Saturday, 11 April 2020

Ombudswoman: Institutions Fail to Protect Children Against Violence

ZAGREB, April 11, 2020 - Croatian state institutions in 2019 failed children when it comes to protection against violence, Children's Ombudswoman Helenca Prinat Dragičević says in a report on her work last year.

She says that the dramatic increase in domestic violence from 2018, measured both by the number of domestic violence complaints and the number of reports of violence against children required urgent and effective measures to protect children.

The ombudswoman calls for coordinated action and consolidation of institutions that work on protection against violence as well as hiring more professionals.

Analysing last year, Pirnat Dragičević says that some children died or their life was in danger due to their parents' negligence, and in that context singles out the case of a father on the island of Pag who threw his four children off a balcony.

The year 2019 was marked by a sudden rise in child mortality caused by deaths in traffic accidents as well as by problems in the education system that culminated in a long teachers' strike.

Eighteen children were killed in traffic accidents, 203 sustained serious injuries and 1,100 light injuries, Pirnat Dragičević says.

She goes on to say that her office received almost 10% more complaints compared to 2018, opened 1,741 new cases, and acted in 933 cases, which, she says, had been carried over from previous years due to their complexity.

The office received 97 reports of domestic violence, 35 more than in 2018. Violence was most frequently reported by parents - in 35 cases by mothers, in 15 cases by fathers, and in 17 cases by institutions such as schools and kindergartens.

The ombudswoman also expresses concern about acts of cruelty against children.

The extensive report also says that close to 2,200 children could not meet and spend time with the other parent or did so for a shorter period of time than ordered by the court, the reason being manipulative behaviour on the part of the parent with whom the child lives.

The ombudswoman notes that in numerous cases there was no urgent and coordinated action by state institutions to protect such children.

As regards the strike of primary and secondary school teachers from October 10 to December 2, Pirnat Dragičević says that her office received 72 written complaints and several dozen phone calls by parents, children as well as teachers concerning breaches of children's right to education.

The complaints raise a number of questions regarding the timely provision of information to children on the suspension of classes, making up for classes lost, children's right to free time, and organisation and implementation of school-leaving exams, she says.

These questions should be answered so that in future similar situations, advantage is given to the protection of children's interests, says the ombudswoman.

Pirnat Dragičević also reports an increase in the number of children in need of institutional care, uneven territorial representation of foster families and lack of professional foster care.

At the end of 2019, there were 75 children in children's homes who met conditions for adoption, and during the year there were 25 adoptions, three more than in 2018.

The number of children who meet conditions for adoption is still high, and among them are children in whose adoption there is no interest, as well as children who oppose adoption and whose opinion should be respected, the ombudswoman says.

Commenting on the case of a same-sex couple who was denied the right to provide foster care, Pirnat Dragičević says the most important criteria in evaluating an applicant are the child's needs and the applicant's competencies and dedication and readiness to care about the child in a good and committed way rather than their sexual orientation. In making such a decision, "one should also take into account the child's opinion, in line with their age," she says.

More human rights news can be found in the Politics section.

Friday, 24 January 2020

Children in Ogulin Kindergartens Learning Quantum Physics

ZAGREB, January 24, 2020 - A set of workshops entitled "21st century professions", at which kindergarten children and those above kindergarten age are acquainted with the scientific view of the world, including quantum physics, were held at the Local History Museum in the central town of Ogulin.

Not even in the most developed countries can the system of education follow the extremely fast development of science and technology, which is why methods should be developed to give children an insight into those areas and motivate them to turn to modern professions at an early age, said coordinator Dalibor Paar of the Zagreb Faculty of Science.

For children living outside big cities to have prospects and for life in small communities to be given new quality, the best possible education should be provided at an early stage and children should be interested in the 21st century professions, which are based on science education, known as STEAM, said Paar.

STEAM fields are science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics, or applied mathematics.

The workshops in Ogulin are designed to encourage children to think and realise how complex and interesting the world around them is.

The topics discussed at the workshops are future digital technologies, the study of atoms on Earth and in space, exciting phenomena in physics, modern biology, the study of karst and caves, and the traditional skills of making and using hand tools.

