Since 2002 the Human Rights Ombudsman has been working more intensively in the field of children’s rights, in particular with regard to the issues of domestic violence and violence against children. For the ombudsman, all forms of domestic violence are a violation of children’s rights. For this reason he is committed to the integrated and systemic regulation of this area. Last year the main project, which unfortunately has not yet been completed, was the preparation of a special bill on the prevention of domestic violence. This has been prepared this year by the Ministry of Labour, Family and Social Affairs. The bill, which is partly the result of the ombudsman’s continued urging, is expected to be placed before parliament this year and should enter into force in 2005. More details about the content of the bill and the ombudsman’s initiatives are contained in our 2003 annual report (available in English at www.varuh-rs.si).
Below we summarise part of the report we have prepared for the annual meeting of the ENOC in Cardiff in October 2004, parts of which relate to violence.
This year we have noted a number of positive changes to regulations which are partly the result of the ombudsman’s proposals and requests. On the basis of our recommendations and proposals, an amendment to the Police Act has been prepared which introduces the special police power to temporarily remove a violent person from a family. Family legislation has also been supplemented so as to provide greater protection for children.
The Human Rights Ombudsman does not possess any information on how civil society is included in practice in the process of preparing laws, which for the most part are prepared by the Government of the Republic of Slovenia. For this reason we do not know whether children were directly included in the preparation of the bill, but we can state with certainty that they made a significant contribution to the technical groundwork for its preparation. The debate of the 13th Children’s Parliament, organised every year by a non-governmental organisation called the Friends of Youth Association of Slovenia, was dedicated to violence among young people. The conclusions of the one-day session of representatives of young people from all over the country were sent to all the ministries and other competent state bodies, who must prepare reports on their implementation before the next session of the Children’s Parliament.
Because of the increased number of complaints from children and their parents about peer violence, we have commenced activities relating to its more effective prevention and the correct measures to take when it occurs. We have supported the efforts of the Ministry of Education, Science and Sport and their guidelines for the analysis, prevention, treatment and management of this phenomenon in schools. We have also dealt with some complaints relating to the inappropriate or offensive attitude of teachers and other school staff.
Within the framework of direct collaboration with pupils in schools, we visited a number of schools around the country and got involved in their learning activities relating to children’s rights. At some schools we got together with pupils and teachers to organise a project day or week devoted to learning about human rights. We introduced the work of the Human Rights Ombudsman to the children, told them about interesting and characteristic examples of violations of their rights, discussed ways in which to make a complaint in the case of a violation of rights and described the possibilities and types of help available in such cases. We also had a number of encounters with teachers within an organised training context and introduced them to the work of the ombudsman and the worst cases of violations of children’s rights, possibilities of complaint and ways to take effective measures. The treatment of violence in its various forms was the habitual theme of the discussions.
Effective protection of the rights of children who are victims of criminal offences would in our opinion be provided through the introduction of a system in which a trusted adult constantly monitors the child. These trusted adults would have to have suitable qualifications (psychologists, special teachers), additional special knowledge and the necessary experience so as to be able to care for the needs of victims in full measure and guarantee their rights. Among other things this means funds to be provided by the State for the ongoing training of attendants, a quality control system and supervision. The privacy and identity of young victims must be protected. In no case may details which would enable the identification of the child or his family be communicated to the public. In the case of suspicion of neglect, abuse or violence, social workers, doctors (especially paediatricians, family doctors, school medicine specialists) and those involved in education must notify the competent bodies. This also applies to NGOs if they have information about this (the confidentiality of the procedure notwithstanding). They must also notify their users.
In November 2003 we held a conference on these issues at which 120 experts were present: representatives and providers from various services (social services centres, the police, the courts and the public prosecutor’s office, the ministries, NGOs, representatives of the media and members of parliament). Grammar school pupils took part in the debate and a victim of domestic violence talked about his experiences of the measures taken by the competent services. The ombudsman published the content of the debates in a special report which has been sent to the Government and to the National Assembly of the Republic of Slovenia.
This year the ombudsman has taken active part in the campaign against the corporal punishment of children organised by the Friends of Youth Association of Slovenia and supported by the Council of Europe and UNICEF. The fact is that in Slovenia we do not have figures on how many parents still use corporal punishment on their children as an educational measure. Within the framework of a special campaign we would therefore need to carry out an analysis of the situation and inform people that such methods are unsuitable and a violation of children’s rights.
prepared by: Tone Dolčič, Deputy Ombudsman