From 19 to 21 September 2023, Deputy Ombudsman Dr Jože Ruparčič, in charge of children’s rights at the institution of the Human Rights Ombudsman, participated at an international conference of the European Network (ENOC) of Ombudspersons for Children in Brussels. They discussed placing children in the centre of society in accordance with the Convention on the Rights of the Child. They agreed that it is essential to build a better world for children, kinder and more just, more understanding and more inclusive, but which is possible only through networking and inclusion of all stakeholders: state bodies, civil society, expert public, and others.
Ombudspersons for the rights of children believe that vulnerable groups must receive their special attention; especially important is the control of the implementation of the rights of numerous children with special needs. They found that Europe has made many important steps and long-term investments in the field of child protection; nevertheless, some children and groups of children cannot enjoy their rights to the fullest and do not receive adjusted or timely support from the state, which endangers their development.
All children need special care, support, and protection for a healthy development, which demands measures tailored to children. Numerous studies have shown that their formation does not depend on the amount of the gross domestic product, but on the commitment made to form child-centric measures addressing actual needs determined on the basis of up-to-date, relevant, and disaggregated data. If a child grows up in difficult circumstances, which can further deepen their vulnerability, the detection of this and timeliness of intervention can be all the more crucial, conference participants agreed.
They believe that Europe offers numerous possibilities – both in knowledge and means – for no child to be forgotten. However, we first and foremost need to focus on the stories of those children who are left out of the statistics. In a child’s life, vulnerability and threatening circumstances are frequently intertwined, without the appropriate support the vulnerability becomes more entrenched and creates additional dimensions of deprivation, such as mental health problems, they added.
Deputy Ombudsman Ruparčič also warned about peer violence and domestic violence, which instigated a debate. He reminded the participants that the Ombudsman has zero tolerance towards these phenomena and strives to make victims of violence visible and that they are immediately and appropriately helped in the welfare system.
The participants also found that peer violence is an increasing problem happening all over the world. Different forms of violence, however, more often happen to those children who already belong to vulnerable social groups. Hence, it is crucial to devote appropriate attention to social inequality and social weakness of the group a child belongs to, since the social origin can influence their development and further life to a great extent. Here, Deputy Ombudsman Ruparčič reminded the participants of those children who belong to other ethnic and religious groups and of children of migrants and foreigners who do not speak the majority language and are thus socially and economically vulnerable and socially excluded more frequently than other children. Children with special needs are also often victims of violence due to their characteristics. “They can also be targets of rejection, social isolation, unjust treatment, humiliation, mocking, physical violence, and other violent acts. The violence they experience frequently spirals, which must be prevented, and that can only be done by establishing and strengthening respectful and caring relationships,” emphasised Ruparčič.
The Ombudspersons for children’s rights agreed that they play an important role and have a great responsibility in changing society for the better, which takes much sensitivity and persistence, since this is a “marathon not a sprint”.