For years Estonia has had the increasing problem of rising numbers of persons receiving pension for incapacity for work and persons with disabilities, as well as sustainability of the social system. Various institutions (the National Audit Office, the Praxis Centre for Policy Studies, the OECD, the European Commission, etc.) have made recommendations to reform the current systems already several years ago, or people’s coping ability will increasingly worsen. The criticism of the system that had been in place until the middle of 2014 was that it increased non-activity and passivity, as it did not support people’s activity, nor did it motivate them to return to labour market.
One of the macro-level indicators of health and quality of life is the proportion of people with official incapacity for work and disability in the population. This proportion does not necessarily show quality of life but it does talk of need. As of beginning of 2014 people with disability formed 10.9% of the population, consisting of 144,136 persons. According to calculations of the Estonian National Social Insurance Board this figure has begun to decrease, and as of the end of second quarter of 2015 the number of recipients of various disability aid was 141,802. However, in order to understand the socio-economic situation, and to clarify the target group, we must also consider the number of persons receiving pension for incapacity for work. The target groups of persons receiving pension for incapacity for work and working age persons with disabilities are partly the same; upon assessment about half of persons receiving pension for incapacity for work have also been given a degree of disability. If as of beginning of 2014 there were 94,325 persons of working age (ages 16–62) who had been determined to have incapacity for work in the extent of 40–100%, then as of the end of second quarter of 2015 this figure had risen to 96,631.
However, most of the persons with disabilities are older. This is due to general aging of the population and the rise of average life expectancy – the larger the proportion of older people in population, the more there are people among them with long-term illnesses. A lot of the disabilities are due to changes due to aging and they occur at a later age. Unfortunately, the older persons with disabilities have remained out of focus, and also in the period under observation no significant steps have been taken to improve their situation. The carer to the kin have also been left out of the target group – they themselves do not have a disability, but they have a great role in guaranteeing the life quality of persons with disabilities, and unfortunately they themselves are the potential persons to have disability in the future and become persons receiving pension for incapacity for work.
The local governments also have an important role, in addition to the state, in guaranteeing coping of persons receiving pension for incapacity for work and persons with disability. And yet the capacity of the local government to support those who need help differs greatly, and accessibility of help varies greatly, depending on the local government, which is why people are treated unequally.
Political and institutional developments
The buzzword for 2014 was definitely the Work Capacity Reform. The principles of the Work Capacity Reform had been set the year before, setting the goal of helping working age people with damage to health and persons with disability in finding and keeping suitable work. It was also thought necessary to motive people to be active within the boundaries of the capacity for work they had retained and offer employers help in improving the work environment and hiring people with diminished capacity for work as well as keeping them employed.
All the parties – persons with damage to health, persons with disability, employers, specialists, national officers – understand that initiating a major social reform is unavoidable as the old system is about to collapse in the near future.
Work that is suitable for the ability of persons with disability or damage to health enables a significantly better income and quality of life than aid and pensions. It is not possible to guarantee a quality of life comparable to healthy working persons solely on these. A suitable and pleasant work also offers social and processional self-realisation. One of the basic needs and rights of a person is the chance to decide about his or her life. One of the goals of the Work Capacity Reform is to have at least 50% of persons with partial capacity for work to be employed.
The employers are in the situation where they are lacking employees – the population is aging, the number of people incapable for work is increasing, there are no new employees coming up as the birth rate has steadily decreased, emigration is considerable. Therefore, the employers have realised that persons with damage to health and persons with disability are an untapped resource; persons with disability are often considered more motivated and loyal. At the same time, they shouldn’t create illusions for themselves as by nature people are similar despite their health condition or disability.
The state’s goal in initiating the Work Capacity Reform is primarily to decrease the growth of social expenses and have more tax payers by including the target group in employment. This naturally requires investment in education and rehabilitation, however, if before the growth of cost in state budget on pension for incapacity for work and disability allowance was prognosed to go from 253.1 million euros in 2014 to 619.9 million euros in 2022, then the new system would slow down the growth and the estimated cost would be 405.5 million euros in 2022; thereby saving 214.4 million euros.