The workshops were organised by the Ogulin town authorities, the local history museum and local schools and kindergartens, in cooperation with the Zagreb Faculty of Science and the Croatian Physical Society.

The main purpose of the project is the introduction of STEM/STEAM content in kindergartens and schools, with emphasis on the teaching of physics as of the age of four. The project initially covered three kindergartens from Zagreb and Samobor, after which numerous workshops were held in Pazin, Krasno, Križevci and now in Ogulin.

More education news can be found in the Lifestyle section.

Sunday, 15 December 2019

Young People Encounter Hate Speech Online Every Day

ZAGREB, December 15, 2019 - The public sphere, notably the Internet, is full of discriminatory and hate speech, which mostly affects young people as they encounter it almost on a daily basis on social media, news portals and forums, a round table heard earlier this week.

"We are aware that inappropriate and hate speech both online and offline is increasingly present and it in particular affects young people. They are often the victims of hate speech and discriminatory speech but they also resort to it," Human Rights Ombudswoman Lora Vidović said.

Young people are connected as no previous generation and some Internet users are encouraged by apparent anonymity, i.e. by not being directly in contact with the interlocutor.

The causes of such behaviour are complex, one being the lack of perception of the far-reaching consequences of such speech, i.e. the feelings it elicits in other people and protection mechanisms, according to Vidović.

"We must see how to turn the situation around and encourage positive narratives, how to utilise the knowledge young people have in order to define new policies, solutions, algorithms, perhaps even new laws to change the situation."

Young people must be part of all changes, social, political, economic and climate, and this has also been recognised by the UN, which has dedicated this year's Human Rights Day to youth, Vidović said.

Deputy Human Rights Ombudswoman Tena Šimonović Einwalter presented the findings of a national survey on hate speech which the Human Rights Ombudswoman's Office conducted in cooperation with the IPSOS agency among people aged 18-30.

The survey shows that they mainly use Instagram, share videos and photos, and one segment, mainly older respondents and men, comment on social media and portals.

According to the respondents, hate speech is extensively present in the physical public sphere in the form of graffiti and posters, at political gatherings, on TV and radio.

Hate speech is even more present in comments on social media, news portals, forums, Viber, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and Snapchat which, according to Šimonović Einwalter, begs the question - has intolerant speech become part of the communication among youth given that texting services are used mainly by acquaintances and friends?

As many as 96% of young people said they had encountered hate speech over the past three months. About one-third of respondents encounter hate speech almost daily on social media, news portals and forums.

Hateful or intolerant comments are mainly based on ethnicity, sexual orientation, physical appearance, religion and gender. The survey shows that 44% of young persons have been the target of hate speech.

Young people who received hate comments felt sad, humiliated, afraid, threatened and ashamed, yet 68% have not reported them to anyone, although 92% believe such comments can hurt their targets.

Most of the respondents believe regulations on the Internet are too weak and that there is too much hate speech.

Croatia and Europe are recording an increase in social polarisation and hate speech, said Tatjana Katkić Stanić of the Ministry of Demography, Family, Youth and Social Policy.

"The Internet, unfortunately, is a very powerful medium in which not only youth, but adults as well, use pseudonyms to express intolerance towards those who are in any way different."

Essential for resolving the problems are inter-departmental cooperation and especially education, with programmes and workshops that should begin from the earliest age, while at the same time working with parents.

More news about children in Croatia can be found in the Lifestyle section.

Friday, 13 December 2019

Study Shows State of Young People's Mental Health Alarming

ZAGREB, December 13, 2019 - The Zagreb University's Faculty of Rehabilitation and Education Sciences on Friday presented results of an extensive study revealing an alarming situation regarding the mental health of young people.

In a group of 30 high school students, two use marijuana once a week or more frequently and one in three drinks alcohol once a week or more frequently - these are some of the basic indicators which show that more frequent alcohol and marijuana consumption is accompanied by poorer indicators of mental health, project head Miranda Novak said.

One in four young people have significant symptoms of anxiety and stress, and in a class of 24, at least one says they have attempted to kill themselves, Novak said, describing the situation as alarming.

On the other hand, the higher the self-awareness, the fewer the symptoms and the less frequent alcohol and marijuana consumption.

