COMMITTEE ON THE RIGHTS OF THE CHILD REVIEWS REPORT OF SLOVENIA
6 June 2013
The Committee on the Rights of the Child today considered the combined third and fourth periodic report of Slovenia on its implementation of the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Introducing the report, Ana Vodicar, Acting Director-General for Family Affairs, Ministry of Labour, Family, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities of Slovenia, said that the protection system for children had been strengthened through the adoption of the Family Violence Prevention Act and its national action plans, and all children, including children of uninsured parents, were guaranteed access to free health care. The Criminal Code had been amended to regulate a number of issues, including combating child trafficking, sexual exploitation and child pornography, and harmonized criminal offences with European Union directives in this field. Slovenia continued to build up its child-friendly justice system and had established special rooms to ensure that children could be heard in courtrooms without being present.
Committee Experts commended Slovenia for its high levels of social protection and asked whether the budget for children was earmarked and protected from cuts in times of crisis. Experts wished to hear more about coordination and cooperation between independent monitoring mechanisms regarding data collection and how this data was used in policy development and budget allocations. The Committee asked a number of questions concerning the principle of best interest of the child and its implementation in practice. The Committee also inquired about provisions to expedite procedures involving children; the extraterritorial jurisdiction and extradition of citizens of Slovenia who committed crimes abroad; the situation of asylum seeking children; and the situation of Roma children.
Responding to the comments and questions, Slovenia’s delegation said that the draft Family Code, rejected in a public referendum, had for the first time comprehensively looked at the principle of the best interest of the child and stated that all persons involved in child processes had the responsibility to uphold this principle; Slovenia hoped that this draft would soon be adopted. The Child Observatory comprehensively monitored the situation of children and collected data, using 700 indicators divided in seven key areas and six internationally recognized vulnerable groups. There were 1,047 children in foster care in Slovenia and the procedures had been strengthened to ensure that their voice was heard.
Hiranthi Wijemanne, Committee Rapporteur for the report of Slovenia, said that a wide range of important issues concerning children’s rights had been discussed and the Committee had a better understanding of what Slovenia was doing and what else needed to be done to further the rights of children.
In her closing remarks, Ms. Vodicar said that Slovenia would study the Committee’s recommendations with enthusiasm and would do its best to see that they were implemented in practice.
The delegation of Slovenia consisted of representatives of the Ministry of Labour, Family, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities; Ministry of Education, Science and Sport; Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Ministry of Justice; Ministry of the Interior and Public Administration; and the Ministry of Health.
The Committee will next meet in public at 10 a.m. on Friday, 7 June, to consider the combined second, third and fourth periodic report of Guinea Bissau (CRC/C/GNB/2-4).
The combined third and fourth periodic report of Slovenia under the Convention of the Rights of the Child can be read here (CRC/C/SVN/3-4).
Statement by the Delegation
ANA VODICAR, Acting Director-General for Family Affairs, Ministry of Labour, Family, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities of Slovenia, said that the adoption of the Family Violence Prevention Act and the Resolution on the 2009-2014 National Programme on the Prevention of Family Violence provided additional protection for children. In 2004, the Child Observatory had been established and the data collection system on children and youth had been improved. Family centres offered services free of charge, including activities on positive parenting as preventive measures against family violence. Through the European Social Fund, programmes were being implemented for Roma people in the areas of education and culture. The 2011 amendment to the Health Care and Health Insurance Act provided children with free access to health care, including for children of uninsured parents. On the basis of an analysis of the gaps in existing preventive health services for children and youth, a project aimed at upgrading these services would be launched from 2014 to 2017. Additional funds for school-meal subsidies had been allocated at the end of 2012 to address the aggravated social circumstances amidst the economic crisis. In April 2013, Parliament had adopted a national programme of social protection for the period 2013-2020, which established the main goals for the development of the social protection system and included social programmes for children and youth deprived of suitable family life, and for those with behavioural problems.
