On this year’s World Children’s Day, which we celebrate each year on 20 November, the date in 1989 when the Convention on the Rights of the Child was adopted, the Human Rights Ombudsman Peter Svetina warns that there is not enough concern for children, and calls on decision-makers to give them more attention.
“Children in Slovenia enjoy a higher standard of living than many of their contemporaries elsewhere in the world. But there are still 40,000 of them who live in families with incomes lower than the at-risk-of-poverty threshold. For as long as we fail to provide all children with decent living conditions, and as long as there are clear breaches of their rights in certain domains, we cannot be satisfied. I sense a lack of a clear vision and strategy with fast and effective systemic measures to resolve the most urgent challenges,” noted Svetina.
The pandemic has left a mark on many families and many children, and the Ombudsman believes we will spend a long time dealing with its consequences. These are evident in the mental health of children, so the Ombudsman is seriously concerned about the lack of experts and services that can offer appropriate support to children. “I have already spoken with the responsible ministers – including in this mandate, and l really expect a rapid reaction,” stressed the Ombudsman.
There are still cases of Roma children who are poorly integrated in the education process, while Slovenia welcomes children fleeing wars and the effects of climate crises, and they frequently arrive alone, and have experienced abuse on the way. It is encouraging that the House for Children was opened in May this year, where children who have suffered serious abuse will receive prompt and child-friendly professional support at one location.
“Regarding children with special needs,” the Ombudsman continued, “there are still various unresolved questions that have been dragging on from one year to the next; there is no proper concern for them, and it appears as though they are invisible.” He added that families with these children are at an even greater risk of poverty, because parents often have to leave their jobs or reduce the amount of work they do in order to look after their children.
“I am also very worried about the protracted judicial proceedings in family matters. The reason behind many of the delays is a lack of expert witnesses,” the Ombudsman went on. During the pandemic, the Ombudsman noted a marked increase in the number of initiatives in the field of child advocacy. This shows that advocacy is becoming a recognised form of help for children in different proceedings, and also that more children are finding themselves caught up in proceedings – frequently divorces. “Most of the 65 advocates in the network – including the new generation that has undergone training – are fully occupied,” the Ombudsman said, “which indicates that the pandemic has produced many sad stories.” In 2021, advocate services were used by 101 children, while 128 had made use of them by mid-November this year. In all the years this service has existed, advocates have helped over 1,000 children.
In recent years, the amount of bullying in schools has risen, including among children with different ethnic origins. As all school children are entitled to a safe and stimulating environment, the Human Rights Centre that operates under the aegis of the Ombudsman will analyse how schools deal with this problem. In primary and secondary schools it will analyse how bullying is recognised on school premises, what protocols should be followed in such situations and the legal basis for action. As the Human Rights Ombudsman Peter Svetina concluded: “We would also like to find out how the privacy of pupils is respected in schools, and to what extent teachers can inform pupils about their human rights. We believe the response of schools to our questions will be good, as it is only with their help that we can verify the state of affairs, and give concrete propositions and recommendations for improvements.”