COMMITTEE ON THE RIGHTS OF THE CHILD EXAMINES THE REPORT OF BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA
19 September 2012
The Committee on the Rights of the Child today considered the combined second to fourth periodic reports of Bosnia and Herzegovina on how that country is implementing the provisions of the Convention on Rights of the Child.
Introducing the report Saliha Duderija, Assistant Minister of Human Rights and Refugees and Head of the Delegation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, said overall there had been progress in protecting the rights of children in Bosnia and Herzegovina but the country still faced economic challenges, and substantial funds needed to be invested in child protection in order to see an improvement. New legislation in the field of children’s rights included laws on social welfare, family laws and juvenile justice. Important activities had been carried out to improve the rights of Roma children and children with disabilities, as well as their access to education and healthcare. Children’s healthy physical and psychological development, inclusion in society and participation in decision-making were the most important factors in promoting the best interest of the child.
During the discussion Committee Experts expressed concerns about juvenile justice, the lack of statistical data and discrimination against Roma. They raised questions about birth registration, vaccination campaigns, corporal punishments and adoption. Experts praised the establishment of an Ombudsman but raised concerns about its accessibility for child victims of human rights violations. Questions were also asked about the State’s policies regarding children’s access to education and healthcare, and about the support for children with disabilities and children of internally displaced persons.
In preliminary concluding observations Yanghee Lee, Committee Member acting as Co-Country Rapporteur for the Report, said that much progress had been achieved but more remained to be done, particularly in the fields of adoption, inclusion of Roma children, for the children of internally displaced persons and for children with disabilities. A more proactive approach from the State party was needed, such as close monitoring and greater efforts in implementing the new laws and action plans.
Saliha Duderija, speaking in concluding remarks, said that Bosnia and Herzegovina would make efforts to implement the Committee’s recommendations, and was attached to the role of the Committee and to its importance in providing guidance for the improvement of the situation of the children in the country.
The delegation of Bosnia and Herzegovina consisted of representatives of the Ministry of Human Rights and Refugees of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Ministry for Health and Social Welfare of the Republic of Srpska, the Ministry of Health of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Permanent Mission of Bosnia and Herzegovina to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
The Committee will issue its concluding observations and recommendations on the report of Bosnia and Herzegovina towards the end of its session, which concludes on 5 October.
The next public meeting of the Committee will be at 10 a.m. on Thursday, 20 September, when it will consider the combined second and third periodic report of Namibia (CRC/C/NAM/2-3).
Report of Bosnia and Herzegovina
The combined second to fourth periodic reports of Bosnia and Herzegovina can be read via the following link: CRC/C/BIH/2-4.
Presentation of the Report
SALIHA DUDERIJA, Assistant Minister of Human Rights and Refugees and Head of the Delegation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, said that the Committee’s concluding recommendations following the presentation of the initial report in 2005 served as a basis for the report presented today. Consultations, meetings and public debates had been organized in preparation of the report, which had been written by the Ministry of Human Rights and Refugees in collaboration with other relevant State-level and entity level authorities, while civil society and non-governmental organizations were given the opportunity to contribute. The Ministry of Human Rights was responsible for enhancing and promoting the rights of children in Bosnia and Herzegovina. New legislation in the field of children’s rights included laws on social welfare, family laws and juvenile justice.
The Action Plan for the Children of Bosnia and Herzegovina 2010 to 2014 identified activities to create favourable living conditions for children and their families. Children’s healthy physical and psychological development, inclusion in society and participation in decision-making were the most important factors in promoting the best interest of the child. The Action Plan included support for alternative forms of care for children not under parental care. The Ministry of Human Rights and Refugees identified children’s most important needs in the fields of social and health protection, education, special forms of protection and non-discrimination. For the latter, stronger public sensitization was needed to eliminate discrimination and to prohibit corporal punishment. There had been a National Strategy to Combat Violence Against Children 2007 – 2010, and the Ministry of Human Rights and Refugees was currently drafting new strategy to cover the period until 2015. The Strategy had been presented to all stakeholders working with children at both national and local levels. The new strategy would identify specific problems and recent trends in violence against children and deficiencies of the current legislation, and would propose recommendations for its improvement.