Several extensive amendments to the Criminal Code had been adopted on a number of issues, such as child trafficking, sexual exploitation and child pornography, and harmonized criminal offences with European Union directives in this field. Efforts in the field of child-friendly justice continued and special rooms had been established to ensure that children could be heard in courtrooms without being present. The Act on the ratification of the Council of Europe’s Convention on the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse had been prepared and would go through the legislative procedure. Following a decision of the European Court of Human Rights, Slovenia was in the process of establishing a compensation scheme for victims of human rights violations. Children and unaccompanied minors enjoyed protection under the International Protection Act and were provided with particular care, attention and treatment. Slovenia’s foreign policy would continue to address different issues related to the protection, well-being and rights of children and Slovenia would join the initiative of the Council of Europe preparing a European Strategy for the Rights of the Child 2016-2019 and would identify key priorities in the area of children rights.
Examination of the Report under the Convention on the Rights of the Child
Questions by Committee Experts
HIRANTHI WIJEMANNE, Committee Expert and Country Rapporteur for the report of Slovenia, hoped that children’s rights would be more extensively included in the new draft Family Code. What measures were in place to ensure the coordination of activities on children’s rights and to strengthen the existing mechanisms? What plans were in place to enhance the independent child’s rights monitoring mechanism in the office of the Human Rights Ombudsman of Slovenia? Concerning the situation of children in temporary refugee situations, about 150 of them, the Country Rapporteur noted that some remained in detention for quite some time and asked about plans to ensure the protection of their rights.
YASMEEN MUHAMAD SHARIFF, Committee Expert and Country Co-Rapporteur for the report of Slovenia, addressed the allocation of resources for the implementation of the Convention. Was the budget for children earmarked and was it protected from cuts in times of crisis? The Expert inquired whether the Child Observatory was able to collect data on all children, including vulnerable and marginalized children, refugee and asylum seeking children, and Roma and minority children. The Co-Rapporteur also asked the delegation about early, informal and forced marriages in Slovenia, in particular, regarding the situation of young Roma girls; about services provided by family centres; and the training their staff received in social work.
Committee Experts commended Slovenia for its high level of social protection and asked about cooperation between independent monitoring mechanisms in the process of data collection and the filing of complaints. Was data collected for all children and was it disaggregated not only by age and gender, but also other criteria such as poverty? How was this data used in policy development and budget allocations?
Experts inquired about the children’s participation and asked about actions taken since 2007 related to the Children’s Parliament and their impact; and whether boys and girls participated on an equal basis. Slovenia had introduced legislation with regards to the principle of the best interest of the child, but the Committee had concerns about its implementation. What was the legal basis for complaints by children or their representatives if the principle of best interest was not respected, particularly in cases involving asylum seeking children. What training was provided to judges and other officers of the court in the implementation of this principle?
The delegation was asked to comment on the situation of the so called erased population, or citizens of other former Yugoslav republics residing in the territory of Slovenia at the time of independence, who had been erased from the civil registry after failing to claim Slovenian citizenship within the prescribed timeframe.
The Committee noted that Slovenia had ratified the main human rights instruments and asked about the intentions to ratify the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families and the Convention on Reduction of Statelessness. The prohibition of corporal punishment was included in the draft Family Code which had been rejected by the public in a referendum; were there other provisions in the law prohibiting this practice? Were there people in the country, particularly children, who were de facto stateless? Concerning indications of increasing parental negligence and child abuse; did this reflect a real growth in the number of incidents or the strengthened capacity of institutions to detect and report these cases?
How did Slovenia cater for groups such as children with disabilities or Roma children and ensure that their voices were heard in society? Some reports indicated that expert opinions were given more importance in family cases than the opinion of children; how were children heard in court and were their opinions taken into account and given sufficient weight?
