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Experts of the Committee on the Rights of the Child Congratulate Croatia on Legislative Reforms, Raise Questions on Early Marriage in Roma Communities and Children with Incarcerated Parents

Meeting Summaries

 

The Committee on the Rights of the Child today concluded its consideration of the combined fifth and sixth periodic report of Croatia, with Committee Experts congratulating Croatia on all reforms in legislative and other spheres which promoted the protection of children’s rights, while raising questions about early marriage in Roma communities and children whose parents were incarcerated.

A Committee Expert congratulated the delegation on all reforms in legislative and other spheres which promoted the protection of children’s rights in Croatia.

Another Expert noted that child marriage was largely driven by traditional practices and was more prevalent in Roma communities. Could more information on this issue be provided and what was being done to address this?

One Committee Expert asked about children whose parents were incarcerated, enquiring how the social care system addressed the specific needs of children with one or both parents who were in prison? Could more information be provided about children whose parents were incarcerated?

Responding to questions, the delegation said that 50 per cent of Roma girls in Croatia gave birth to their first child when they were underage. In most cases, these were cases of extramarital partnerships, and the marriages were not officially legalised. Croatia was aware of this issue and found the data devastating. National campaigns would encourage Roma girls to continue their education and attempt to change their views.

Regarding children whose parents were in prison, the Croatian prison system prescribed close contact between parents and their children, for the best interests of the child. The child could visit the parent once a week, and this could be done via a video phone call if necessary. Officers in prison would wear civilian clothes when the children came to visit their parents, so as not to upset the children, and children would only be searched by officers in extreme circumstances.

Introducing the report, Marija Barilić, Director of the Directorate for Family and Social Policy of the Ministry of Labour, Pension System, Family and Social Policy of Croatia and head of the delegation, said Croatia had been a party to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child since 1991 and as such had undertaken obligations to guarantee every child the rights enshrined in the Convention. Ensuring the rights of children in vulnerable situations was implemented through a series of measures aimed at a systematic approach to reducing child poverty, providing services from various social policy systems, and involving parents in several psycho-social assistance and support programmes to improve parenting skills.

Ms. Barilić said Croatia also took special care of the promotion and protection of the rights of national minorities, especially children. A new National Plan for the Inclusion of Roma for the period 2021 to 2027 was being implemented, with the most important goals related to the involvement of children and students in the education system.

In concluding remarks, Benyam Dawit Mezmur, Committee Expert and Coordinator of the Country Taskforce for Croatia, thanked the delegation and said the Committee had benefited from the insights provided. Good work had been done in relation to the Roma issue, however this was crosscutting, and there were children who were not from the Roma community, who were facing a number of issues. Mr. Mezmur said he looked forward to the delegation taking the recommendations of the Committee on board, and making a plan for their implementation.

Ms. Barlić said Croatia highly appreciated the constructive dialogue with the members of the Committee, regarding the rights of the child, with the comments and recommendations of the Committee being of very high value. An adequate system of monitoring was necessary and was a work in progress.

Mikiko Otani, Committee Chair, said the dialogue helped the Committee gain clarity on all issues. She thanked the delegation and extended best wishes to all children in Croatia.

The delegation of Croatia consisted of representatives from the Ministry of Labour, Pension System, Family and Social Policy; the Ministry of Science and Education; the Ministry of Health; the Ministry of Interior; the Ministry of Justice and Public Administration; the Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs; the Office for Human Rights and Rights of National Minorities; and the Permanent Mission of Croatia to the United Nations office at Geneva.

The Committee will issue the concluding observations on the report of Croatia at the end of its ninetieth session on 3 June. Those, and other documents relating to the Committee’s work, including reports submitted by States parties, will be available on the session’s webpage. Summaries of the public meetings of the Committee can be found here , while webcasts of the public meetings can be found here.

The Committee will next meet in public on Monday, 23 May at 3 p.m. to consider the combined fifth to seventh periodic report of Zambia (CRC/C/ZMB/5-7).

Report

The Committee has before it the combined fifth and sixth periodic report of Croatia (CRC/C/HRV/5-6).