Good legislation had been passed to combat juvenile delinquency, and options for alternative punishment for juveniles had improved, although the Framework for the Strategy against Juvenile Offending had not yet been implemented. A Strategy for the Development of Vocational Education and Training had been adopted, as had a Revised Action Plan on Roma Educational Needs. In 2011 110 individual complaints had been received by the Ombudsman, mostly related to violations of the human rights to education, healthcare, protection from violence, protection from abuse and neglect and the right to maintain a personal relationship with a parent with whom the child did not live. Important activities had been carried out to improve the rights of Roma children and children with disabilities, as well as their access to education and healthcare. The State continued to monitor violence against all children. Overall there had been progress in protecting the rights of children in Bosnia and Herzegovina but the country still faced economic challenges, and substantial funds needed to be invested in child protection in order to see an improvement.
Questions from the Experts
GEHAD MADI, Committee Member acting as Country Rapporteur for the Report of Bosnia and Herzegovina, thanked the Head of Delegation for her presentation, and welcomed the decision of Bosnia and Herzegovina to withdraw its reservations on Article 9-1 of the Convention. The fragmentation of legislation affecting children’s rights was a major source of concern, and Bosnia and Herzegovina needed to make significant efforts to address the issue. The fragmentation led to discriminatory treatment of children living in remote and rural areas. The Committee was confused as to whether the Council of Children within the Ministry of Human Rights and Refugees would be re-established or not, and if so, what its mandate would be.
The Rapporteur welcomed the adoption of the Action Plan for the Children of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and hoped that the State party would share its conclusions on its implementation to the Committee. The appointment of an Ombudsman, in conformity with previous recommendations of the Committee, was also welcomed. However, the Rapporteur was concerned that some of the other recommendations made by the Committee had not been implemented. The Committee was further concerned about a number of issues relating to the implementation of the Convention, including on juvenile justice. Was any State body in charge of monitoring the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child? What measures had been taken to harmonize the protection of children’s rights across the territory and to avoid discrimination? The lack of statistical data was another concern. Efforts had been made to improve the situation, yet the data collected in collaboration with the United Nations country team suffered from a lack of cooperation by institutions that worked with children.
Roma people still suffered major discrimination, as well as a lack of access to education and other services. The Committee made recommendations on that issue seven years ago but they didn’t seem to have been implemented. What action had been taken to tackle gender discrimination in schools and the lack of access to education for girls belonging to ethnic minorities or girls living in remote areas? An Expert asked about the participation of Roma into the public life and activities that had been done in relation with the Roma Decade in Europe. The delegation was asked to provide details on the guidelines on non-discrimination adopted by the Government. An Expert asked the delegation how it planned to ensure that the Roma minority would have access to birth registration.
A universal birth registration system had not yet been established, although a law on that issue had been adopted, an Expert noted. The delegation was asked to provide more details on that law as it was not referred to in the country report. How did the authorities tackle the issue of corporal punishment?
The Committee had received reports indicating little progress on the dissemination of the Convention, and limited awareness of the Convention among professionals working on child-related issues. Some training programmes had been conducted by civil society organizations but not by the Government. Was the Convention available to children, and was it taught in schools? Was it directly applicable in the national legal system, and did judges have knowledge of, or refer to, the Convention? What measures were being taken to disseminate the Convention in rural areas and to raise awareness on the Convention among children and professionals? Had it been translated?
Did Bosnia and Herzegovina plan to ratify the third Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Establishment of a Communication Procedure? Regarding the Ombudsman office, an Expert pointed out that the United Nations Committee against Torture had expressed concerns at the lack of independence of that body. How accessible was the Ombudsman to children, particularly those living in rural areas? Did the State provide financial support to the activities of civil society organizations working in the field of children’s right, and how did the Government collaborate with non-governmental organizations providing social services to children? Had resources been allocated to support the work of other organizations working with children?
