Tuesday, 22 February 2022

Agreements Signed for Domestic Violence Counselling Centres

ZAGREB, 22 Feb 2022 - Margareta Mađerić, State Secretary at the Ministry of Labour, Pension System, Family and Social Policy, on Tuesday presented 20 agreements, worth HRK 3 million, to associations providing counselling services to victims of domestic and sexual violence.

The agreements signed today are the continuation of good practice that began in 2019. In the preceding two years, 15 projects and 20 associations were financed with HRK 6 million, Mađerić said.

Today's agreements will enable counselling centres to continue their activities, which include psychosocial and legal assistance to victims of domestic and sexual violence, which is one of the first steps to continuing a normal life.

The programme will also provide training for employees at the counselling centres about the rights and needs of victims of violence, their children and victims of sexual violence, as well as training for county teams about gender-based violence.

The government has adopted a national strategy on protection against domestic violence from 2017 to 2022. The Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence has been ratified and has entered into force, and a new protocol on procedures in cases of domestic violence has been adopted.

Six new shelters have been opened in counties, and national and county interdepartmental teams have been established in the field to provide protection for victims.

The ministry says that Croatia is the fifth county in Europe to ensure a toll-free anonymous 24/7 hour hotline at the National Call Centre on 116 006.

Currently, a national plan to combat sexual violence and harassment from 2022 to 2027 and a national plan for gender equality for the same period are being prepared and will endeavour to remove any form of gender-based discrimination and establish real gender equality.

Sunday, 19 September 2021

Ombudswoman: Solution to Violence Against Women Lies in Continuous Education

ZAGREB, 19 Sept, 2021 - The key to solving the problem of violence against women lies primarily in the continuous education of those applying laws and regulations, gender equality ombudswoman Višnja Ljubičić has said on the occasion of the National Day of Combating Violence Against Women, observed on 22 September.

She welcomed the latest amendments to the criminal code and the law on protection against domestic violence, which eliminated some key shortcomings in the effective suppression of gender-based violence, but said the key was to keep educating those applying laws and regulations, rather than in frequently changing legislation.

Serious acts of gender-based violence are often tried as misdemeanours and serious cases of sexual, domestic and gender-based violence are recognised too late, when we witness femicide, Ljubičić said a statement.

Since 2015, when it was reinstated into the criminal code, domestic violence has been continuously and significantly increasing while misdemeanour complaints have been continuously decreasing since 2009, she said.

The number of misdemeanour domestic violence complaints dropped from over 18,000 in 2009 to a little over 9,000 in 2020, while the number of criminal complaints surged from 400 to over 4,000.

The conclusion is that, in the long term, our system of combating violence against women and domestic violence deters victims from reporting lighter forms of violence until the situation escalates and enters the sphere of criminal law, when violence can no longer be suffered or hidden as the outcome is often tragic, Ljubičić said.

Such a misdemeanour system is not preventative and does not provide an effective and prompt response to violence, she added.

There is a lack of effective and systematic prevention outside the legal system as well as of investment in resocialisation programmes for perpetrators, she said, adding that prevention boiled down to fining or giving them suspended sentences, instead of the harshest ones.

Ljubičić said such a system of combating gender-based and domestic violence showed its weaknesses especially in crises, such as the ongoing pandemic, adding that the number of crimes of domestic violence jumped 40% from 2019.

According to Interior Ministry figures for this year through 31 August, there were 5,522 registered perpetrators of misdemeanour domestic violence, with men making up 77%, as well s 6,333 victims, with women making up 63.8%. There were also 1,153 registered victims of domestic violence crimes, of whom 86% were women.

Ljubičić said the figures were potentially mildly up from 2020, but that the rise in rapes in the first seven months of 2021 was worrisome.

Everything points to the need to effect the necessary changes in the whole system, notably in the prevention and suppression of violence against women, she added.

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Monday, 26 April 2021

Aladrović: Ministry Stands Behind Administrative Findings in Little Girl's Case

ZAGREB, 26 April, 2021 - Social Policy Minister Josip Aladrović said on Monday he supports a ministry report that identified omissions by welfare services in Nova Gradiška in the case of a two-and-a-half-year-old girl who died as a consequence of domestic violence, a report which contradicts expert reports.

The Chamber of Social Workers and Croatian Chamber of Psychologists conducted separate expert analyses of the case and concluded that the social workers and psychologists working on the case acted according to standards, while the ministry last Friday said that it would examine the findings and forward everything to the County Prosecutor in Slavonski Brod.

"We, as the ministry, support the administrative oversight findings. The oversight identified certain mistakes in procedure and the findings have been submitted to the County Prosecutor as will the results of the expert analysis. I cannot comment on who was wrong, the chamber or the ministry," said Minister Aladrović while presenting an action plan to improve the social welfare system.