Education and Science Minister Blaženka Divjak expressed support to the study and confidence that its results would have an impact on school and other social systems.

We have cooperated with the Faculty of Rehabilitation and Education Sciences on drawing up an action plan for the prevention of school violence and it is expected to be adopted by the government soon, she said, underling the importance of its implementation through the system of intervention, policies and programmes, she said.

She underlined the importance of developing self-awareness and peer solidarity and empathy to enable young people to identify problems on their own and deal with them, she said, recalling the introduction of a number of cross-subject topics in school curricula such as personal and social development, civics and health education.

Analyses of the data show that a more stable family environment contributes to fewer symptoms of depression, anxiety and stress and better emotional competencies and more positive mental health of young people, Novak said, adding that the results of the study showed that investing in the family environment contributed to the empowerment of young people.

As for the school environment, young people who are more emotionally competent are more willing to engage themselves with regard to school tasks and are more committed to school. Young people who are more committed to school show fewer symptoms of anxiety, she concluded.

The study also shows, among other things, that as many as 39% of young people witnessed peer violence once or more frequently over the past month, while 18% experienced it.

More news about young people in Croatia can be found in the Lifestyle section.

Tuesday, 5 November 2019

Amendments Raising Parental Leave Allowance Put to Public Consultation

ZAGREB, November 5, 2019 - The ministry of demography, family affairs, youth and social policy on Monday put to public consultation amendments to the Maternity and Parental Allowance Act whereby the maximum pay during parental leave (after the first six months of the child's life) would be raised to 5,654 kuna (€759).

Under the amendments, as of April 1, 2020 the maximum allowance paid for the duration of parental leave (after the first six months of the child's life) to employed and self-employed parents would be raised from the current amount of 3,991 kuna (€536) to 5,654 kuna.

The amount would be received for six months if the right is used by one parent, plus an additional two months (a total of eight months) if the right is used by both parents.

Maternity allowance (paid in the first six months of the child's life) would continue to be paid as part of the mother or father's salary and would not be capped.

The changes in the system of maternity and parental leave are being introduced to additionally encourage parents to use parental leave, ensure mothers' stability on the labour market and more strongly include fathers in the early upbringing of children. Using this right would enable parents to harmonise their professional and private life, read the amendments, which will be under public consultation for 30 days.

The Croatian Health Insurance Institute (HZZO) estimates that the amendments will cost an additional 160.65 million kuna in 2020, an additional 214.19 million kuna in 2021 and as much in 2022.

More news about children can be found in the Lifestyle section.

Monday, 28 October 2019

SOS Children's Village Croatia Calls for Focus on Unprotected Children

ZAGREB, October 28, 2019 - The SOS Children's Village Croatia on Monday called for shifting focus back to unprotected children and increasing welfare funding, underlining the importance of abolishing institutional care for children so that they could grow up in family-type alternative care.

"Alternative care in the past meant institutions where a child would get lost. The process of de-institutionalisation, shifting focus back to children and advocating children's rights helps make progress," the head of the SOS Children's Village Croatia national programme development, Gordana Daniel, said at an international conference.

SOS villages care about children without parents and parental care and life in SOS children's villages resembles the life of any family, the only difference being that those children's families are bigger and that they are cared for by SOS moms. Also, children's villages develop numerous other services in an effort to respond to the needs of the target group. This puts the child in the focus of attention and its needs are heard and recognised.

In 2018, in the two Croatian SOS children's villages - Lekenik and Ladimirevci - 170 children were growing up in 31 SOS families.

In the SOS communities in Zagreb, Velika Gorica and Osijek, where children go after primary school, there are 49 high school children, and 29 young people have taken part in a programme of semi-independent living that helps them live on their own.

The SOS Children's Village Croatia association is funded mostly by sponsors and donors, Daniel said, adding that the state, even though it did finance the association to a smaller extent, was still not ready to set aside enough funding to meet all of the needs of children without parental care.

This is particularly a problem in small communities which lack strong social services and where families have difficulty accessing the necessary professional help.

"All the more important social services are now based on the empowerment of the family. We are not focused only on giving direct care to a child that needs to be removed from its family, we have been working for six years on programmes that empower families and help prevent situations in which a child is taken out of its family. That is the future," she said.

