Nearing the end of the calendar year, on 14 December 2022, Human Rights Ombudsman Peter Svetina and his deputy, who is responsible for children’s rights, Jože Ruparčič, met with representatives of NGOs that ensure children’s rights are respected. In the course of a detailed discussion they dealt with many different topics, from children’s mental health to the still existing problem of forced marriages of Roma children; they also talked about poverty, peer-to-peer and digital violence, the participation of children, and care for unaccompanied children and those with special needs.
The group found that the pandemic period highlighted some open questions that already existed before, exacerbated others, and broke up group dynamics. They considered it unacceptable that there is no systemic provision of access to specialist treatment for children, such as the services of paedopsychiatrists, who are chronically in short supply, as well as for all the many other issues affecting children's rights. Children's rights are approached in a piecemeal way, in many areas depending on the commitment of individuals and on the funding of programmes that come to an end once they are completed. "It would make sense to make proven successful projects part of the system, so that children's rights are continuously taken care of", said the Ombudsman.
The participants in the discussion considered that schools are places where students spend a significant part of their time, and can therefore be a source of information on rights violations, as well as a place where children can be empowered to prevent violations. It is essential to improve the knowledge of adults working with them, as well as of the children themselves, so that they know what to do if they find themselves in the grip of peer or cyber violence, or in other difficult situations. Civil society representatives consider that social relations require that the curriculum be softened, that students be freed from data-driven learning, and that content on relationships, social relations and the situations in which they may find themselves be systematically introduced. Children and young people are exposed to a lot of information, but they are hungry for content that will be useful in their lives, agreed all the people present.
They also considered that the protection of children's rights must be based on the best interest of the child, but that without clear protocols on what constitutes the best interest of the child in a given situation, it is difficult to make clear assessments and to pursue that best interest. They also agreed on the urgent need for a systemic approach to children's participation. "We must be aware that children are active rights-holders, not just objects of protection. Children must be listened to, heard, and given space to participate. This is the only way to improve their situation and ensure a decent life for them,” stressed Ombudsman Peter Svetina.
According to NGO figures, Slovenia continues to experience violations of the rights of Roma children, including forced marriages of underage girls and boys. The main concern is that these cases of blatant child abuse get lost in the system. Civil society representatives also expressed their belief that an executive body for children would be able to resolve many of the outstanding issues, as the problems cover many areas. The current inter-ministerial coordination is not sufficient and does not provide solutions.
The Ombudsman, the Deputy Ombudsman and the representatives of the seven NGOs further agreed that it would be useful to meet more frequently in 2023, and on specific topics that would be placed under scrutiny. “Every one of us has certain resources that can be directed towards solving specific problems, and the key to solutions lies in cooperation," emphasised Ombudsman Peter Svetina.
The meeting was attended by the Slovenian Friends of Youth Association and TOM telephone, UNICEF Slovenia, the Peace Institute, Red Cross Slovenia, Caritas of Slovenia, and Ključ Society.