The point of departure is a good one – all parties understand the inevitability of reform. And yet all still have very different expectations and understanding, which have to be worked on to make more similar. The society’s outdated view of people who need help is also very slow to change. However, the change within the past year has been noticeable (and the huge work of organisations of people with disabilities in making themselves visible and bringing awareness to the problems is also behind this). First of all, the employers’ fears based on lack of knowledge have to be reduced, as does the thinking of people with disabilities have to be changed. From the point of view of human rights people with disabilities are not “the poor sad people”, who have to be helped, but equal members of society who have the same rights and some special needs to be considered. Protection of rights of people with disabilities is not a choice dependent on discretion of the state, but a duty stemming from human rights. This means that the society must guarantee people with disabilities the chance to participate in the life of the society as independently as possible and create the opportunity to stand up for their rights when necessary.
Successful initiation of the Work Capacity Reform requires a complex approach to the entire set of problems. A lot more has to be contributed to the education system, every person with a disability must have the best possible education, which also takes his or her interests and abilities into consideration. Estonian Ministry of Education and Research has started work on the relevant program, mainly contributing to vocational training. However, so far there is no program for transferring from school to employment. Many young people remain unemployed after graduating, since there is no suitable work where they live, or access to work is complicated for small number of social services supporting it. This shows that also the accessibility of social services and their quality have to be better guaranteed by state as well as local governments, whatever the region. It is not possible to implement the Work Capacity Reform is social services do not support the goal of employment, and the contradiction between the state and local governments remains. Some of the necessary services are provided by the Estonian Unemployment Insurance Fund, various packages of rehabilitation services are being drawn up and prepared.
Another big set of problems has to do with employers. Even though they see persons with reduced capacity for work as resources they are also modest in hiring them. One of the reasons for this is fear – they are unfamiliar with the problems and afraid they cannot handle them. The Unemployment Insurance Fund has compiled several different materials to alleviate this fear, also organising training and offering counselling. Yet the employers oppose the need to increase their costs, as additional resources are first of all meant for developing the enterprise, and not for social projects. Here it is possible to apply for partial compensation for costs from the Unemployment Insurance Fund, there are state imposed tax incentives, as well as other premiums. If the employers realise that including persons with damage to health and persons with disabilities in employment is beneficial for them in long term perspective, it is a necessary prerequisite for the Work Capacity Reform to be a success.
On 19 November 2014 Riigikogu passed the Work Ability Allowance Act, which was supposed to come into force on 1 July 2015 according to the initial plan. This act was based on the principles of the Work Capacity Reform and should cardinally change the status of persons with disabilities and persons with damage to health – bring them back onto labour market, turn them into active members of society from people needing help. However, this was not accompanied by a comprehensive package of acts of law influencing this field, even though also the Social Welfare Act was amended in order to partially bring it into accordance with the Work Ability Allowance Act (whereas some of the points were supposed to come into force at different times). The newest wording of the Social Welfare Act was recently adopted, on 18 February 2015, and came into force on 1 July 2015. A new wording is currently in the works, which will presumably come into force on 1 January 2016.
The Work Ability Allowance Act discussion was actively entered into by organisations of people with disabilities who draw attention to significant shortcomings – the act stated several demands, which are not possible to fulfil without supporting social services, there was also concern for worsening of coping for active people – from a certain wage level the work ability allowance will start to reduce, however, the costs of going to work do not reduce, but, conversely, increase. Several demonstrations were organised, a number of amendments were submitted, the President of the Republic was addressed. Some of the proposals were even considered in the final version of the act of law, but in general, the target group was not pleased with the act of law in this wording. The new composition of Riigikogu that was elected in 2015 reviewed the act of law again and postponed its implementation until 1 January of 2016; development of supporting services was also planned. At the moment there’s talk of the chance that the act of law comes partially into force on 1 January 2016 and in full on 1 July 2016.
In October of 2015 the draft act for amending the Basic Schools and Upper Secondary Schools Act and the Specialized Schools Act, which also worries people with disabilities, as some of the schools for students with special needs are in private property and there is fear that amendment to the act will increase the fee for a place, was submitted to the government.