Response by the Delegation
The draft Family Code had been prepared over several years and, after nearly one year in Parliament, the draft had been rejected in a referendum. This Code had comprehensively looked at the principle of the best interest of the child for the first time and stated that all persons involved in child processes had the responsibility to uphold this principle. The part of the Family Code concerning same sex marriages had been contested, which was not the case for the portions of it dealing with child protection.
The Child Observatory comprehensively monitored the situation of children and collected data to ensure that it was the situation of the child, rather than that of the family, that was being monitored. Data was collected using 700 indicators divided in seven key areas and recognised six vulnerable groups in accordance with international documents: children with disabilities, children deprived of suitable family life, Roma children, children experiencing violence, and unaccompanied children. This institution was separate from the Ombudsman for Human Rights, whose Deputy was in charge with receiving children’s complaints.
The Family Cade included a comprehensive treatment of same sex marriages and same sex non-registered partnerships, giving them equal rights and treatment as heterosexual marriages or cohabitation. In 2012, an administrative decision allowed for the adoption of children by same sex partners. If children from same sex marriages experienced humiliation, aggression or discrimination, schools often dealt with the issue. There were school teams supported by professionals from the Ministry of Education. Children victims of aggression or bullying could report the situation to their schools or seek outside assistance. Schools counted with experts who could be contacted confidentially using social media or anonymous help lines. Outside of schools, mediation and the assistance of experts were also available.
There were 1,047 children in foster care in Slovenia today and the procedures had been strengthened to ensure that their voice was heard. Slovenia applied a project group approach to foster care. Upon children’s placement in foster care, project groups comprising foster and biological parents, social workers and other experts, were created; and this was the forum in which the child could freely voice his or her opinion.
The new interdepartmental Commission on Human Rights, established in 2013, managed Slovenia’s reporting under various human rights treaties and the Universal Periodic Review process.
An express prohibition of corporal punishment of children was included in the draft Family Code. Parents and responsible offices were obliged to ensure the best interest of the child and not to expose them to any form of corporal punishment. Specialized programmes were being developed to promote positive parenting. From 2008-2011, a special project had addressed violence in schools and provided training for teachers, expert workers and parents on the prevention of violence and alternative forms of discipline.
Legal age of marriage was 18 years for boys and girls; early marriage was possible, only with the approval of a social worker, from the age of 15 and there were three such cases last year. Early marriages among Roma people were often informal and centres for social work were neither informed nor involved. The approval of early marriage was done on a case by case basis and decisions were made taking into account the best interest of the child.
The Children Parliament had been implemented since 1990 and represented an important way for children to express themselves. Sessions were open to all pupils who elected their representatives for higher levels and its key activity was a session to which representatives of all levels of Government were invited. A number of initiatives were the outcome of Children’s Parliament, for example, the school for parents, day centres for children and youth, and leaflets for children victims of violence. The delegation noted that the participation of girls was higher than that of boys.
During the past five years, Slovenia had been hit by a crisis and unemployment was at its highest, which caused increasing levels of poverty, including child poverty. The 2012 austerity measures were selective, targeting the middle class and protecting the most vulnerable families and groups. Child benefits were structured along eight salary categories and had been temporarily abolished only for the two highest salary levels. An assessment of the impact of austerity measures showed the worsening situation for several categories, including single parent families. As a result, Slovenia would be increasing its support for single parents and large families, underage individuals and would be introducing state scholarships for students in secondary and primary education.
The Government supported a whole network of day care centres throughout the country where children received learning support, meals and interesting leisure activities after school. A helpline operated 24/7 and provided assistance for children in distress.
A 2010 legislative amendment addressed the issue of the so called erased population, or the population erased from the civil registry of Slovenia, and awarded Slovenian citizenship to erased children. This administrative act did not offer any compensation.
The new Police Act defined the way of working with victims of violence, minorities, vulnerable groups and young people. Children under the age of 14 could not be processed for criminal offences and they were not referred to the judicial system but to social workers.
