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News and Events

24 April 2020

Skopje

OMBUDSMAN’ RECOMMENDATIONS EXERCISING CHILDREN'S RIGHTS IN CONDITIONS OF STATE OF EMERGENCY

With great attention the Ombudsman follows the measures of the Government regarding the pandemic of the virus COVID 19, and in that direction the exercise of the rights of the child in conditions of declared state of emergency in the country.

Consequently, due to the frequent calls and reactions of parents through social networks regarding the inability to have unhindered personal relations and direct contacts with children who do not live with, as well as monitoring the situation with the exercise of children's rights located in public institutions, Reception Centers, children in non-institutional forms of care, children with disabilities, children deprived of liberty, as well as other groups of children at risk as a vulnerable category, the Ombudsman has opened a case on its own initiative.

Namely, he gained knowledge that due to the curfew, i.e. the restricted movement of citizens, hereby including children, it is impossible to exercise the child's right to unhindered personal relations and contacts with the parent with whom he does not live, and in some cases, according to parents, such gatherings have not been realized for a long period of time (for months), due to non-cooperation of the parent to whom the custodial children are entrusted, in which cases, the current state of declared pandemic is used as a reason for alleged child protection and impossibility of the other parent to see the child / children and to have meetings with them, thus limiting the contacts of the child with the parent he/she does not live with.

On the other hand, some of the parents were even excluded from any information about the condition of the children, so they were forced to receive notifications from the children's family doctors, which is undoubtedly contrary to the best interests of the child. In addition, in order to prevent the spread of the disease (virus), visits to children's institutions are prohibited in institutions / non-institutional forms of care, and the educational process takes place online.

The Ombudsman is aware that the Government through the competent Ministry of Labor and Social Policy, has appealed to the parents in mutual cooperation to establish certain personal contacts of the child with the parent with whom he/she does not live, so that the child is not exposed to the dangers of the pandemic.

However, taking into account the above knowledge as well as previous experience and findings of the Ombudsman for violation of the right of the child to grow up with the love and care of both parents, even when they do not live together (due to divorce, broken cohabitation, etc. .), one gets the impression that one parent is abusing the situation in order to prevent the child from having personal relationships and contacts with the other parent, with the explanation that it is acting preventively on the possible dangers to the health. In such way there are serious violations of the rights of the child, and this is an act contrary to the best interests of the child.

The Ombudsman, starting from the Convention on the Rights of the Child, reminds that the state has an obligation to provide special care for the children, especially in conditions of state of emergency. In this context, the restriction on the enjoyment of certain human rights should be proportionate and minimized, and guarantees should be provided that the answers (measures) of the pandemic, including restrictions and decisions, reflect the best interests of the child.

According to Article 9 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the state should ensure that no child is separated from his or her parents against his or her will, unless the competent authorities, on the basis of a judicial review, in accordance with the relevant law and procedures, decide otherwise i.e. it is necessary and in the best interest of the child.

Furthermore, the Member States respect the right of the child who is separated from one or both parents to maintain personal relationships and direct contact with both parents on a permanent basis, unless that is contrary to the best interests of the child.

In cases when the separation is a consequence of measures taken by a Member State, such as detention, imprisonment, persecution, deportation or death (including death caused by any cause while in the care of the State) of one or both parents or the child, the Member State, at the request of the parents, the child or if so, will provide the other family member with basic information about the place of residence of the absent member - family members, if the provision of such information does not harm the well-being of the child. The Member States shall continue to ensure that the submission of such a request does not in itself have any detrimental consequences for the person concerned.

Having in mind the situation in which the measures to restrict movement seriously affect the physical, emotional and psychological health of children, and in addition to that the inability to have personal relationships and contacts with the parent with whom they do not live, the Ombudsman in accordance with Article 32 of the Law on the Ombudsman, informs the Government of the information obtained, and taking into account the Opinion of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, regarding the corona virus recommends increased caution and additional measures to protect the rights and interests of children. In this context, the Ombudsman recommends:
     - with special attention to analyze the effects of the measures and to consider the health, social, educational, economic and recreational effects of the pandemic on the rights of the child;
     - to ensure that responses to the pandemic, including restrictions and decisions on resource allocation, reflect the best interests of the child;
     - The Ministry of Labor and Social Policy, through the competent authorities, including the Inter-Municipal Centers for Social Work, to regularly and continuously monitor the manner and dynamics of exercising the right to personal relations and contacts between children and parents with whom they do not live, and consequently to respond accordingly, respecting the principle of the best interest of the child;
     - in cases where the parents are hindered (disabled) in exercising the right to see the child with whom they do not live, due to limited movement, to take measures and to allow them to take the children and return them to the parent with whom the child lives in accordance with the decisions issued by the competent authority and respecting the protocols for providing hygienic and other standards;
     - The Ministry of Labor and Social Policy, the competent Inter-Municipal Centers for Social Work, inspection services, in cooperation with other ministries to take measures to protect and prevent any violence and abuse of children in the family, institutions and other forms of non-institutional care. Consequently, timely and appropriate intervention in order to protect children from the harmful effects on their lives, health, survival and development
     - The Ministry of Education and Science, as well as other competent bodies in the field of education and upbringing of children, should continuously monitor the manner of online learning, in order to provide guarantees for the interaction between students and teachers;
     - to take measures to provide the necessary support for children and families who have limited or no access to technology or internet, or do not have adequate parental support. Find available alternatives to benefit from the guidance and support provided by teachers, which will prevent a state of inequality among children;
     - for children from poor families, children living in substandard conditions, children without basic living conditions, to be able to provide basic services, including health care, access to clean drinking water and sanitation, in order to maintain the necessary hygiene, which, among other things, is mandatory in such conditions;
     - the activities related to children whose birth is not recorded in the birth certificate by the birth registration services should  not to be interrupted, on the contrary the activities should be intensified, given that it is a precondition for exercising the guaranteed rights;
    - to take measures to respect the right of every child to non-discrimination, as well as measures to protect children whose vulnerability is further increased due to the exceptional circumstances caused by the virus (children with disabilities, street children, children with behavioral problems placed in non-institutional forms of foster care (small group homes, foster families), children seeking asylum, unaccompanied children, refugees, internally displaced children, as well as those deprived of liberty), who may face additional difficulties behind closed doors. In that context, to strengthen the opportunities and to make as much as possible available other ways of reporting any injuries / abuses / violence, etc. to the competent authorities, which, in turn, should intervene urgently;
     - in institutions where children are deprived of liberty, and in which measures have been taken to limit the visits due to the state of emergency and to prevent the spread of the virus, due to the prolonged state of emergency to reconsider the measures prohibiting visits or to provide other (alternative) ways to maintain regular contact of children with their families and close relatives, of course respecting hygiene protocols and maintaining other standards, given the fact that these contacts are significant factors for re-socialization and behavior change in children in conflict with the law i.e. children at risk;
     - for children with disabilities, migrant children and those with limited internet access to provide accurate information about the virus, and ways to protect or prevent infection, in a language and formats that are understandable and accessible.

Taking into consideration that these are only children, i.e. vulnerable groups, along with the possible negative effects of the state of emergency on their overall growth and development, the Ombudsman recommends whenever possible to hear and take into account the opinion of the children, since together with the four basic rights prescribed in the Convention, the right to life, survival and development and the right to non-discrimination, in close relation with any other right of the child in this document, we can lean towards preserving the best interest of the child.

                                                                     OMBUDSMAN
                                                                      Ixhet Memeti



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