On 5 May 2014 the Supreme Court made a judgment regarding payment of subsistence benefit for the guardian of a person with disability where the ward is a member of the family, the caregiver’s allowance and guardianship support are below the established subsistence level, however, with the social support of the ward, the common income is above the subsistence level. Here the court drew attention to contradiction of some of the points in the Family Law Act and the Social Welfare Act and that in this question the local government has no jurisdiction. The final conclusion is that the guardian of a person with disability can demand subsistence from the ward by judicial process, but its size will be determined by court. In essence, such judgment does not influence coping of persons with disabilities and their family members, as the sum does not depend on the order of adding up, but it gives the opportunity to review these provisions of law and bringing them into accordance, it also allows the guardian to apply for subsistence benefit if the court doesn’t order support for his or her benefit for some reason.
Statistics and surveys
There were no new statistical surveys or research directly regarding people with disabilities conducted in the period under observation, all prognoses and calculations related to Work Capacity Reform are based on earlier studies. However, Praxis, on the order of Ministry of Education and Research, has analysed the network of basic and upper secondary schools in Estonia. Even though it doesn’t specifically mention schools for students with special needs, the decisions based on the study, along with other concepts, may influence the access of students with special needs to education fitting their ability (place and type of school).
Noteworthy public discussions
The wider public discussion on topics regarding persons receiving pension for incapacity for work and persons with disabilities has continued in the past year. In relation to processing and adopting the Work Capacity Reform Act the representatives of the target group have started to become more involved and louder in the debate. The discussions have more substance, the approach to the topic is more based on human rights. Since the Work Capacity Reform deeply affects a large group of people (100,000 persons upon estimation) there were a lot of emotions, fierceness and debate in discussions. Nevertheless, it is positive that we are finding increasingly more common ground – we all are people, some just have greater special needs.
Similarly to the previous year, the main point of departure for development was the Work Capacity Reform. As it continued to be one of the top priorities for the government there was also a certain sense of pressure and rushing. After the act was passed and the Riigikogu elections had taken place, the parties did start to listen to one another more and approaching matters in a more complex way. Amendments to the rehabilitation system have been started, the order of distributing technical aids is being reviewed and small steps are taken towards complete implementation of the act. However, the comprehensive approach has not been reached yet, the educational and social policy will not catch up with the employment policy that fast.
- There has to be a comprehensive approach to initiating and completely implementing the Work Capacity Reform – guarantee equal opportunities to all persons with disabilities or damage to health, regardless of their place of residence. This requires equal accessibility of social services in all local governments.
- Establish a minimum checklist and quality requirements to social services provided by local governments and guarantee sufficient capability of all local governments to fulfil them.
- Improve access to education and quality of education for students with special needs on all levels of education, establish a support system for smoothly transferring from school to employment.
 „Eesti sotsiaalkindlustuse süsteemi jätkusuutliku rahastamise võimalused“. Uuringuaruanne [Opportunities for sustainable funding of the Estonian social security system. Survey report]. Praxis 2011. And „Riigi tegevus puuetega inimeste ja töövõimetuspensionäride toetamisel“ [The state’s activity in support of persons with disability and persons receiving pension for incapacity for work]. Kontrollaruanne 2010 [Verification report 2010].
 Eelarve ja statistika [Budget and statistics]. Estonian National Social Insurance Board. Available at: http://www.sotsiaalkindlustusamet.ee/statistika/.
 „Sotsiaalteenuste kvaliteedianalüüs ja ettepanekud tervikliku kvaliteedisüsteemi tagamise juurutamiseks“ Analüüsi lõpparuanne. Ministry of Social Affairs. 2013.
 Work Capacity Reform. Ministry of Social Affairs. Available at: https://www.sm.ee/et/toovoimereform.
 2015 Statistical Yearbook of Estonia.
 „Töövõimetoetuse seaduse mõjuanalüüs – eelhindamine“ [The effect analysis of Work Ability Allowance Act – a prior appraisal]. Saar Poll 2014.
 „Hariduslike erivajadustega õpilaste õppekorralduse kontseptsioon! [Organisation of studies conception of a student with special educational needs]. Estonian Ministry of Education and Research. Available at: https://www.hm.ee/sites/default/files/hev_kotseptsioon.pdf.
 Hariduslike erivajadustega õpilane [Student with special educational needs]. Estonian Ministry of Education and Research. Available at: https://www.hm.ee/et/tegevused/kutseharidus/hariduslike-erivajadustega-opilane.