The views of children seemed to be taken into consideration in schools, but there was no legislation relating to the family circle at the national level. Experts asked whether the views of the child were taken into consideration prior to the adoption of legislation affecting them. An Expert noted that the right to privacy was protected in the Constitution, but asked whether there was some legislation preventing the violation of the rights of children to privacy, such as a code of conduct for media workers.
Response by the Delegation
It was the responsibility of States agencies to implement children’s rights policies. The Ministry of Human Rights and Refugees was responsible for the coordination of all State policies related to children. Some institutions dealing with children’s issues had very clear obligations in terms of collaboration. To ensure horizontal cooperation a council would be established that would be attached to the Ministry of Human Rights and Refugees. That council would be responsible for searching for ways to improve the implementation of international standards.
The Ministry of Social Welfare was responsible for the allocation of budgets for the implementation of measures related to access to social services. The funding system for social welfare was uniform on all the territory. It was funded through employment contributions rather than through taxes: every employed citizen gave a part of his or her salary to finance social welfare services.
Children could use non-governmental organizations to send claims to the Ombudsman’s office. The Ombudsman could then issue recommendations. Victims could also start a legal procedure before courts to claim reparation for human rights violations. The Ministry of Human Rights could play an advisory role for victims engaged in a complaint procedure. Children and civil society organizations in the country were all aware that they had the possibility to engage in those procedures.
A delegate said, in relation to the dissemination of the Convention, that judges in Bosnia and Herzegovina were all aware of the goals and rights protected by the Convention. The Convention was accessible to all citizens, especially children. There were no major problems regarding the dissemination of the Convention and no children had ever complained about that issue. The delegation did not contain representatives of the Ministry for Education so it could not really answer whether the Convention was taught in schools.
Data had been collected on violence against children, as well as on discrimination and access to services. Bosnia and Herzegovina was using best practices from neighbouring countries on the collection of data. The Ministry of Human Rights and Refugees had developed a mechanism for data collection in different areas, in order to have an insight vision of the problems faced by minority groups. Preparations for a national census were being carried out so that the census would take place next year.
Roma needs were being addressed on the basis of relevant indicators, in conformity with the requirements of the Roma Decade. The Government collected data on the situation of Roma, and would consequently modify the Action Plan. There were more than 70 Roma civil society organizations, which were all represented in a body established by the State in order to collect information and data on the needs of the Roma community and on discrimination against its members.
A regulated communications agency was responsible for monitoring media activities and worked very actively on the issue of the right of privacy for children. Media organizations that violated the code of conduct of the press and illegally published representations and images of minors had been prosecuted. There were always individuals who abused their right to the freedom of expression, but that did not happen very often. There was a proper legal framework but it was not possible to fully eradicate abuses related to children.
Questions from the Experts
There were still major obstacles to adoption, an Expert said, suggesting that Bosnia and Herzegovina consider increasing the age limit for children eligible for adoption.
What authority took the final decision in term of domestic and international adoption? Regarding street children, child begging was not recognized by law as a form of trafficking. The Rapporteur asked how the Government planned to address that issue in law and in practice. The delegation was asked to clarify the extent of child labour in Bosnia and Herzegovina, as the report was unclear.
The children of internally displaced persons continued to live in very difficult conditions, especially in rural areas, and many suffered a lack of access to education. Many of those children who did receive an education were exposed to discrimination or violence at school on the ground of their ethnicity or nationality. The Delegation was asked how the Government planned to address the specific needs of internally displaced persons and their children.
Referring to the 2009 dispute between large steel manufacturer ArcelorMittal and Bosnia and Herzegovina on a pollution problem resulting from the activities of the company, which ended up in a large fine for the company. Had the Government consequently demanded that private transnational companies sign a European regulation on environmental pollution to reduce the negative impacts on health and on the environment caused by the activities of those companies? The Expert also pointed to a report denouncing significant emissions of greenhouse gases in parts of Bosnia and Herzegovina, something the general public did not seem to be aware of.
