COMMITTEE ON THE RIGHTS OF THE CHILD CONSIDERS REPORT OF LITHUANIA
23 September 2013
The Committee on the Rights of the Child last night completed its consideration of the combined third to fourth periodic report of Lithuania on its implementation of the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Presenting the report, Audrius Bitinas, Deputy Minister of Social Security and Labour, said that Lithuania was making significant efforts to improve its legislation and to prepare and implement programmes for the promotion and protection of the rights of the child. Lithuania had recently adopted a transformative concept on the institutional system for the protection of children’s rights. It also strengthened its social work, and allocated additional funds to recruit more social workers to assist vulnerable families. A draft law of fundamentals had been submitted to the Parliament. Measures were also being taken to raise awareness among young persons about the risks of substance abuse, to provide adequate access to education and to deal with suicide and mental problems.
During the interactive dialogue, the Committee said that Lithuania had taken several positive measures to protect the rights of the child, including reforming aspects of its legal framework, ratifying international instruments and establishing a programme for the prevention of violence against children. Nevertheless, Experts expressed concern about the rising number of child abuse cases, the lack of legislation expressly prohibiting corporal punishment in all settings, the need for additional funding allocated to the Ombudsman’s Office, and the absence of an inter-agency coordination mechanism for child welfare policy. Questions were also asked about Catholic religious education offered in schools, Lithuania’s intention of taking steps to promote the non-discrimination principle, and the phenomenon of abandoning newborns in ‘baby boxes’.
In concluding remarks, Olga A. Khazova, Country Rapporteur for Lithuania, thanked the delegation for a constructive dialogue and said that Lithuania had been making efforts to implement the Convention. Nevertheless, a lot of work remained to be done and the Committee had several concerns, which it would express in its recommendations.
The Delegation of Lithuania included representatives from the Ministry of Social Security and Labour, the Drug, Tobacco and Alcohol Control Department, the Ministry of Education and Science, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Interior, the Minister of Health, and the Permanent Mission of Lithuania to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
The next public meeting of the Committee will take place today, Tuesday 24 September, at 3 p.m. when it will begin its consideration of the initial report of Paraguay under the Optional Protocol on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography (CRC/C/OPSC/PRY/1).
The combined third and fourth periodic report of Lithuania can be read here: CRC/C/LTU/3-4.
Presentation of the Report
AUDRIUS BITINAS, Deputy-Minister for Social Security and Labour of the Republic of Lithuania began by saying that children needed special attention and devotion, therefore Lithuania was making significant efforts to improve its legislation and prepare and implement programmes to improve child rights. Lithuania was working in particular to ensure harmonious cooperation between central and local authorities, and to work more effectively with non-governmental organizations.
The Lithuanian Parliament recently adopted a transformative concept for the institutional system to protect children’s rights. It set out the main institutions working on the protection of children’s rights, defined their tasks and features, and located them within the framework of State institutions. The new concept also addressed the need for social work for vulnerable families and made provisions in the 2014 State budget for the allocation of additional funds to recruit 83 new social workers, as well as establish social worker positions in the municipalities. A draft Law of Fundamentals on the protection of children’s rights was currently being submitted to the Parliament. The law aimed to encourage closer cooperation among the administrative bodies of the municipalities and with parents of concerned children, the police, the Prosecutor’s Office officials, health care professionals, and representatives of non-governmental organizations in order to provide effective assistance to the family and prevent the separation of the child from its family.
One of the positive changes which had occurred in Lithuania in recent years was the decrease of the number of children in foster care institutions. The number had reduced from 5,400 children in 2006 to 4,030 children in 2012. The restructuring of the child custody system remained a priority, as 38 per cent of children in care (under guardianship) currently lived in institutions. Lithuania’s National Education Strategy for 2013 to 2022 was under preparation and some of its main objectives were to ensure adequate access to education and equal opportunities, maximize the development of child and young people’s education coverage, and to give pupils, students and all other young persons the best opportunities to expand their individual abilities and to meet special educational and study needs.