 „Tööturuteenuste osutamine töövõimereformi sihtrühmale“ [Providing the target group of Work Capacity Reform the labour market service]. Ministry of Social Affairs. Available at: https://www.sm.ee/sites/default/files/content-editors/ESF/57_lisa.pdf.
 Töövõimereformi eesmärk [The objective of the Work Capacity Reform]. Estonian National Social Insurance Board. Available at: http://www.sotsiaalkindlustusamet.ee/toovoimereform/.
 „Erivajadustega inimene – hinnatud töötaja! Miks ja kuidas värvata tööle puudega inimest?“ [A person with special needs – a valued employee! Why and how to hire a person with disabilities?]. Estonian Unemployment Insurance Fund. 2008. Available at: https://www.tootukassa.ee/sites/tootukassa.ee/files/Erivajadustega_inimene_hinnatud_tootaja.pdf.
 Abi erivajadusega inimese tööle võtmisel [Assistance at employing a person with special needs]. 10.08.2015. Estonian Unemployment Insurance Fund. Available at: https://www.tootukassa.ee/content/tooandjale-ja-partnerile/abi-erivajadusega-inimese-toole-votmisel.
 Maksusoodustused [Tax incentives]. 10.08.2015. Estonian Unemployment Insurance Fund. Available at: https://www.tootukassa.ee/content/t%C3%B6%C3%B6andjale-ja-partnerile/maksusoodustused.
 Töövõimetoetuse seadus [Work Ability Allowance Act]. State Gazette. Available at: https://www.riigiteataja.ee/akt/113122014001.
 Sotsiaalhoolekande seadus [Social Welfare Act]. State Gazette. Available at: https://www.riigiteataja.ee/akt/123032015134.
 State Gazette: http://eelnoud.valitsus.ee/main#5SJRc0hF
 Constitutional Review Chamber judgment in case no. 3-4-1-67-13. Supreme Court. Available at: http://www.riigikohus.ee/?id=11&tekst=RK/3-4-1-67-13.
 „Eesti põhikooli- ja gümnaasiumivõrgu analüüs aastaks 2020“ [Analysis of network of Estonia’s basic and upper secondary schools for 2020]. Uuringuaruanne [Survey report]. Praxis. 2014.
Children are people here and now, and just adopting acts of law is not enough to guarantee their rights, supportive actions and changing the situation on the whole are also necessary (law in books →law in action). In 2014 when the 25th anniversary of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child was celebrated, the children were in focus in Estonia as well as the world in general. The Nobel peace prize was given to Kailash Satyarth who had been devoted to protection on children’s rights and Malala Yousafzai. Such recognition shows the importance of the role of civil society in promoting, facilitating and protecting the rights stated in the convention. The purpose of the convention is to protect the child from all kinds of risks to his or her development and wellbeing in all kinds of environments. It is equally important to observe the treatment of the child in the family, the kindergarten, the school, health care institutions and the society in general.
The number of children in need of help is increasing every year. The problem is the state’s insufficient support at caring for a child with disability, in practice the local governments are unable to guarantee all children with disability a place at a regular kindergarten, there is also insufficient support for teachers for teaching children with special needs (for example, in 2013 the position of a support specialist had been created at just 53% of kindergartens). Not all teachers are sufficiently prepared for implementing the inclusive education policy, and there is a lack of resources for creating the necessary environment for learning. The percent of children that have fallen victim is worrying: 22% of children fell victim to school bullying, 16% to cyber bullying, 22% to theft, and 7% were attacked in 2013. The risk factors for children’s offences and for falling victim are violence in family and use of violence on the child as well as conflicts in the family, lacking parental overview, alcohol and drug problems of parents.