The head of the SOS Children's Village Croatia Association, Mariza Katavić, said that the need for new children's villages was constantly growing but that apart from a lack of funding, there was also a lack of other infrastructure - transport, healthcare and welfare.

"What is problematic is that we cannot expect the state and local communities to solve those problems because local communities very often do not have the money although they do have the will," she said.

Tatjana Katkić Stanić of the Demography, Family, Youth and Social Policy Ministry said that children were expected to gradually leave children's homes and that such homes were expected to provide accommodation for only a short period of time.

"A precondition for that is the strong development of foster care and development of services for families at risk so that children who can do so, can return to their primary family with parents' capacity having been strengthened... while children who cannot be in their primary family would be provided for in some other way, such as adoption," Katkić Stanić said.

The international conference, called "Recognise, care, be proud", was held to mark three anniversaries - the 70th anniversary of the umbrella international association SOS Children's Villages International, which so far has supported four million children through the system of alternative care and family empowerment, the 30th anniversary of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the 10th anniversary of the UN Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children.

More news about children in Croatia can be found in the Lifestyle section.

Friday, 27 September 2019

UNICEF: Low Awareness of Business Sector's Impact on Children's Rights in Croatia

ZAGREB, September 27, 2019 - The awareness of the potential impact of the business sector on children's rights in Croatia is relatively low - only six percent of survey respondents believe that the operation of the company they work for has a great influence on children's rights, UNICEF has warned.

These are the findings of the first national survey on the impact of the business sector on children's rights, presented at a news conference in Zagreb on Friday.

The main goal of the survey, launched by UNICEF, is to understand to what extent children's rights are recognised as part of socially responsible business in Croatia and to identify the most important obstacles and motivational factors for companies and other stakeholders for greater engagement regarding children's rights.

Most surveyed companies enable flexible sick leave if the reason is the child's illness (94%), new mothers' return from maternity leave to a safe workplace (93%), and days off for fathers after a child is born.

More than half of respondents (60%) say that at the company where they work working hours are not respected but 55% say that their company offers the possibility of flexible working hours.

Sixty-four percent of surveyed companies do not have financial schemes for assistance to their employees' children in case of their illness or assistance to children with developmental problems, and 80% are always or occasionally willing to help children in cases of sudden disasters.

Forty-seven percent of companies support local community development programmes.

Sixty-six percent of companies participate in providing financial support to the most vulnerable families (donations), 55% invest in initiatives for early child development, 42% provide support for children with developmental problems, and 11% carry out or support drives aimed at encouraging the socialisation of Roma children.

Two in three companies do not assess the impact of their products and services on children, more than 60% do not assess the quality of products or services intended for children, and 59% do not use codes regarding children in advertisement.

In order to encourage the business community to greater engagement for the benefit of children, UNICEF has launched the establishment of an advisory body for human rights and socially responsible business, which will act as a platform for the exchange of knowledge and good practice to improve respect for and exercise of children's rights in the business community.

Members of the advisory body are organisations actively advocating responsible business in Croatia (Croatian Employers Association, Croatian Business Council for Sustainable Development, Croatian Chamber of Commerce), the academic sector (Zagreb Faculty of Economics), the business sector (Zagreb Stock Exchange, IKEA, Ericsson Nikola Tesla, Croatian Banking Association, Komunikacijski Ured Ćolić, Laco i Partneri, Tele 2, A1, Croatian Federation of Market Communication Associations, and the "Zaposlena mama" (Working mum) institute, members of the Network of Young Consultants to the Ombudswoman for Children, and the UNICEF Office Croatia.

More news about children in Croatia can be found in the Lifestyle section.

Sunday, 15 September 2019

Parents of Children with Special Needs Ask for More Classroom Assistants

ZAGREB, September 15, 2019 - The civil society initiative called "School for All" on Saturday held a protest rally in the centre of Zagreb, demanding the hiring of a higher number of school assistants who can help children with disabilities to be better included in education.

Participants in the protest warn about some of deficiencies in the school system, and said that hundreds of children were left without their classroom assistants at the beginning of this school year.

Some of school assistants who joined the protest rally complained about the disrespect of their labour rights. The hiring of a large number of school assistants is being funded by EU funds, however, they claimed that certain units of local authorities violated their rights and paid them less than agreed.