Presentation of Report

MARIJA BARILIĆ, Director of the Directorate for Family and Social Policy of the Ministry of Labour, Pension System, Family and Social Policy of Croatia and head of the delegation, said Croatia had been a party to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child since 1991 and as such had undertaken obligations to guarantee every child the rights enshrined in the Convention. The Optional Protocol to the Convention on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the involvement of children in armed conflict, and the Optional Protocol to the Convention on a complaint procedure had been ratified. To fully commit to their implementation, Croatia continuously undertook tangible efforts to review and bring domestic legislation and practice in full conformity with the Convention and the Optional Protocols.

Ms. Barilić said that the act on the implementation of the Convention on the civil aspects of international child abduction had been in force since 2019, and the Istanbul Convention had been ratified and had entered into force in 2018. Many acts had also been improved, including the amendment to the Criminal Code to further protect children from criminal offences. The amended act on protection from domestic violence, among other, raised the fines for misconduct for all crimes related to domestic violence.

Results had been achieved through the consistent implementation of the National Strategy for the Rights of the Child 2014-2020. The needs of all children were systematically monitored, with special emphasis on physical and mental health and the context of development and quality of life of children. Focus was put on children with developmental difficulties, children with behavioural problems and children growing up in different risk circumstances. A commitment and continuation of the Croatian comprehensive policy approach was visible in the new National Plan for the Rights of the Child, from 2022 to 2026. The Children's Council monitored the implementation of the strategy and policies related to children’s rights. The Ombudsperson for Children monitored the implementation of the obligations of Croatia arising from the Convention.

Ms. Barilić said that ensuring the rights of children in vulnerable situations was implemented through a series of measures aimed at a systematic approach to reducing child poverty, providing services from various social policy systems, and involving parents in several psycho-social assistance and support programmes to improve parenting skills. Croatia was implementing the "Guarantee for Every Child" programme aimed at combatting poverty and inequality among children in the European Union to reduce inequality between children in need and their peers. Croatia, together with Italy, Greece and Bulgaria, were participating in the pilot programme. Croatia was systematically pursuing a policy of zero tolerance for any form of violence. Significant attention was paid to child victims and witnesses of crimes and migrant children. Croatia also took special care of the promotion and protection of rights of national minorities, especially children. A new National Plan for the Inclusion of Roma for the period 2021 to 2027 was being implemented, with the most important goals related to the involvement of children and students in the education system.

The challenges related to the negative consequences of the COVID 19-pandemic on children, in education, health, social and other areas of life, were mitigated through activities which included a multi-sectoral and integrated approach. Medical care for children was provided at all levels of health care. In cooperation with the United Nations Children’s Fund, a humane milk bank was opened in 2019. Based on a study by the United Nations Children’s Fund, the development of a national strategic plan and an action plan for early intervention in childhood was underway. Ms. Barilić said that mental health was of great concern. A key goal was to increase the level of early detection of mental health problems and seeking professional help. The implementation of measures aimed at informing, educating, and raising awareness of all ages, including children, about the positive aspects of a healthy lifestyle continued. Ms. Barilić said the process was continuous and rewarding but with the overall aim of achieving adequate wellbeing for all children.

Questions by Committee Experts

BENYAM DAWIT MEZMUR, Committee Expert and Coordinator of the Country Taskforce for Croatia, said the Committee was happy about the progress which had been made by Croatia since the last review, including the ratification of the Optional Protocol on a communications procedure. Due to the constant change of laws, there was legal uncertainty; would this be a fair assessment? Regarding the update of comprehensive strategies, some of these had expired in 2020. Had an evaluation been carried out on their impact prior to their renewal? Were there lessons learnt from these strategies? How were the concluding observations from the previous round before the Committee disseminated and implemented? How were they shared with stakeholders? Was there a specific body coordinating their distribution within the State party?

Mr. Mezmur asked about the increase in resources and the number of children who benefitted from these increases. In 2017 there was a discussion around an indicator on child wellbeing; what was the status of that? Regarding the Ombudsman, it was understood that there was a plan to merge the Office of the Ombudsperson with the Ombudsman for Children. What was the status of this plan? Regarding the definition of the child, how did certain terms such as “underage person” affect the understanding of the word child? How many people had made applications for exemptions to the marriage law, for those under the age of 18, and how many were accepted?

