The Czech Republic is one of the last remaining EU states which does not have a children’s Ombudsman, according to a government report on the state of human rights in the Czech Republic. The report says that while cases relating to minors can be dealt with by the Ombudsman’s Office, the institution lacks the staff and money needed to properly address problem areas deserving of attention.
Most EU states established a children’s Ombudsman in connection with the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The UN General Assembly adopted the convention and opened it for signature at the end of 1989 and although the Czech Republic is among the close to 200 signatories the agenda relating to children’s rights remains divided among different institutions. The UN Committee for Children’s Rights has repeatedly criticized the fact that the Czech Republic lacks a single institution which would enable a systematic approach to problem areas.
Among those are an equal right to education, which is often violated in the case of Romany children sent to special schools and the right to attend pre-school facilities which the Czech Republic is unable to secure due to a severe shortage of these institutions. Earlier this year the Minister for Human Rights and Minorities Jiří Dienstbier toyed with the idea of securing the right to pre-school facilities by law but no specific action has so far been taken in this respect.
Another area which the government sees as problematic and in need of change is the approach of the Czech judiciary to children’s rights. Judges do not always hear a child’s view in messy divorce cases and award custody on the grounds of parental testimonies. According to the report many judges do not have experience in questioning a child and simply choose to avoid what may be a difficult ordeal. The judiciary is also highly fragmented when it comes to decisions in custody battles, relating to a child’s right to spend time with both parents, a right that is often violated, the government report says. The report points to the growing number of messy divorces and the need to consider the child’s needs first and foremost.
Another area in need of attention is the situation in children’s homes where many children are kept excessively long, under legislation that predominantly protects the rights of their biological parents. An occasional postcard –seen as a mark of interest -can trap a child in such an institution for years, even if there is a long line of parents waiting for adoption.
And finally there is the growing need to protect children from cybercrime and sexual exploitation. Last year the police registered 886 cases of child abuse, of those 732 were sexual abuse. The report says that despite calls for change the sentences for producing and distributing child pornography remain light. Although the impulse for change could come from existing bodies and institutions, the government report concludes that a systematic approach by a single authority protecting children’s rights would help achieve results much faster.