A Mother and Child Health Department had recently been established, and started functioning in 2013 under the Ministry of Health. The Government’s approach to substance addiction – such as tobacco, alcohol or drugs – was a preventative one. Treatment and other support was available for people who suffered an addiction, and the preventative strategy emphasized in particular the importance of teaching healthy life skills to children and adolescents. A challenge faced not just by the healthcare system but also society in general was the issue of suicide and of how to care for children with mental illness. To tackle those issues more effectively, a study had been recently conducted to examine the causes of mental health disorders and find effective ways of dealing with them.
Concerning trafficking in persons, Mr. Bitinas said that Lithuania recently ratified the Council of Europe Convention on action against trafficking in persons and made amendments to its criminal code to ensure effective implementation of that convention. He added that the 2012 launch of the international project “ADSTRINGO”, which stood for “Addressing trafficking in human beings for labour exploitation through improved partnerships” further provided Lithuania with enhanced diagnostics and organizational approaches to the problem of trafficking.
Questions by Experts
OLGA A. KHAZOVA, Committee Member acting as Country Rapporteur for Lithuania,
expressed concern about the draft law of 2012, certain aspects of which, she said, ran counter to the fundamental principles of the rights of the child. The Committee expected that, in implementing the provisions of the Convention, States parties should be guided by the children’s rights imperative. The draft law did not cover all children in Lithuania’s jurisdiction, instead covering mostly or exclusively children who came from families at social risk.
The Country Rapporteur also complained that note enough was being done to ensure effective cooperation between local and central authorities. Specifically, no single official body was responsible for child protection. Furthermore, there did not appear to be an interagency coordination body on child welfare policy. She asked what Lithuania was doing to improve the situation.
A positive development was the establishment of the Ombudsperson’s Office in 2000. However, the Country Rapporteur noted, it seemed that financial constraints had prevented the Ombudsperson from carrying out their duties and from effective monitoring of the implementation of the Convention throughout the country. Were there any plans to strengthen the Ombudsman’s Office in the foreseeable future, she asked. Furthermore, the principle of the best interests of the child was not integrated in any legal documents and did not seem to be consistently applied. What steps would Lithuania take to incorporate that principle in domestic law and make it more consistently applicable throughout the country in accordance with the Convention?
Child abuse appeared to be getting worse, with a growing number of incidents. Violence against children was a worldwide problem, the Country Rapporteur said, and noted that Lithuania had already taken some measures to try to solve the problem of violence against children. Public awareness of issues related to violence against children was relatively poor, and so far nothing had been done about that. There was not enough institutional competence to recognize the problem and deal with it effectively, said the Country Rapporteur. The problem was especially pronounced in schools, where teachers and pupils did not have the necessary knowledge to recognize and deal with the issues. Emphasis appeared to be placed on children who had already experienced violence, with a view to neutralizing the consequences.
AMAL SALMAN ALDOSERI, Committee Member acting as Country Co-Rapporteur for Lithuania, commended Lithuania for amending its Penal Code and on adopting new measures concerning the temporary departure of children to a foreign country. The Committee welcomed also Lithuania’s recent ratification of international instruments as well as other measures taken to strengthen the protection of children’s rights, such as the Children’s Welfare Programme, the National Programme For The Prevention Of Drug Abuse, the Programme For The Prevention Of Violence Against Children and the Programme For Pre-Primary Development. The Committee expected that all of those would impact positively on the welfare of children.
A Committee Expert asked the delegation whether the Convention had ever been invoked before its courts. With respect to cooperation with the civil society, to what extent non-governmental organizations had been involved in the preparation of Lithuania’s report and what had their input been, he asked. There was a great deal of statistics provided in the report, he noted, and asked how that information had been collected and analysed and what conclusions could be drawn from it.
An Expert expressed concern about freedom of religion and freedom of conscience in Lithuania. A general programme for the teaching of the Catholic religion had been recently introduced in schools, even though the current global trend was to separate as much as possible religion and teaching and ensure that the two were independent. What were the reasons behind that decision, which was made by the Government? And what was the situation for children from religious minorities, children who practised a religion other than Christianity or children who had no religion at all?
Violence of all types was increasing, an Expert said, and asked the delegation why. There was no doubt that the internet had an influence on violence, especially since many children spent a considerable amount of time using social media on a daily basis. What were the cultural reasons in Lithuanian society for the rise in violence?