The Expert also raised the controversial DynCorp case, which was a United States-based private security company to which the United Nations outsourced peacekeeping and security work in the 1990s, and which faced allegations of trafficking of women and girls for sexual activities. She asked what regulations existed to ensure that private security companies respected the rights of women and girls today?
What prevention programmes did the Government put in place to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS, on family planning as well as on contraception, in order to prevent juvenile pregnancy? Experts again raised unanswered questions about birth registration, corporal punishment and freedom of expression. They also regretted that no representative of the Ministry of Education was part of the delegation, and said that there were many challenges that remained in relation to access to education and human rights education. Were human rights, and particularly children’s rights, taught at school?
An expert praised the adoption of a new law on juvenile justice, and asked how it had been implemented. Did the Government plan to create alternative sentences to detention for children? When children were imprisoned, were they separated from adults? How were children educated in prison, and were juvenile justice system officials trained on children’s rights? Was data collected on children in conflict with the law, and what plans were in place to tackle the stigmatization they sometimes faced?
Experts commended the State party for the development of a pre-school strategy, but said that it lacked implementation and needed to be brought up to date. It seemed also that many parents were not aware of pre-school programmes and a significantly high number of pre-school students had developmental delays. Was anything being done to improve that situation? A large number of children were not completing secondary school. Were there any alternative programmes for those children? What would be done to improve the quality of the education provided to students?
The report did not provide any statistics on child labour, an Expert noted. Was there any available data related to child employment in the country? Was there any specific disposition of the criminal law designed to punish more severely the persons involved in trafficking of children or child labour? In 2010, the Committee mentioned that some disposition in the legislation of Bosnia and Herzegovina were not in conformity with the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography. Were those problems addressed by the authorities?
What concrete measures were taken by Bosnia and Herzegovina to address the needs of children with disabilities. A very good law had been adopted on access to education for those children, but implementation was now needed. Were resources allocated to awareness-raising activities on the integration of children with disabilities? An Expert asked whether the State party had developed policies on improving the health of adolescents and young people, such as preventive campaigns and protection measures against the tobacco industry or the use of illegal drugs? Was the Government undertaking activities to address the large number of weapons illegally circulating in the country, and to deal with the issue of landmines remaining from the war?
Answers by the Delegation
Issues regarding social welfare and the role of family, including adoption, were dealt with by a social welfare committee which had key responsibilities in that area. International adoption was allowed in Bosnia and Herzegovina. There were two types of adoption: full adoption and partial adoption. Children who were ten years old and above were able to be adopted. The Government was aware of the dilemma on that issue. A representative of the Minister of Health and Social Welfare of the Republic of Srpska explained the particular rules guiding adoption in that territory. The procedure of domestic adoption was implemented by the centres for social work. State level authorities were involved in international adoption,. In the end, judges had the final word in validating adoptions. The issue of adoption was very sensitive, especially in the post-war period when many parents experienced difficulties in finding and being reunited with their children.
A new law had introduced a new system of juvenile justice based on international standards and good practice from other States. The new law focused on the establishment of stricter sanctions for juvenile offenders in order to make them understand that their behaviour was wrong and to allow them to later be reintegrated into society as a useful citizen. Juvenile citizens benefited from all the minimum rights set by the Convention and other international instruments. The law established individual treatments for each juvenile offender. It also contained a separate chapter on crimes against children, which gave child victim the right to be heard and based on the principle of the best interest of the child. The Government had recently made a list of companies offering alternative measures in order to develop alternatives to detention for juvenile offenders. Pre-trial detention could last for 40 days. Special training programmes were being drafted for the implementation of the new juvenile justice law when it would be adopted. Courts had separate departments for juveniles.
Regarding child labour, a delegate said that six per cent of children engaged in working activities, including at home. A new Labour Act would be adopted, and would introduce tough sanctions for perpetrators of child labour. A new law on health insurance was being drafter, and would take into consideration the issue of health insurance of children. The Government had adopted programmes to strengthen the coordination of centres for social work. The new law on social welfare, adopted in May 2012, contained many dispositions from the Convention on that issue.