Adoption of the new Child Protection Act expressly forbidding physical punishment of children can be considered the most important step. For the first time in Estonian legislation it is stated that in matters regarding children it is important to place the child’s interests first, and allow the child to express his or her view. The 2015 amendment to the constitution reducing the voting age at local government council elections from 18 to 16 is also worth mentioning. As a result of the review of the Penal Code the definition of domestic violence was set for the first time in legislation, and due to the amendment the punishment committed in a close relationship or a dependent relationship is harsher. It is extremely unacceptable that there were 12,138 children in Estonia at the beginning of 2014 whose maintenance obligation was voluntarily not fulfilled by one parent (execution proceedings were initiated in the total sum of 10,766,732.10 euros). It is a growing trend in violating the rights of the child, and the methods for recovering alimony have not been sufficiently effective for the total debt of alimony to be reduced. However, it is positive that the amendment of the Code of Enforcement Procedure in 2015 established a number of options, implementation of which would make the alimony debtors’ lives uncomfortable to some extent (including suspending the debtor’s right to drive). The necessity to amend the Citizenship Act for better protection of rights of the child has repeatedly been drawn attention to by the Chancellor of Justice Indrek Teder as well as Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Nils Muižnieks. The amendment to the Citizenship Act allows minors to acquire the citizenship of another country in addition to Estonian citizenship, and for under the age of 15 children of parents with undetermined citizenship to acquire Estonian citizenship by naturalization from birth.
Court proceedings and practice
One of the main goals of the EU Agenda for the Rights of the Child is to make the European justice system more child-friendly. It is an area that the European Union has jurisdiction according to the EU treaties to actually implement the rights of the child based on EU law. Contact with the justice system is often an unpleasant experience for the child (environment that makes them uneasy, lack of information and explanation suitable for their age, little attention to families and lengthy proceedings), which is why it is important to support children participating in proceedings in every way. However, it must be conceded that the rights of the child are still not sufficiently guaranteed in this area in Estonia. For example, there is no system of support persons in place for the benefit of children in court proceedings, and access to supporting services varies in different districts. Children who have witnessed (domestic) violence are not offered special treatment, even though various surveys confirm that children who have witnessed violence in their childhood have a greater risk of falling victim of domestic violence as adults. The safety of child victims is also not always sufficiently guaranteed, for example at designation of curatorship existence of domestic violence does not always have weight in the decision-making. It is important from the point of view of interests and rights of children how the child is treated also in criminal proceedings, including hearing of a child. It became apparent from analysis of video recorded hearings of underage victims that the children are not always asked permission to video record the hearing, neither is the child also always told the truth, and if the specialist included in the hearing has not been prepared on criminal proceedings and the tactics of hearing, he or she will find it hard to stand up for the best interests of the child. It became apparent from the analysis of determining curatorship that in court decisions, considering the interests of the child is only limited to admitting that it has been taken into consideration, however, few decisions explain how the court did it.
The Supreme Court deliberated repeatedly over kindergarten places in the course of constitutional review proceedings in 2014; found that leaving a seven year old child home alone may not be a breach of guarantor obligations; specified allowed use of force in execution a court decision on communicating with a child. It also emphasized the court’s role in directing parents towards compromise in disputes over communication. Regulation regarding communication between the child and the parent living separately is problematic in Estonia. In 2014 Tallinn Administrative court awarded damages against the state in the sum of 7500 euros in favour of a father, because the father had used up all the opportunities stemming from the law in three years to meet his child, and the forced absence from his child had created non-patrimonial damage. The state needs to actively work on this topic.
The European Court of Human Rights emphasized among other things that it is not reasoned that a child is taken from a parent who cannot manage raising the child materially (Zhou v. Italy); general education schools must guarantee the student the opportunity not to participate in religious education class (Mansur Yalcin and others v. Turkey). In 2014 the Grand Chamber of European Court of Human Rights made a decision, according to which it holds the government of Ireland responsible for sexual harassment of children in general education schools in 1970s (O´Keeffe v. Ireland). According to the decision the state is not absolved from responsibility by passing the responsibility of operating the school to a private institution or individuals.
Statistics and surveys
The state fulfilled its duty under the Convention on the Rights of The Child – by submitting the Committee on the Rights of the Child the third and fourth periodic report on application of the convention, based on activities and statistics of 2003 – 2011 in 2014 (six years after it was due). In 2015 the organisations in the field, lead by the NGO Estonian Union for Child Welfare, gathered their supplementations and proposals to be submitted to the Committee on the Rights of the Child as a supplementary report.
In order to draw attention to rights of the child and most of all Article 12 of the convention, and making the opinion of children heard, the NGO Estonian Union for Child Welfare carried out a survey on participation and inclusion of children and young people at school, the purpose of which was to find out to what extent children are included in decisions about school life, in which way and on which topics; also whether the children and young people believe the level of inclusion is sufficient, on what topics they would like to have a say and in which way they would most like to do it. 1787 children across Estonia responded to the questionnaire (including 404 Russian-speaking children). Despite the fact that Estonia ratified the convention already in 1991 and the national curriculum of the basic school prescribes making it known among students, 59% of respondents stated they had never heard of the convention.