He said that the ministry had immediately sent a supervision team which compiled a report that, he said, is an indicator of the efficient work of public administration and not hasty decision making. One of the reasons why the Chamber of Social Workers' report took longer was because the social worker involved in the case was COVID positive, he added.

He said the omissions identified by the ministry's supervision team were sufficient to dismiss the director of the welfare centre in Nova Gradiška. The ministry does not want to impact the chamber's findings but there isn't any third body that could determine any further procedures, he added.

"There currently isn't any legal framework on how to reconcile those two findings and conflicts," said Aladrović and added that the only thing he can do is to send all the findings to the County Prosecutor to see if there is cause for any other kind of responsibility.

Amendments to the Family Law not planned for this year

As far as amendments to the Family Law are concerned with regard to taking children from their birth parents, Aladrović said that that is a complex bill that wasn't planned in the government's legislative activities for this year and is not a priority, but "we are not unwilling to discuss the Family Law as well in the following period" because there is room for improvement.

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Saturday, 3 April 2021

Parents of Severely Beaten Girl Remanded in Custody

April 3, 2021 - The parents of a two-and-a-half-year-old girl who has been admitted to hospital with severe head and bodily injuries have been remanded in custody, Slavonski Brod County Court investigating judge Mile Soldo ruled on Saturday.

The mother is charged with hitting the child with inappropriate force. As a result, the girl has ended up in the Hospital for Children's Diseases in Zagreb, where doctors are fighting for her life.

The mother has been remanded in custody because of the risk of obstructing the course of justice by interfering with witnesses. In contrast, the father has been remanded for the same reason, and because of the risk of repeating the crime, Soldo told the press.

The mother is charged with inflicting grievous bodily harm, while the father is charged with violating the child's rights and neglecting and abusing all four of their children.

Investigators suspect that the girl was abused between November 2020 and 31 March 2021, while the other three children, who have been separated from their parents, are believed to have been abused for a longer time.

The couple, residents in Nova Gradiška, have been taken to a remand center in Požega, about 170 kilometers east of Zagreb.

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Saturday, 3 April 2021

Social Welfare Centre Director Sacked After Domestic Violence Case

April 3, 2021- Branko Medunić has been relieved of his duties as the Social Welfare Center director in the eastern town of Nova Gradiška following a probe into a domestic violence case in which a two and a half-year-old girl suffered life-threatening injuries.

The center's governing council decided on Saturday. It was announced by the Minister of Labour, Pension System, Family and Social Policy, Josip Aladrović, at a press conference.

The girl has been admitted to Zagreb's children's hospital with severe injuries to the head and body, and doctors are fighting for her life. The parents have been arrested, and a criminal investigation is underway.

The Social Welfare Centre has been aware of this family because the father was reported for domestic violence before. The girl was in a foster family for over a year, but the center returned her to her parents at their request.

The parents have partly admitted the crime of violating the child's rights, county prosecutor Mirela Šmital confirmed on Saturday. She said that the prosecution would move to have both parents remanded in investigative custody.

The mother (24)  is the first defendant and is charged with five counts of violating the child's rights and inflicting grievous bodily harm. In comparison, the father (27)  is charged with four counts of violating the child's rights and inflicting grievous physical harm. The parents are expected to be brought before the investigating judge this afternoon.

Irregularities are found at the social welfare center.

Minister Aladrović said that Medunić was relieved of his duties after an administrative inspection found irregularities at the center. He said that the complete results of the examination would be available no later than Wednesday.

"Social workers do an extremely responsible job which is important for the stability of society. We must all be aware of their responsibility, but any potential irresponsibility must be penalized," the minister said.

"Anyone who causes damage to human life or health will be penalized. We can't afford to make any concessions in that regard. We must make a distinction between people who do their job responsibly and those who do not," he added.

The head of the Directorate for Family and Social Policy, Marija Barilić, said that the girl had been separated early on because of the risk posed by her parents but was later returned to her family, which she said was a mistake. 

"It was a mistake. The child should never have been returned to its family. It should have stayed in the foster family," Barilić said.

The Social Welfare Act to be amended

Aladrović announced amendments to the Social Welfare Act to improve the quality of service for beneficiaries. He said that the amendment process had been launched before this tragic event. "I admit that we have structural problems in the social welfare domain, but I am committed to removing them," he stressed.

The amendments would strengthen the system and reduce social workers' work obligations to focus on the essential aspects of their work. The amended law would also promote life-long learning, and a Social Welfare Academy would be established to focus on the professional career of staff at all social welfare centers. 

Aladrović said that social welfare centers' operation would be centralized to ensure more efficient management and job standardization and avoid cases like the one from Nova Gradiška. 

He announced that under the amended law, family centers would be separated from social welfare centers. "We want to empower the family, that is both our world-view position and our social responsibility."

"We are deeply aware of the challenges we are coping with, but I want to make a clear political message that we will address these challenges efficiently and that we will overcome them," Aladrović said, adding that the Nova Gradiška incident had only "accelerated and simplified" the decision to amend the law.

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