In attendance at the protest were three presidential hopefuls, Ante Simonic, Katarina Peović and Ivan Pernar.

Education Minister Blaženka Divjak said a few days ago that the number of licences issued for assistants for this school year was three times as high as five years ago.

Also, this year there are 1,000 more approvals for the hiring of school assistants than in the previous school year.

Therefore, she believes that it is necessary to make an expert analysis "of this explosion of the number of assistants".

The minister noted that a rule book was also prepared for the first time for regulation of the status of classroom assistants.

Applicants have to have at least secondary education and are supposed to pass the training that will enable them to help disabled children while they are at school.

More education news can be found in the Lifestyle section.

Wednesday, 12 June 2019

Luka Ritz Awards for Violence-Free Schools Presented

ZAGREB, June 12, 2019 - The 11th annual Luka Ritz awards for the promotion of tolerance and violence-free schools were presented on Wednesday to elementary schooler Nika Rusijan of Pazin and high schooler Magdalena Dakić of Vinkovci, with both saying no one had to be an A student but that everyone could be a good person if they thought a little about themselves and others.

Special certificates were given to elementary schoolers Darija Vusić, Doroteja Horvat and Nada Stjepanović, and high schoolers Patricija Ivanković and Ljiljana Beljan.

Speaking at the award ceremony at the Science and Education Ministry, Minister Blaženka Divjak said this was a day of combating violence and that today's winners were heroes just like Luka Ritz, who she said would have been a grown man in his prime today had there been no violence.

Divjak thanked the parents, families and schools of the recipients. We need such beacons for spreading tolerance, humanitarian work and non-violent conflict resolution, she said, adding that the ministry would give 26 schools HRK 10,000 each for developing non-violent conflict resolution programmes.

The minister also underlined the need to raise one's voice against verbal violence and tolerance of hate speech.

An action plan for preventing violence in schools in the 2019-24 period was presented at the ceremony and put up for public consultation today, with Divjak announcing more state funds for the prevention of school violence.

A report shows that crisis team had to intervene in schools 24 times in 2016, 19 in 2017 and 52 in 2018, for which 218,000 kuna was spent in 2016, 104,000 kuna in 2017 and 418,000 kuna in 2018.

The number of prevention programmes rose from eight (8) in 2016 to 38 last year, it was said at the action plan presentation.

More children news can be found in the Lifestyle section.

Tuesday, 11 June 2019

Croatia Joins "Not My Crime - Still My Sentence" Campaign

ZAGREB, June 11, 2019 - Children's ombudswoman Helenca Pirnat Dragičević called for providing support to children whose parents are behind the bars, and this appeal was issued on Tuesday on the occasion of the European campaign called "Not My Crime - Still My Sentence."

The campaign is aimed at improving living conditions and status of children of incarcerated parents.

The Croatian office says that since 2006 it has been engaged in the protection of the rights of this vulnerable category of children, and notes some progress in their status in the country. Approximately one-third of incarcerated people in Croatia are parents of underage children.

On 31 December 2018, of the 2,211 persons behind the bars in Croatia, 743 were parents of a total of 1,325 underage children. Throughout that year, about 12,500 children were separated from their imprisoned parent.

"An estimated 2.1 million children are separated from a parent in prison in Council of Europe countries on any given day; 800,000 children in the EU-28. In addition to having to cope with separation from their parent, these children are vulnerable to stigma, instability, poverty and violence. Although overall progress on the issue of parental imprisonment has been made in Europe, thanks partially to EU support for advocacy on their behalf, some countries still have little awareness of this, levels of service provision vary greatly and policy is lagging," says COPE, the only pan-European network for children with imprisoned parents.

"Founded in 2000, Children of Prisoners Europe (COPE) is a pan-European network working with and on behalf of children with imprisoned parents. The network encourages innovative perspectives and practice to ensure that the rights of children with imprisoned parents are fully respected and that action is taken to secure their well-being and healthy development. COPE is a membership-based organisation made up of non-governmental organisations, individuals and other stakeholders across Europe and beyond, linked by a staff team based at its Paris headquarters."

More children news can be found in the Lifestyle section.

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