The survey of deviant behaviour among 7–9th grade students in Estonia proved that in comparison to 8 years ago the students have committed significantly fewer offences. The number of hate crimes has increased (6% of children admitted that they had been threatened with violence or had experienced violence because of his or her religious beliefs, language, skin colour, social standing or other reasons). Children find it hard to retain their identity and familial relations if the child and parents are living in separate countries. A recent study confirms that the absence of parents may increase missing school and thereby influence the child’s progress at school, it can also cause or deepen health, behavioural and dependency problems. At the same time the social workers lack information about such families (41% considered information about families where children live alone, because their parents live outside Estonia to be insufficient).
In comparison to earlier in 2014–2015 more studies concerning children were conducted, however, more attention should be paid to gathering and analysing national data, and supporting relevant scientific initiatives. The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child also emphasizes the need to gather information regarding children and inspires to develop indicators for monitoring realisation of rights of children.
General Comment no. 14 of the Committee on the Rights of the Child on the right of the child to have his or her best interests taken as a primary consideration (art. 3, para.1 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child) was translated into Estonian on the initiative of the NGO Estonian Union for Child Welfare. The general comments will continue to be translated into Estonian in the coming years to better understand the content of the articles of the convention. The project of the Estonian Institute of Human Rights “Human rights in education system – networking, teacher training and empowering young people”, in the course of which “Compass”, the Council of Europe manual for human rights was translated into Estonian was also aimed at raising awareness.
In 2014 the University of Tartu faculty of social sciences in cooperation with the faculty of law initiated a study module on the rights of the child as a part of Master’s curriculum of social work and social politics aimed at the future child protection and social workers, lawyers and other specialists working with children. The module was introduced as a part of the NGO Estonian Union for Child Welfare project “Lapse hääl!” (the voice of the child), containing subjects of human rights and children’s rights, child protection and practical work with children and families. No institute of higher education in Estonia had offered a systemic study of children’s rights before, thereby the creation of module filled an important gap which had been referred to also by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child.
Noteworthy public discussions
The right of the minor to influence decisions regarding him or her in health care institutions have to do with the child’s right to participate, but also with right to protection and care. In the summer of 2014 the Social Affairs Committee of the Riigikogu discussed proposal no. 27 “Limitations to termination of pregnancy regarding being underage” of the Chancellor of Justice with the representatives of the Ministry of Social Affairs, the Ministry of Justice, the Estonian Council on Bioethics, the Estonian Union for Child Welfare and the Estonian Gynaecologists Society, according to which § 5 (2) of the Termination of Pregnancy and Sterilisation Act is in contradiction with the constitution as it disproportionately limits the right to self-determination of women under 18 years of age, making her excessively dependent on her parents or her guardian. Wider discussions continued in the beginning of 2015 when Riigikogu abrogated the limitation.
The Estonian National Youth Council lead the discussion in reducing the voting age to 16. The survey on effectiveness confirmed that there are no risks to reducing the voting age, Estonia is prepared for reducing of the voting age and the preferred policy choice is to reduce the active voting age to 16 precisely at local elections.
In 2014 as well as in 2015 the Festival of Opinion Culture (Arvamusfestival) had a separate stage for children and families discussing prevention of bullying, inclusion of children and young people as well as the rights of the child as a whole.
The public debate over the Cohabitation Act and the new Child Protection Act was heated. Occasionally, however, the expression remained that for some of the debaters the so-called standing up for the interests of children was rather due to political ambition or goals of certain interest groups rather than serious concern for wellbeing of children in general.
The number of instances of abuse of children in Estonia is very high. The children speaking Russian as their mother tongue are punished more, there is also more violence in these families. The media actively covered instances of domestic violence in 2014, where violence against the child had resulted in death of the child.