How could children use the Ombudsman’s Office to voice their concerns? The resources allocated to the Office were not sufficient to enable it to carry out its mandate. What could Lithuania do about that? Concerning data collection, there was a marked lack of disaggregated data in the report, particularly in relation to children from minority groups. Did Lithuania plan to include those groups in its database?
An Expert asked what the age of sexual consent was in Lithuania. If it was 14 years old, as reported, did the Government plan to raise it?
The Committee had information that the principle of non-discrimination was not always upheld, particularly in relation to children in care institutions and children from minority groups, such as the Roma. Could the delegation comment on that point?
Concerning the abandonment of babies, an Expert asked how Lithuania was working to prevent the practice and whether it would consider replacing the system of “baby boxes” with the provision of better support, contraception and better education to young pregnant women. Perhaps Lithuania could also consider introducing an anonymous birth system, similar to one being implemented in other European countries, the Expert suggested.
Response by Delegation
Responding to the questions asked by the Experts, the delegation began by saying that representatives of non-governmental organizations and parents’ organizations had been involved in the drafting of the new 2012 law, which took into account the input of all consulted and paid special attention to the protection of children’s rights. The focus was on providing support to the family while the child was still in the family and on identifying and evaluating any problems within the family in advance to ensure that there were no social risks.
The draft law held that children under 14 years old could not be left without supervision from an adult. It also determined the practical process concerning the competency of institutions to deal with various child issues, and explained who had the responsibility to inform the special unit for child rights. A delegate noted that there had been no provisions concerning the rights of the child as they appeared in the Convention in the first draft law, but in the current draft those provisions had been fully included.
A child could be separated from its family only by a court ruling. In vulnerable cases, the child would remain with his or her family while relevant Government bodies would work with the family, initially for a period of 12 months. In such cases a plan was devised to help the family. Social workers and representatives from non-governmental organizations would be involved in the process. Following the 12-month period, the case was reviewed and a decision was made either to keep the child with her family or take her away from the family. In the latter case, an authorization from court was required.
The delegation said that the draft law was being put to the Parliament, which showed awareness that there was room for improvement in that area, and it was hoped that by the end of the year there would be a new law in place. In the meantime, the Government was trying to strengthen the process of consultation with partners to ensure that closer cooperation with the non-governmental organization sector would help improve to situation on the ground.
Concerning the institutional system, a number of draft laws were currently being prepared. According to the transformation concept adopted by the Government, a restructuring would take place with clearly defined ministry functions for child protection and with the aim of strengthening the implementation of relevant measures. It was also expected that the social services provided to children and their families at the municipal level would be improved. In addition, a separate department would be created for the protection of children’s rights at the municipal level.
Funding for the Ombudsperson’s Office, which was established in 2000, had been increase. There were currently 80 members of staff working in it. The Office was a strong partner for all national institutions working in the system of the protection of children’s rights.
Regarding awareness-raising campaigns, the delegation said that with help from non-governmental organizations information was disseminated on departmental programmes concerning the convention and the rights of the child. Conferences, seminars and other events were organized on a regular basis. There were also regular training programmes for judges and lawyers working in children’s rights.
It was planned to enlarge courts so that every individual judge had an area of expertise in which he or she worked. That would ensure a better implementation of the Convention. The delegation said that it was important to inform the population about the rights of the child on a regular basis, which was something that all Ministries undertook to do.
The Government had created a child-friendly and easy-to-use website where young persons and children could find information about their rights and about what to do when they needed help. There was also a children’s parliament which convened once a year and discussed important questions relating to children’s rights. Children were consulted on new laws concerning them through the children parliament.
A new project had been introduced to establish a fund which would finance all programmes on health issues. The programme would be funded from taxes on alcohol, which brought in an estimated six million Euros. Particular attention would be paid to training in healthy living for children and adolescents, provided in cooperation with non-governmental organizations.
The best interests of the child were directly invoked in legal proceedings, and judges were required to explain in their rulings how the interests of the child had been taken into account. Also, children above the age of 10 years were asked to express their views on the legal matters which concerned them.
Statistics were important because they enabled States to identify problems and deal with them. The Ministry of Criminal Affairs had registered 3,150 delinquents last year, of whom around 60 per cent were boys. Compared with statistics from 2012, the situation had improved. In 2005 there had been 4,000 young offenders, so the decrease had been significant. Children suffering parental abuse had also dropped significantly in recent years and the number currently stood at 815 cases.