A Committee Expert was happy to note that several institutional mechanisms had been established through the Office of the Ombudsman. However, research carried out revealed that laws were not effectively utilised. What was being done to address the gaps and challenges? What actions were being taken by the Government to address discrimination in schools? How was the Government ensuring the participation of Roma children and what progress had been made in increasing Roma children in schools? What had been done since the amendment to the road traffic and safety act? What was the outcome of the amendment? Was there a positive trend in reducing road accidents?

The Committee Expert noted that child participation was not part of regular practice, with vulnerable children not able to address situations which concerned them. What was being done to ensure the active participation of children, particularly those who were vulnerable? The Expert noted that corporate punishment was banned in Croatia on paper, however, it was still considered an appropriate measure of discipline, which was concerning. What was stopping the State party from making this practice illegal in practice? What measures were being taken to promote positive, non-violent child rearing perceptions?

There had been a significant rise in the rate of violence against children, which was committed by family members, or adults close to children. What exactly was the situation in this regard, when there was so much promising legislation on the ground? What was being done to protect children in these situations? Were there any plans of a possible establishment of an agency which would protect children from all forms of violence in the country? What was being done to protect children from exploitation, both online and offline?

The Expert noted that child marriage was largely driven by traditional practices and was more prevalent in Roma communities. Could more information on this issue be provided and what was being done to address this? What was being done to end child marriage, in the context of the Sustainable Development Goals? Could information about involuntary, irreversible treatment on intersex children be provided?

A Committee Expert congratulated the delegation on all reforms in legislative and other spheres which promoted the protection of children’s rights in Croatia. The Expert said that mothers who had home births or did not have the required documentation faced difficulties in recording the birth of their children. Could the delegation comment on this, including the online birth register which had been developed?

The Committee Expert said that the national broadcaster had a legal obligation to realise the right of young children to high quality media content and yet had reduced its budget in these programmes. It therefore did not meet its obligations to children in general, particularly those who were visually impaired, and migrant children. The Ombudsman for Children had warned about harmful media content for children, but these warnings had been disregarded by the media and the Government. What was the delegation’s opinion on these issues?

A Committee Expert said there had been an agreement that the judges dealing with family and child protection cases would be supported by a pool of experts. Could more information about these pools be provided? Had this idea been implemented already? Were there plans to tackle the cases involving children which were delayed? Was there a system to delegate services to non-governmental organizations and non-State actors? Could more information on legislative and policy measures be provided, which encouraged fathers to fulfil their roles; for example, on parental leave and whether they were encouraged to use this? How did the social care system address the specific needs of children with one or both parents who were in prison?

It was understood that Croatia had started its de-institutionalisation policies in 2011, with three national action plans expiring in 2018 and 2020. The concern was that the de-institutionalisation process had lost its strength, with no plans to finalise it. Could this be clarified for the Committee. The Committee Expert asked about the increase in the number of placements in institutions, noting that a high number of children remained in institutions. Many children were in long-term placements in institutions, and alternatives were not provided. Could more information be provided on this subject? What were the plans to develop the foster care system, particularly for children with disabilities, and migrant and refugee children?

Responses by the Delegation

MARIJA BARILIĆ, Director of the Directorate for Family and Social Policy of the Ministry of Labour, Pension System, Family and Social Policy of Croatia and head of the delegation, said changes or amendments in the legislation happened when trying to enhance, improve and harmonise national laws with European practise and rule of law. Also, when the authorities monitored implementation, often they found a need to improve regulations.

The delegation said that when practice showed that something needed improvement, laws had to be changed and harmonised. If these amendments were intended for enhancements, they were considered positive and necessary. The domestic violence protection act had been adopted, and sanctions had been made stricter; in addition to fines, a prison sentence was introduced for certain cases of domestic violence and violence against children. All authorities were obliged to collate data and deliver it to the central Government authority, so that monitoring could be conducted. All authorities were obliged to provide data to the authority for monitoring criminal proceedings, by the end of March of each year, in printed and electronic form. Annual reports from each sector were also required to be provided.

There were examples of national plans which had been put into action regarding children’s rights, including the inclusion of Roma children. This national plan was current and active, and the implementation of the document was exhaustive, as it entailed extensive research and mapping of Roma localities in Croatia. The other goal of the implementation of the research was to set basic data, which would help to determine every following document, to include Roma citizens and children into Croatian society.