In response to the question on the environmental impact of the activities of private companies, a delegate said that the Ministry of Environment was responsible for the drafting and implementation of environmental laws, in conformity with European standards, regulating the activities of companies. The institute for Public Health had also conducted a project to monitor the quality of water and sanitation.
Research had recently been carried out into the HIV/AIDS and the use of tobacco and drugs, and a report would soon be published on the findings – a copy of which would be sent to the Committee. Strategies aimed at preventing the use of drugs and alcohol at State and entity levels were implemented in collaboration with civil society organizations, and measures were in place for care and rehabilitation of people who suffered from drug addiction and alcoholism. Awareness raising programmes at schools were being organized, as well as training programmes in hospitals, or various public events. Laws had been adopted and activities were being carried out in the framework of the Reproductive Health Strategy.
The issue of immunization was a complex one for Bosnia and Herzegovina and there had been epidemics of childhood diseases. Procedures were very long, which combined with the lack of funds created problems. The programme of immunization had not been implemented because of various factors, including some unexpected events that jeopardized the whole programme. A delegate noted that vaccines suppliers were subjected to strict administrative rules and had to be approved by the World Health Organization.
On human rights education, a delegate said that training seminars on the right to education had been organized, following the last report to the Committee. Education professionals were trained by pedagogic institutes.
Guidelines to improve the situation of the Roma were being finalized, and would give instruction to all stakeholders on measures that they should take to improve access to education for Roma children. Under the Action Plan for Children, measures, including a “two schools under one roof” programme, were taken to ensure access to education for all minorities in accordance with human rights standards, and to propose education for all children in their native language. The precise number of Roma was not known, but studies showed that they numbered approximately 17,000. The Ministry of Human Rights and Refugees prepared a project for promoting the access to pre-school for Roma children that covered more than 200 children.
Challenged remained in eradicating the stigmatization of children with disabilities. Awareness-raising activities on that issue were taking place, but it took time to change people’s mentalities. The parents of children with disabilities still preferred to send their children to special schools rather than to mainstream ones. There was no data collected on the number of children with disabilities and on how many had access to education, but that situation would change soon. State capabilities to adapt mainstream education services in order to include children with disabilities were in some ways limited by a lack of funding, especially in remote and rural areas.
Corporal punishment was absolutely forbidden by law in institutions. In case of violations of those provisions, official agents were banned. Generally, children did not undergo corporal punishment in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Laws on protection from domestic violence contained provisions prohibiting corporal punishment. Perpetrators or victims could be removed or taken away from the family.
Turning to birth registration, actions by the Government had led to a considerable decrease in the number of children who were not registered. There was an initiative to pass a new law that would ensure clear procedures for birth registration, even, for example if parents failed to provide documents or to give a name to their child within the normal deadlines, which was sometimes the case with Roma families. Unregistered foreigners were also taken into account and could benefit protection from the State.
YANGHEE LEE, Committee Member acting as Co-Country Rapporteur for the Report of Bosnia and Herzegovina, said in initial concluding remarks that much progress had been achieved by the State Party for the protection of the rights of the child, particularly by the adoption of legislation to combat discrimination and through the withdrawal of the State party’s reservations to Article 9 of the Convention. However, much remained to be done, particularly in the fields of adoption, inclusion of Roma children, for the children of internally displaced persons and for children with disabilities. Ms. Lee regretted that most of those issues had already been raised by the Committee during its consideration of the initial report of Bosnia and Herzegovina. A more proactive approach from the State was needed, such as close monitoring of the situation and greater efforts in implementing the new laws and action plans that had been adopted.
SALIHA DUDERIJA, Assistant Minister of Human Rights and Refugees, said Bosnia and Herzegovina would make efforts to implement the recommendations made by the Committee and thanked the Members of the Committee for their questions and their patience. Bosnia and Herzegovina was attached to the role of the Committee and to its importance in providing guidance for the improvement of the situation of the children in the country.
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