Questions by Experts
Regarding healthcare, was there a second phase for the National Health Programme, an Expert asked. Adolescents did not have access to sexual and reproductive health information, which was a source of concern. The confidentiality of health services providing detection and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases was also a concern to the Committee.
How had the global financial crisis affected the Government’s efforts to provide financial support and general assistance to families with children, an Expert asked.
The Committee commended Lithuania on its State educational policy but expressed concern about school drop-out rates, particularly in the 16 to 18 years age group. Could the delegation provide more information on that?
Regarding inclusive education, not all municipalities provided free books to children and many children had to pay, an Expert asked, wondering how inclusive education was for children from vulnerable groups such as the Roma, or children living in poverty? Furthermore was there an adequate amount of professional teachers in schools for the number of children attending?
Concerning military conscription, an Expert noted that the mandatory subscription age in the country was 19 years old but children could be conscripted from 18 years old on a voluntary basis. He asked about the ‘camps project’ for young schoolchildren who had reached the age of 16 years old - what sort of training did those children receive at the camps, and did it involve using guns? The Committee had received information that children between 12 to 18 years old could receive military training through the Riflemen Union and could participate in military activities.
At its last review of the report of Lithuania the Committee had expressed concern about the lack of a proper juvenile justice system, the lack of alternatives for children in conflict with the law, and Lithuania’s reluctance to adopt other systems to resolve such issues. Were there alternative measures to those provided for in the criminal code, such as alternative measures which did not entail deprivation of liberty and were not judicial measures?
The Committee was aware that significant training took place in the Prosecutor’s Office, and it was positive that there were specialized prosecutors for children. Was similar training offered to judges and lawyers acting as ex officio lawyers in cases where there was a lack of resources?
Response by Delegation
Concerning religious education, the delegation said that it was not compulsory and the decision whether or not to study the subject would be made by the parents or by the children themselves after the age of 14 years old. In cases where a school could not offer traditional religion lessons, there was a possibility to study religious education in other institutions on a Sunday. Religious education was offered for a two-year period for one hour per week. Children who did not opt for religious education could study ethics instead.
Regarding the definition of a child in Lithuanian legislation, there were several terms referring to that in domestic law. For serious crimes, persons over 14 or 16 years old may be taken to court, which was not the case for children under 14 years old. Children between 16 and 18 years old could be declared “emancipated” by the court if they could prove that they could take care of themselves financially and morally, but that was very rare.
Responding to the question about the age of sexual consent, the delegation said that in 2010 it was raised to 16 from 14 years old. The age of consent was unlikely to be raised again in the very near future. The age of criminal responsibility for rape was 14 years old.
Several programmes regarding non-discrimination had been adopted in recent years. Their main objectives were the promotion of non-discriminatory behaviour in society and the assurance of equal opportunities. Promoting tolerance in society and raising awareness about the Roma people were among the Government’s priorities.
Children with disabilities attended mainstream schools and were not separated from other children in any way. Medical care was covered for all children irrespective of disability, and financial aid was given to families with many children. Only 1.2 per cent of children with disabilities attended separate educational institutions. Specialists working in mainstream schools provided help to children with disabilities, who also received additional funding from the State. Social workers, psychologists and other specialized staff were employed in schools to provide support to children with disabilities.
In Lithuania there were special treatment places available to children with disabilities, at which a child could receive 36 days of specialized help or treatment for his or her disability, free of charge. Those were not special schools which separated the child from his or her family. Parents could stay at the places as well, to assist and supervise the treatment. Expenses for one of the parents were covered by the State.
About four per cent of Lithuanian children did not attend school. A database of children who did not attend school had been created, and the terms “non-attending” and “non-learning” children were used. The first referred to children who missed more than 50 per cent of lessons during the academic year, while the latter was used for children who did not attend school at all.
A new programme called “Trust yourself” was currently being implemented for the next two years and targeted children above the age of 16 years old who were “non-learning” and were not working either. The aim was to increase the motivation of those children in order to help them get back in education. Children over 16 years old had the option of receiving vocational training. For children under the age of 16 years old priority was given to secondary education.
