institution result in the Institution putting more pressure on competent authorities to act more efficiently.
Omission in the work of competent authorities with the public authorization to make decision related to the right of the child and protection of the rights in previous reports mainly referred to the lack of adequate reactions. Mainly the fact was that there was no response on the requests as there was no decision made, or that the decision was not made within the timeframe so the parties in the case have not been informed.
Although the appeals about these issues are still present they have not been priority in this reporting period. In this reporting period, the appeals mainly reflected that the procedure conducted was not in accordance to the law, that the child was not invited to participate in the process or was not represented by the parents or caregivers. Also, there is a failure to properly explain decisions, to establish the best interest of the child, the finding are often contradictory, the social welfare centers fail to provide their opinion even when the court request it, etc.
The difference in approach can be observed from decisions made on the same requests. This is unacceptable. Unequal approach to the same requests puts a question mark on implementation of children's rights and their protection. This is often result of the lack of clear procedures and rules of work.
It is not always about decision which are not accorded to the law. The Citizens in their appeals often point out an unprofessional behavior of the employees of the competent body; to the situation when they feel completely helpless; the situation in which they do not have access to information regarding the case or they do not know whom to address.
The appeals submitted to the Institution in the reporting period relate to all areas of the children development.
In the majority of cases, the appeals refer to the rights of the children in the process of divorce or breakup of relationship; to inadequate protection from different forms of violence, abuse and neglect and to different issues related to the right of the child in education.
The procedures that pertain to the divorce or breakup of partnership still jeopardize the fundamental children's rights such as visitation rights, and contact with the other parent and right to the child support. Although practice indicate that there is not efficient protection of the right of the child and her interest in these case, that the statistics warn about a number of children whose rights have been seriously violated in these process there is not active involvement of relevant stakeholders in recognition of the seriousness of the problem and in finding systematic approaches that could improve the situation.
Why we need changes in the Family Law?
- To ensure implementation of the rights of the child in accordance with basic requirements and principals of the Convention but also to make parents more responsible for the actions in interest of the children and to strengthen accountability of competent departments for procedures and decision making in the best interest of the child. Amongst other things: the court should decide on arrangement of visitations of the child and other parent and not the social welfare center. This would prevent the situation in which the center's decisions fail to be implemented. The court should decide on entrustment of children after the break up of the relationship and not the center. The Law should install the mechanisms to enable the child to receive child support, as the existing one has not respond properly to the need of the children. The regulations of the adoption have to be harmonized with the requirements and principles of eth UN Convention and practice of the European curt for human rights also in the part that regulates that the international adoption is only possible when all possibilities in the RS have been exhausted. The Law should provide for the implementation of the Strategy for improvement of the social care for the children without parental care. The strategy defines activities and goals and the first one is the change of the Family Law, deadline 2016.
In additional to complaints regarding violation of the child's right in the process of divorce, there are the appeals regarding violence and abuse of children, and neglect. The number of these complaints indicates that the issues are more present. Existing legislative framework establish mandatory standards and defined procedures without leaving a space for evaluation if and which measures are to be applied. The legislation obliges to action in every case of report or information that the child has been exposed to violence. The relevant authorities need to react and clearly state what actions are to be taken in each concrete case. It is absolutely unacceptable that the social welfare center complaints to the police on violence against the child without checking the facts and circumstances from the complaint they have received and without applying appropriate measures to protect the child. By doing this, the centre transfers its obligations to act in accordance to the law to other institutions and organizations which do not hold the competence for actions from the social welfare center's mandate.
In order to improve protection of eth children against different forms of violence, the activities have to be focused on strengthening of capacities of employees in relevant institutions, in accordance to the procedures foreseen by the Protocol. It is good news that we will have the new Criminal Code this year. It should contribute to better protection of children in this field. The Draft Code incorporates all requirements form the Ombudsman fro Children - age limit, expiration, no possibility to decrease the punishment, prohibition to work with children, register of pedophiles. Having in mind that the law requires adoption of the specific law on registry of sexual offenders against children, it is expected that this law will enter the assembly's procedure by the end of eth year.
But we need Annual report on violence, abuse and neglect of children and Annual report on peer violence.
Data gathered -evidences and its analysis in addition to statistical indicators - number of children whose rights have been violated, gender n adage, who are the competent bodies and if they use their legal mandate to protect children's rights, indicate which parts of the system should be strengthened in order to ensure efficiency and effectiveness and to respond to the needs of the child. Reports on protection of children against different forms of violence, that the Institution insist on, not purpose in itself but have the function to monitor the issues and problems with the aim to tackle the situations that make the system inefficient.
The report emphasizes needs for systematic measures and activities in different sectors. Ombudsman for children especially emphasizes needs to :
1. Adopt a long term strategic documents on children Development of the strategic document is not only an obligation under the Convention, but the need of the system as it as its aim would be to provide for more efficient protection of children in implementation of the rights through implementation of the international and domestic standards related to children. The strategic document developed by multi-disciplinary approach should provide for comprehensive approach to the children's rights and establish the systematic framework to provide for its implementation through action plans and mobilization of all subjects of the protection should ensure implementation of the rights of the child. Multi-disciplinary approach would point out that all rights of the child are equally important as all of them are needed by the child. By such approach it would become clear that the care for the children without parental care is not only up to the social welfare but also up to the education system and system of social protection. It would also emphasis that the right to education is not only the competence of the competence of educations sector but requires engagement of other stakeholders. The multi-disciplinary approach would remove the situation in which the child of 15 years can start to work, with 16 can marry but can not decide with which parent he is going to live after divorce when he is 17 years old.