Questions by Experts
HIRANTHI WIJEMANNE, Committee Expert and Country Rapporteur for the report of Slovenia, asked about the efforts to provide special and inclusive education to children with disabilities, about screening for disabilities and the support provided to the families. There were some concerns about the access to health services for Roma persons, among whom maternal mortality levels were rather high. There was evidence of increased alcohol, tobacco and illicit drugs use among adolescents; what was being done for the prevention of substance abuse? Was child and youth suicide considered an issue of concern and what measures were in place to support the youth?
YASMEEN MUHAMAD SHARIFF, Committee Expert and Country Co-Rapporteur for the report of Slovenia, noted that failure to pay child maintenance was an offence and that there were about five million Euro in unrecovered maintenance fees, and asked about the revision of family laws in this area. What were the provisions in the new draft Family Code regarding the enforcement of maintenance and custody? The Co-Rapporteur noted that between 1,500 and 2,500 women were trafficked through Slovenia every year and asked about prosecution rates for perpetrators, training for judges in matters of trafficking in persons, and support provided to victims.
Was there a comprehensive and integrated policy on early childhood development that looked at children holistically and took into account all their needs? How did minority children, including Roma children, participate in the current kindergarten programmes and were these programmes being used to promote their integration in the community?
Committee Experts commended Slovenia for measures taken in the area of juvenile justice and asked about alternative ways to process children in conflict with the law, including those who had reached the age of criminal responsibility and about correctional facilities for children under the age of 16. Another Expert inquired whether investigation procedures were child friendly and involved social workers.
The Committee also inquired about provisions to expedite procedures involving children; measures to promote domestic adoption; legislation covering all forms of sale of children including through adoption; and the extraterritorial jurisdiction and extradition of citizens of Slovenia who committed crimes abroad. The Experts asked the delegation about the role of parents in the provision of nutritional education for their children; about the right of the child to maintain contact with both parents, particularly fathers, in case of divorce; the situation of asylum seeking children; the education of Roma children; and the determination of children asylum seekers who took part in the conflict.
Response by the Delegation
Even though Slovenia had not ratified the Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness, the Citizenship Act contained all the provisions to prevent statelessness and it was not possible for a child in Slovenia to be stateless. Regarding payment for medical services, aliens could seek for payment or reimbursement through the Ministry and this right was granted to all aliens regardless of their nationality. Underage asylum seekers were on completely equal footing with Slovenia children in terms of access to health and education. There were several general programmes for migrants. Unaccompanied minors under international protection were offered additional programmes to support learning in their language and a better social inclusion.
The principle of the best interests of the child was integrated in all legislative acts; legal decisions that did not take this principle into account could be overruled. Obesity, which indeed was a problem in Slovenia, was a complex issue and the Government was tackling it through nutrition programmes, programmes favouring physical activity and other measures, particularly in schools. Suicides among children and youth had been in focus and programmes were being implemented to bring this topic closer to expert workers, journalists, parents and teachers. There had been no suicides during the period 2010-2012 among children aged ten to fourteen years of age.
There were no separate health statistics for Roma persons and a specific analysis had been conducted regarding health in this community; its finding were used to create adequate policies, mainly directed at tackling underlying social problems and community-based educational visits by health staff.
Sexual abuse perpetrated against children under the age of 15 was sanctioned with three to five years in prison; longer sentences were imposed if the child belonged to a vulnerable group or if the perpetrator was a teacher. Extraterritorial jurisdiction applied to Slovenian citizens who committed crimes abroad, regardless of the nationality of victim. There were no specific legal provisions addressing forced labour and illegal adoption, but those were criminal offences sanctioned with sentences ranging from one to ten years in prison. Child trafficking related sentences ranged from three to five years in prison and the withdrawal of parental rights.