The delegation said Croatia was trying to improve the methodological approach and was working intensely to implement the plan for Roma children’s rights. Ms. Barilić, head of the delegation, said the Council for Children had been active since 1998, and consisted of representative from local, regional and national authorities, civil society representatives, and representatives of children, among others. The right to the participation of children was one of the objectives of the national plan on the rights of children. Several forums had increased the participation of children in local communities, with young people permitted to be participants in youth councils once they reached the age of 15. The delegation said that 200 social workers and experts were employed to work on family issues. By February 2020, the country had a very clear crisis management strategy in relation to the pandemic.

There were several Ombudspersons’ Offices, and there was no plan or intention to merge these Offices, the delegation said. Ombudspersons constantly tracked the changes in international documents and changes in regulations relating to children’s rights. Nobody was able to instruct the Ombudspersons in their work; they always had all the information and data available. Parliament discussions were shown on Croatian television, with citizens participating in parliament, and contributing to the decision regarding the election of the Ombudsperson for Children’s Rights.

Existing data bases were monitored to achieve the mapping level for vulnerable and marginalised groups, including children. According to the Croatian family act, children came of age when they were 18. The term child was used for a protection of their rights. Regarding terminology, the terms were always the same when it came to criminal laws and regulations. The Criminal Code defined a child as someone who was under 18 years of age and this definition was also applied to criminal proceedings. Senior minor offenders were those who were 18 years of age, but under the age of 20, while junior offenders were between the ages of 14 and 16. This was introduced to ensure that children received protection if they committed a criminal act and came of age during the criminal proceedings.

Persons who were older than 16 years of age could enter into a marriage, if it was determined by the court that this person was physically and mentally mature enough to conclude a marriage. The request to conclude a marriage would be submitted by the underage person to the court. The request needed to be submitted with significant personal details, including the reason for the underage marriage. During this procedure, the court would hear from the person who wished to enter into the marriage, as well as from their parents, and spouse, before making a decision.

Regarding Roma children and early marriage, 50 per cent of Roma girls in Croatia gave birth to their first child when they were underage. In most cases, these were cases of extramarital partnerships, and the marriages were not officially legalised. Croatia was aware of this issue and found the data devastating. The new national Roma inclusion plan would focus on education for not only the Roma community, but the entire community, on the impacts of underage marriages; it would be implemented at the level of local communities. National campaigns would encourage Roma girls to continue their education and attempt to change their views. Underage marriage in the Roma community was considered a taboo topic, which made research difficult to carry out. There was work planned in the Roma community, with the overarching goal to gain trust within this group.

Certain groups were covered in the Ombudsman’s report on discrimination, which predominantly focused on racial and ethnic discrimination, specifically against Roma people. Campaigns had been initiated which dealt with the education of Roma people, from preschool to high school and higher levels of education. Not many Roma children were in preschool, and there were different aspects to this problem. Many Roma parents did not want their children to enrol in kindergarten, considering these children too young to leave the household. A major campaign had been developed to emphasise the importance of preschool education in Roma communities. A campaign “Start the Wheel of Education” had also begun, which worked with children of elementary school age, and their parents, to raise awareness of the importance of education for Roma children.

The national strategy and the national education plan were important strategic documents which would attempt to reduce the differences when it came to minority children. Laws were changed to ensure that all children were included for the correct amount of time in the preschool programme. Children with difficulties in development were entitled to support from institutions, and experts were in place to assist children from kindergarten age. Children with difficulties were integrated into the regular education system, with a smaller percentage attending special classes at the same schools.

The delegation said that the child’s best interest was a horizontal principle, and it was vital that standardised practice was in place to judge the child’s best interests. The capacity of professional persons and improving their competencies was considered extremely important. Over the past two years, professionals had been educated in child protection, with new procedures being created. An additional municipal court had been established in the capital, and only judges who had passed certain training could work for these specific courts.

Responding to questions on traffic safety, the delegation said that Croatia had adopted a national plan which had achieved a further reduction of child casualties in traffic accidents. The Government was closely monitoring all children casualties at a national level, with all events being analysed, and immediate reactions followed. An example was used about children left in a car during the summer months, with the delegation saying that a subsequent national campaign on this issue was carried out, following an incident.