The positive fact is that less children has been accommodate in the children's home, but it is unacceptable that even one child spend his entire childhood in such institution and that they have been accommodated in the children's home as babies and leave it when they turn eighteen years old without support, address, and family.
2. Adoption of the law on child s protection Among other things, should recognize implementation of the children's rights in other areas and only in social sector, as it is the free kindergarten for the third child so it is not left up to the local communities to decide it; support to the children from multi-member families and support for children of single parents; support to children with disabilities and difficult diseases, application of the right of the parent - health insurance and monthly reimbursement for parents who take care of the child with complicated disability.
3. Adoption of the Law on Sports and Book of Rules on school sports These documents need to recognize importance of the sports in development and growth of the child, especially the sports n the school which is not only organization of the competitions but much more.
4. Adoption of bi-laws The bi-laws are required in order to ensure implementation f the children's rights. The bi-laws should be adopted within the framework prescribed the law. These bi-laws are important in order to properly implement the laws. However, delays often occur in their development or they are not developed and adopted at all. This jeopardize implementation of the laws, like in following cases:
- Book of rules on conditions for operation of the school kitchen;
- Book of rules on education of children with special educational needs in primary and secondary schools;
- Book of rules on organizations and financing of the special schools;
- Book of rules on criteria and procedure for identification, monitoring of young talents.
5. Continuous monitoring of impact
Monitoring of implementation of existing legislation and estimation of the effects of application is the core part of the implementation of the Convention. Such analysis do not happen in the practice unfortunately
Acting upon appeals elated to the violation of the right to child support, the practice indicates that the existing normative framework did not ensure necessary mechanisms to implement this rights. There is no data on number of children entitled to child support, how many procedures are led for alimonies, the amount of alimonies, why the procedures have not been completed in eth cases when the parent works and has income; why the center for social welfare can initiate procedure but does not have to; which are the effects of the existing legislation.
6. Supervision in application of existing legal solution and expert-supervision in proceedings of competent bodies
Acting upon appeals from the citizens, the Ombudsman for children addressed to the competent inspections in several case. Most frequently the address was the inspection of education. Often when addressed, the inspection claims that they do not have sufficient number of inspectors. This answer is not an answer for proceedings in concrete cases, as they have acted already, so the number of inspectors is not an issue. At the same time, nobody expects that each school has the inspector in charge for it and it is not expected that there is an inspection of the school performed several times regarding the same issues. The findings of the inspector regarding a certain issue have to send a clear message to other schools that the actions subjected to the inspection have not been valid. The inspectors reports on the web page of the inspectorate state the number of inspection but not the content o fit. Having in mind the important role of the inspections and their authorities, the activities have to be directed toward the prevention role. In order to achieve that, the findings have to be publicly announced (without naming the school, the student and parents), explaining the problem and findings related to it. This is specially related to the findings of the inceptions in charge to protect the children from abuse of alcohol, nicotine, betting and other lottery games.
7. Coordination in work of different departments
This is extremely important in order to protect the rights of the child. Coordination is necessary in individual cases such as protection against violence, caring about children without parental care, assistance and support to children with disabilities, but is also of significant importance in planning and deciding on policies, setting the priorities and conducting the supervision. The lack of coordination jeopardize implementation of the rights of the child in practice and leads to transfer of responsibility from one to another subject of protection. It is not important for children and parents which department is to be blamed-they are interested in the final result.
8. Procedures in decision making
Legal guarantees for correct application of the legislation request clear procedures in order to eliminate practices which are not in the interest of the child, especially when it is about separation from the biological family, representation of the child, appointment of the legal guardian, participation of the child in the procedure, estimation of the best interest of the child, expression of the opinion and rights of the children in education system. For the rule of law, the procedures are of significant importance - this requires proceedings for establishment and elaboration on the best interest of the child which is often lacking.
In addition to this, the Ombudsman for children again emphasize:
- the programs on the protection of health and other types of risky behavior should be an integral part of the curriculum so the children from early age could get information and knowledge about effect of alcohol, nicotine and drug abuse, on healthy diet, importance of physical activities, problems in adolescence, reproductive health of youth, etc.
- establishment of the fond for support to children with difficult and rare diseases. These children face long term treatments and hard therapies. The establishment of the fond, in addition to financial support, should contribute to better information flow, faster procedure and equal treatment to all children regardless expanses of the treatments.
In 2016 the Institution acted upon complaints-appeals in 655 cases: comparing to the previous report the number of received complaints increased from 495 to 524, and the number of ex officio case increased from 56 to 83 while the number of transferred case from previous years significantly decreased from 91 to 48.
The development period is the one determining the future of the children and if the adults to whom the child trust do not ensure proper protection, the consequences for child could be harmful, difficult and long lasting.
Therefore it is the key to secure coordination, to define policies, determine priorities, mobilize all subjects of protection, monitor the implementation but also the accountability of all relevant stakeholders.
I know we have resources, human ones before others, but these are the most important. We can prevent numerous situations which jeopardize implementation of the children's rights and for many activities to prevent such situations we do not need financial resources.
The rights that children have are their developmental needs. This is obligation of all of us.