In relation to the failure to pay child support, or non-payment of maintenance, it was now easier to prove that payments had or had not been made and this facilitated the recovery and enforcement of payments. In the majority of cases, perpetrators were not imprisoned and often sanctions included an order for the perpetrators to fulfil their obligations. The so called Maintenance Fund had been in place for several years. If a child did not receive maintenance payments for three months and recovery efforts were not successful, the Maintenance Fund could take on the payment obligation, assume the role of the debtor, and start the recovery of the debt with its own resources.
A special programme had been put in place to eliminate the judicial backlog. Adolescents’ files in criminal and civil proceedings and non-litigation were clearly marked. A number of measures were also in place to speed up criminal and civil proceedings involving children; and temporary decisions could be issued at the request of parties, on the basis of the principle of the best interest of the child. In addition, mediation was also possible in civil proceedings, which had more than 50 per cent success rate.
Correctional facilities for juveniles hosted young people between the age of 14 and 23, depending on whether they still attended school. Minors who had committed criminal offences involving violence were placed in this facility which was closed in nature. Personal criminal responsibility could not be assumed by children under the age of 14; instead, they were seen as participating in criminal or illegal acts. Treatment for these children was provided in cooperation with centres for social work and psycho-pedagogues.
All kindergartens followed a special curriculum and special subjects were provided to particular groups to strengthen their inclusion, such as for bilingual children, Roma children, and children with special needs. Access to education for children with disabilities was guaranteed by the law and inclusionary practices had been in place since 2003. Special centres had been developed for children with profound disabilities and offered both health and educational services. Children with disabilities had individualized development plans which served as the basis for learning plans. Slovenia categorically rejected the idea that children with disabilities should be separated from regular schools and their numbers in inclusive education had gradually increased, from 7,000 in 2007 to 13,000 in 2012. Children with disabilities requiring greater assistance and care attended special centres; but mental disability was never a criterion to send children to special centres.
The Romani culture and language were part of the educational system and there were no segregated classes for Roma children. Since 2007, annual funding had been allocated for the improvement of the living conditions of Roma settlements, including water supply, sewage system, and power supply.
The overall increase in the number of adoptions was partly due to the increase in the number of adoptions from abroad, as there were not many children available for adoption domestically. A certain number of children of young age were provided care through adoption rather than through foster care, and this would require a long-term forecast regarding the possible return of children into their family. Concerning the current legislation, there were two kinds of contacts between children and their parents in case of divorce; in recent years, approximately 12 per cent of children were placed under the joint custody of both parents, 30 per were placed under their fathers’ custody and in the rest of the cases mothers obtained custody. Contacts between children and their parents under supervision took place in specially designated rooms in social centres. If a court deemed that contact was detrimental to the child, contact could be abolished; and the removal of a child from the family home without the consent of a parent was possible.
Procedures for the recognition of international protection for asylum seekers were aligned with the European Union directives; if this was not possible, then the possibility of subsidiary protection was examined. Refugee status allowed persons to obtain permanent resident status, while individuals under subsidiary protection received temporary stay permits. Subsidiary protection was extended in the case of minors who were unable to return to their country of origin. Unaccompanied minors were never returned to areas affected by armed conflict.
HIRANTHI WIJEMANNE, Committee Expert and Country Rapporteur for the report of Slovenia, said that a wide range of important issues concerning children’s rights had been discussed and the Committee had a better understanding of what Slovenia was doing and what else needed to be done to further the rights of children in Slovenia.
YASMEEN MUHAMAD SHARIFF, Committee Expert and Country Co-Rapporteur for the report of Slovenia, thanked the delegation for a frank and open discussion.
ANA VODICAR, Acting Director-General for Family Affairs, Ministry of Labour, Family, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities of Slovenia, said that Slovenia would study the Committee’s recommendations with enthusiasm and would do its best to see that they were implemented.
KIRSTEN SANDBERG, Committee Chairperson, thanked the delegation for the enthusiasm with which they had answered the questions.
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