Regarding corporal punishment, Croatia was trying to conduct a zero tolerance policy on all forms of corporal punishment for educational purposes. An exhaustive national campaign aimed at stopping violence against women and children had been conducted. A campaign was being conducted in kindergartens entitled “Let’s grow up together”, which targeted small children and was conducted in collaboration with the United Nations Children’s Fund. Preschool institutions were obligated to follow protocol to determine why any cases of violence occurred, and to provide assistance to children and their parents.

Police officers were continually being trained via practical workshops and extensive training programmes on how to handle cases involving children. These included cases involving missing children, and the sexual exploitation of children online. Eighty online sexual perpetrators had been identified. When it came to sexual tourism, there were cases registered of tourists who had been taking photos of children on Croatian beaches. A campaign was developed which involved the training of tourist employees, empowering them to identify perpetrators and notify the police.

There were directives in place when it came to surgeries relating to gender identity. Psychologists were in place to evaluate any cases of gender surgery. Children born outside of a health institution needed to have their births reported by their parents, or someone who participated in the delivery of the child. When a child was born in Croatia, that child was entitled to Croatian citizenship. It was possible to enter all data electronically, which enabled children born out of wedlock to be acknowledged by their fathers.

The delegation addressed the high number of children in state homes, saying that a lot of children had been taken away from their families in Croatia over the course of the pandemic. New acts were being implemented to ensure adequate care for children. New units were being opened to transfer children out of institutional care.

Questions by Committee Experts

BENYAM DAWIT MEZMUR, Committee Expert and Coordinator of the Country Taskforce for Croatia, asked about access to healthcare for children with disabilities in rural areas. What were the main steps being implemented to address the gaps in this area? Two recommendations which had arisen from the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities included the moratorium on new admissions to institutions, as well as child abandonment when it came to children with disabilities. Could the delegation shed light on these recommendations? In 2014, a recommendation had been given to expand pre-primary education. Was there data on the progress of attendance? Mr. Mezmur noted that local governments had a lot of leverage in how much they invested in education. Could the State party comment on this? Regarding closures due to COVID-19, what had been some of the measures which had been put in place to address learning for children, when schooling moved online?

A Committee Expert asked about unequal access to healthcare services for children on the islands. A matter of particular interest was also abortion, which was a debated topic in Croatia. Could the delegation comment on this? Could the delegation elaborate on measures taken on mental health and adolescent health? What steps had been taken to reduce the impact of climate change on the rights of the child? Poverty was another challenging issue; could the delegation clarify future steps for addressing child rights and poverty? Could the delegation provide further information on social services aimed at improving education outcomes for poor children?

A Committee Expert asked about the protection of children in migration situations. Did the protocol adopted create a system of registration for unaccompanied and separated children, including those coming from Ukraine? What were the current numbers of unaccompanied and separated children in Croatia? Could the delegation explain more about the current policies in Croatia regarding children who were entering the country in migration situations? What type of people could become guardians, and what support was provided to them? How did guardians accompany children in asylum procedures? What were the plans to improve the practices related to guardianship? Was there a complaint mechanism available to asylum-seeking children?

Information had been received about the insufficient adaption of the criminal justice procedure to the needs of children. How would these matters be addressed? The issue of the excessive length of pre-trial detention was concerning, as well as the conditions in which they would be held. The Committee had been alerted that the juvenile courts act was not properly implemented; what were the measures involved and how were they implemented? Sources suggested that there was failure to recognise all forms of possible entries of children to trafficking, including begging, those in street situations, and Roma girls. What were the plans to address these gaps in protection?

A Committee Expert asked if more information could be provided regarding the exact situation of child marriage, including data if this was available?

Another Committee Expert asked how interviews concerning children reporting abuse were conducted. Were the original testimonies of children video-taped, to be used in court proceedings? Were all child victims of abuse ensured trauma-focused therapy, or psychological treatment?

One Committee Expert voiced concern about drug and alcohol abuse among young people. What programmes were available and how were prevention measures conducted?