Anti-discrimination policy was one of Lithuania’s priorities during its presidency of the European Union. A working group with participation from members of non-governmental organizations had prepared a report on children with disabilities, and 50 pilot projects were being selected. Those programmes would be implemented with funding from the State and from European Union structural funds.
In 2013 a programme for prospective adoptive parents and guardians was being created to ensure that they received adequate training on adopting a child and parenting.
During the economic crisis, Lithuania had maintained the benefit paid to families raising children. The eligibility criteria for the benefit had remained unchanged, as had the amount of the benefit paid. Financial maintenance and other support was constantly provided to families in need.
Lithuania took the issue of child poverty seriously. The Ministry of Social Security and Labour had established a Working Group to take a series of measures which would reduce child poverty.
Answering the question about the provision and use of ‘baby boxes’ by single mothers, the delegation said that there were no law to regulate the use of baby boxes in Lithuania. The baby boxes were established by the initiative of hospitals. There were currently eight such ‘baby boxes’ in the country, five of which were in hospitals. During the period 2009-2013, 27 newborns had been left in baby boxes. Five of them were returned to their biological mothers and the rest were placed in foster care and subsequently adopted. The delegation said that the baby box system was one of several ways to avoid abortion and protect the health of the pregnant mother. It was also a way of ensuring that babies were not abandoned in unsafe places. Psychological support and medical assistance were available to pregnant women who turned up in hospital and were about to give birth.
Concerning the information that the Committee had received about women giving birth at home because there were no specialized hospitals in Lithuania, the delegation said that there were six specialized hospitals in the country and several clinics with excellent medical staff.
Suicide was one of the most difficult types of emergency occurring in schools, so every effort was being made to implement an effective crisis management model for schools. Psychologists from special service units and other specialists were available to provide assistance in case a crisis arose. In 134 cases schools had applied for special help last year, and eight of those cases were about a student intending to commit suicide.
Concerning the Lithuanian Riflemen Union, the delegation said that adult members of the union received a different type of training from children members. While arms training was offered to adult members, no child had access to such training, either in this or any other organization in Lithuania.
A national programme had been established to integrate best practices from other European countries into the work of Lithuanian police. The programme had been very successful, and police officers had now incorporated those best practices into their work. Lithuania was currently looking to extend that successful programme to other areas of law enforcement.
While there were no specialized courts for juvenile justice in Lithuania, the judicial system was currently being reformed to ensure that judges would receive special training, including on how to handle cases involving children. Prison sentences were passed very rarely when children were in conflict with the law. Electronic bracelets were used to reduce the number of persons held in prison for minor offences.
Concerning alternative forms of punishment, those were used for offences involving possession of very small amounts of illegal drugs without a doctor’s prescription, which were not regarded as criminal violations.
In Lithuania minors who were stateless were considered citizens of Lithuania if their parents lived within the boundaries of the country. Children could also claim the Lithuanian citizenship if one of their parents was a stateless person and the other parent was of unknown birth. Earlier this year Lithuania signed the Convention on Statelessness.
Children in Lithuania fully enjoyed their right to freedom of association. The minimal age limit for membership in associations was determined by each association separately, a delegate said.
Concerning corporal punishment, a delegate said that awareness-raising campaigns were undertaken with the help of the civil society to inform the general population that corporal punishment was not the right way to discipline children. It was hoped that a law prohibiting the use of corporal punishment in all settings would be passed by the Parliament soon.
OLGA A. KHAZOVA, Country Rapporteur for Lithuania, in concluding remarks, thanked the delegation for a constructive dialogue and said that the Committee fully understood that Lithuania had undergone a difficult transition since 1990. Carrying out all the necessary changes to strengthen the protection of the rights of the child had been hindered somewhat by the recent financial crisis. All States should be especially attentive to children and their rights during crisis periods. Lithuania had been making efforts to implement the Convention and there were several positive achievements to report, but a lot of work remained to be done. The Committee had several concerns, which it would express in its recommendations in the hope that they would help Lithuania move forward.
AUDRIUS BITINAS, Vice-Minister of Social Security and Labour of the Republic of Lithuania, said that Lithuania remained committed to upholding its human rights obligations and thanked the Experts for the interactive dialogue. Lithuania believed that measures at the domestic level and participation in international human rights protection treaties was the best way of strengthening the promotion and protection of human rights.
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