Responses by the Delegation

The delegation said there were more than 59,000 children with developmental difficulties in Croatia and funding had been secured for investment in infrastructure and equipment to assist these children. The goal was to have as many professionals as possible in order to link all service providers. Croatia had developed quality standards to effectively implement social services. A registry of children with developmental difficulties was in place. The Ministry of Health currently co-financed medical equipment, with a special focus on remote and deprived areas. The Government invested in service providers in 18 Croatian counties, including medical equipment for doctors’ offices, surgeries, and portable ultrasound equipment. Regarding healthcare for members of the Roma community, Croatia planned to make preventative medical examinations available.

Preschool education in Croatia had more children now than it did in 2016; around 83 per cent of Croatian children were included in the system. Special attention was paid to children with developmental difficulties, with 7 per cent of these children participating in preschool. Educational reform was an ongoing process. Around 22,500 children were expected to be included in preschool care. A network of kindergartens needed to be established to make preschool education accessible to all children of Croatia. The State budget would have to secure funding for the fiscal sustainability of kindergartens which were established by the local and regional self-governments. Those who did not have sufficient funding would be supported by the State to achieve preschool participation for all children.

It was important to note that the National Roma Inclusion Plan paid specific attention to Roma women and girls. Croatia would continue to work with the parents of Roma children and raise their awareness when it came to the importance of education. All projects at a regional and self-government level involving Roma children would be supported. The Government intended to allocate significant funds to these self-governments, as well as to schools. The vulnerability of girls would be a key focus, with the overarching goal of involving girls in all activities. A documentary had been filmed which discussed the success stories of young Roma women, who had made achievements despite their difficult circumstances. This had been used as a successful motivational tool within Roma communities and would continue to be used moving forward.

Croatia had begun implementing a digital infrastructure project in schools in 2015, which meant the schools were already equipped to shift to remote learning during the pandemic. More than 90,000 digital content programmes had been recorded to assist with digital learning. Tablets were ensured for all children in the education system and all children received sim cards, enabling them to participate in the digital learning programmes. Specific sim cards and tablets were provided to Roma children by the United Nations Children’s Fund. All books and learning materials existed in digital form, and all minority groups were provided with materials in their own language. All children were happy to return to school when permitted, as they recognised that school was extremely important in their lives.

The highest standards were secured for prematurely born children, including through the breast milk bank. Clinics ensured that breast feeding women were educated on how to properly breast feed and what would happen when they took their baby home. Regarding mental health, a strategic framework had been prepared, which focused on strengthening the mental health literacy of the population, among other factors. The document was in the final phase of preparation and would be adopted imminently. The framework placed special emphasis on children and youth, with the focus on increasing resilience to stress. The final phase of the national plan was being prepared, which defined activities which would ensure the protection of the mental health of the children of Croatia, including that psychologists needed to be accessible to all children.

Regarding climate change in Croatia, a great flood had taken place in the country during the reporting period, which had resulted in the establishment of a crisis team. A curriculum concerning sustainable development was established in 2019, focused on environmental protection, and it was being rolled out in kindergartens, elementary schools, and high schools. When it came to housing policies and access to social housing, the capital of Croatia had been identified as an innovative example in this area. Huge funding had been secured for this sector.

The operative programme for minorities, including Roma, was in place. The programme focused on legalising all settlements, with the option to house Roma families if settlements could not be legalised. One of the key objectives of the programme was to increase the quality of housing in all settlements.

The intersectoral committees for unaccompanied children were developed to protect unaccompanied children, and detect problems in these procedures. There had been serious dangers related to children and sex trafficking, which had led the Government to work closely with the Ombudsperson to prevent such occurrences. An initial assessment of the unaccompanied child was made, to aid further procedures of housing. When police believed there was a case of an unaccompanied child, social services were contacted, and police officers were prevented from acting in any way towards the child until social workers and translators had arrived. The hearing would then be conducted in premises which had been adapted for children, and if it was established that the child had been victimised, the child was informed about their rights in a comprehensive manner. Children were also informed of the possible risks if they were to flee, and were acquainted with the security they could expect if they remained in Croatia. An additional procedure was established for asylum seekers and those who had been subjected to violence, especially girls.

If an unaccompanied minor was missing, this information was immediately available to all authorities across Europe. This meant the children could be found in another State. There were more than 350 children who had escaped institutions and were being searched for by authorities. Ukrainian migrant children had legally entered Croatia and were entitled to a multitude of rights. When it came to detention centres, families with children were only ever exceptionally placed in these facilities, and for a very short time. There were 283 children from Ukraine who had come unaccompanied to Croatia, and they had all been appointed custodians. These custodians were expert social workers with all the necessary skills for dealing with children in those specific circumstances.

The delegation said that Croatia had zero tolerance to any use of force to any person, particularity children and migrant children. The Croatian police were open to acknowledge mistakes committed in the past, and had established an autonomous supervision mechanism, which was permitted to carry out supervision of police conduct. Fifteen such supervisions had taken place so far, and a prompt mechanism of notification between the mechanism and police had been agreed. Disciplinary procedures were in place for police who violated conduct, including in the form of fines and termination of employment.

Underage offenders were required to have an attorney, and there were strict conditions prescribed to this attorney. This included them needing to be specially trained, and to have been in practice for more than 15 years. The Juvenile Courts Act could only be prescribed for the most serious criminal acts. The juvenile detention centre was only intended for senior minors, who were those between the age of 16 and 18.

Questions by Committee Experts

A Committee Expert asked about children who were separated and placed in alternative care. Who decided this, and how was the case followed and managed? Had the decision to choose transformation, rather than the closing down of institutions, been a good decision? Could more information be provided about children whose parents were incarcerated? Were mediators used when interacting with Roma communities? What was the difference in treatment for Ukrainian children who entered Croatia legally, compared to children from other countries?

A Committee Expert noted that the delegation had stated that child marriage existed only within the Roma community. However, legislation allowed for the legal authorisation for children to contract marriage, meaning child marriage did seem to legally exist and not just within the Roma community. What was being done to regularise the situation, and to combat and end child marriage? Was it a good decision to detain child asylum seekers, even for a short time period?

Another Committee Expert asked about the suicide prevention programmes for teenagers which were being drafted. What was the timeframe for bringing these into force, and what measures were currently being taken? In terms of mental health care, could the delegation go into more depth, and explain the focus of this service?

BENYAM DAWIT MEZMUR, Committee Expert and Coordinator of the Country Taskforce for Croatia, asked about the grounds for some State institutions rejecting the recommendations from the Children’s Ombudsperson?

A Committee Expert asked about the status course for the issue of abortion? How was the State going to address this issue and what were the implications in this regard?

One Committee Expert noted positive action concerning the Roma population, asking how involved members of the Roma population were in the development of those plans, as well as Roma children? Why were unaccompanied children running away from centres? It was important to understand why they were leaving in order to respond to the situation. It seemed there were long delays concerning a decision of adoption; could this be clarified?

A Committee Expert asked about the preventative measures in place for drug use and alcoholism? What was being done to provide support for early pregnancy?

Responses by the Delegation

The delegation said there were 82 social welfare centres in Croatia, which were created to assess the best interests of the child. In accordance with the family act, these centres could order urgent measures if they believed a child was under threat. Croatia was taking all measures to ensure the implementation of de-institutionalisation policies. The model included adoption, as well as children who had left the institutions at the age of 18 and were being prepared for their adult lives, through among other things the provision of social housing. Investing in infrastructure was an ongoing process, and the Government constantly tried to find new units for housing outside of the institutions. A large number of professionals had been employed to work on institutional services, and were trained specifically in this regard. Croatia had been working on the laws regarding adoption and realised that foster parents needed increased support.

Regarding children whose parents were in prison, the Croatian prison system prescribed close contact between parents and their children, for the best interests of the child. The child could visit the parent once a week, and this could be done via a video phone call if necessary. Even if parents had disciplinary measures taken against them in prison, they would not be declined contact with their children. Officers in prison would wear civilian clothes when the children came to visit their parents, so as not to upset the children, and children would only be searched by officers in extreme circumstances.

The recent amendments to the Criminal Code meant there were stricter punishments when it came to the sexual abuse of children. A separate evaluation of victims was introduced, whereby the existence of special protection measures was always presumed. Children who were victims of criminal acts received the most extensive scope of their rights, including an attorney who was funded by the State budget, and also having their statements heard via video recording. Judges who dealt with children received extensive training, and attorneys who worked with juvenile perpetrators were subject to specific conditions.

The national plan for the inclusion of the Roma community included 4,000 Roma people cooperating in an everyday capacity with the Government. Children under the age of 16 had not been consulted in these processes, but this was something the Government would focus on during the upcoming period. Regarding mediators when working with the Roma community, there was not sufficient data available on this.

On the subject of underage cohabitation, this only became visible when minor girls fell pregnant. In 2021, a qualitative study had been conducted into Roma marriages, which determined reasoning for marriage, with customary practice being a key feature. Continuous and stable work was planned for the local communities, including providing support to underage families, and improving the self-image of Roma women and girls.

The delegation spoke about the process of age determination of children, saying that when a person’s identity could not be confirmed, a statement was taken confirming they were a child. If there was doubt or suspicion around this claim, additional data would be gathered, including through medical examinations conducted by doctors, to verify that the person in question was actually a minor. It was important to note that Croatia was not considered attractive economically, and children who had emigrated to Croatia were often seeking other European countries where their families resided. Children who left institutions were only doing so if they had a fully formed decision regarding their final destination, and that it was not Croatia. Regarding Ukrainian children who entered Croatia, these were children who entered at the border with legal documents.

According to the last Ombudsperson’s report, out of 86 recommendations, 9 were not accepted. When it came to acceptance of the report, the Croatian Parliament was the highest representative body of all citizens, with all sessions made public, and parliamentarians were elected by the will of all citizens.

All children in Croatia who were not familiar with the Croatian language had the same rights as all children in the country. They had the right to 70 hours of Croatian language lessons taught two hours a day, five days a week, and were then integrated into the education system. If the child was still not able to speak the Croatian language, they had the right to continue to practice the language until they were able to assimilate into the education system.

When it came to termination of pregnancy, doctors had the right to appeal to conscience, and women had the right to terminate pregnancy; these did not mutually exclude each other. The Government was currently seeking to determine a legal solution to this issue to comply with democratic standards. Croatia was not satisfied with the country’s adoption policy. Specific measures taken included over 1,000 children being adopted in 2021, with protocols being implemented and put into practice.

The delegation said that Croatia ensured all conditions for a healthy environment. A lot of effort had been invested into raising children’s awareness into how to prevent climate change. The local community played a large role in the implementation of programmes relating to sustainable development at a local level.

Questions by Committee Experts

A Committee Expert asked for more details on how involved children were as participants in setting national policy regarding climate change.

Another Committee Expert asked about the project on merging the Ombudsperson with the Children’s Ombudspersons.

Responses by the Delegation

MARIJA BARILIĆ, Director of the Directorate for Family and Social Policy of the Ministry of Labour, Pension System, Family and Social Policy of Croatia and head of the delegation, said the question regarding the Ombudsperson was responded to yesterday, and this merger would not be happening.

Closing Remarks

BENYAM DAWIT MEZMUR, Committee Expert and Coordinator of the Country Taskforce for Croatia, thanked the delegation and said the Committee had benefited from the insights they provided. A lot of progress had been made in Croatia, but more needed to be done. Good work had been done in relation to the Roma issue, however, this was crosscutting, and there were children who were not from the Roma community and who were facing a number of issues. Regarding migration, it was hoped that the refugees from Ukraine would encourage Croatia to open up more space to those who needed it. Mr. Mezmur said he looked forward to the delegation taking the recommendations of the Committee on board, and making a plan for their implementation.

MARIJA BARILIĆ, Director of the Directorate for Family and Social Policy of the Ministry of Labour, Pension System, Family and Social Policy of Croatia and head of the delegation, said Croatia highly appreciated the constructive dialogue with the members of the Committee regarding the rights of the child, with the comments and recommendations of the Committee being of very high value. Significant improvements were evident in various areas, and the priority of children’s rights was high on the list of most stakeholders. An adequate system of monitoring was necessary and was a work in progress. By following these steps, Croatia was confident they would be able to fully implement the Convention.

MIKIKO OTANI, Committee Chair, said that the dialogue had helped the Committee gain clarity on all issues. Ms. Otani thanked the delegation and extended best wishes to all children in Croatia.

 

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CRC22.016E