“Estonian Guidelines for Development of Criminal Policy until 2018” approved by Riigikogu establish that heightened attention must be paid to prevention of domestic violence, and a system for early detection of problems in growing environment of children, and developing parental skills of parents must be established. The National Development Strategy for Preventing Violence 2015–2020 focuses mainly on violence related to children. The Ministry of Social Affairs initiated the parenting program Incredible Years aimed at parents of children with behavioural problems, and parents who wish to prevent their children developing possible behaviour problems. Prevention of bullying behaviour is paid increasingly more attention to in the education system. Liikumine Kiusamisvaba Haridustee Eest (the movement for bullying-free education) was created at the University of Tartu Centre for Ethics value education conference in December of 2014. The movement was created by the NGO Estonian Union for Child Welfare, the Foundation Kiusamise Vastu, NGO Noorteühing TORE and University of Tartu Centre for Ethics. The common goal was to create a viable platform for cooperation through which to get a research based program preventing and solving bullying to all children’s institutions and general education schools in Estonia.
- Guarantee a more effective implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (including guaranteeing social fundamental rights). Gather systematic statistical data (including submitting regular reports), analyses of which to base policies guaranteeing the rights of the child on.
- Increase the children’s opportunities to have a say in questions regarding society, community and school life. Include children in decision making processes more.
- Increase the knowledge and skills of investigators, judges and other specialists working with children by offering them training on the rights of the child (including hearing of children) and development psychology.
- Develop the school system as a whole in order to more effectively implement inclusive education policies (including providing training for teachers, adjust the necessary learning environment, adjust study materials, also increase the volume of human rights education on various levels of education).
- Inform the society even more on the rights of the child, including using various channels to introduce the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child to adults as well as children and young people (including in Russian, considering special needs, etc.).
 The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child is the most widely ratified human rights agreement of all time. Along with three optional protocols it is a comprehensive collection of legally binding international standards promoting and protecting the rights of the child (The Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on a Communications Procedure came into force in April of 2015. See: http://www.ratifyop3crc.org/material/).
 Kailash Satyarthi has been working for reducing the use of child labour in India for years, and implemented several initiatives for reducing poverty. Malala Yousafzai is the youngest Nobel prize Laureate. She stands up for the girls’ and women’s right to education in Pakistan.
 European Parlament resolution on the 25th anniversary of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child of 27 November 2014 (2014/2919(RSP)) Available at: http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getDoc.do?type=MOTION&reference=B8-2014-0285&format=XML&language=ET.
 Explanatory memorandum to the draft act for ratifying the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and joining the Optional Protocol. Available at: http://www.ead.ee/orb.aw/class=file/action=preview/id=375878/Eeln6u_seletuskiri.pdf.
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 Saar, H. 2014, Rights of the Child. Human Rights in Estonia 2013. Estonian Human Rights Centre. Available at: https://humanrights/inimoiguste-aruanne-2/inimoigused-eestis-2013/lapse-oigused/.
 REPORT by Nils Muižnieks Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe Following his visit to Estonia from 25 to 27 March 2013. Available at: https://wcd.coe.int/com.instranet.InstraServlet?command=com.instranet.CmdBlobGet&InstranetImage=2308567&SecMode=1&DocId=2023896&Usage=2.
 Euroopa Komisjoni teatis Euroopa Parlamendile, nõukogule, Euroopa Majandus- ja Sotsiaalkomiteele ning Regioonide Komiteele „Lapse õigusi käsitlev ELi tegevuskava“ [Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions. „An EU Agenda for the Rights of the Child“] COM (2011)60. Available at: http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=COM:2011:0060:FIN:et:PDF.
 According to the concept of child-friendly justice the protection of rights of children upon contact with justice as a more vulnerable group has to be guaranteed.
 Euroopa Nõukogu ministrite komitee suunised lapsesõbraliku õigusemõistmise kohta [The Council of Europe guidelines on child-friendly justice]. Available at: http://www.coe.int/t/dghl/standardsetting/childjustice/Source/GuidelinesChildFriendlyJustice_ET.pdf.
 Vt nt Edleson, J. L., Ellerton, A. L., Seagren, A. E., Kirchberg, S. O., & Ambrose, A. T. 2007. Assessing child exposure to adult domestic violence. Children and Youth Services Review, 29(7), 961-971; Sousa, C., Herrenkohl, T. I., Moylan, C. A., Tajima, E. A., Klika, J. B., Herrenkohl, R. C., & Russo, M. J. 2011. Longitudinal study on the effects of child abuse and children’s exposure to domestic violence, parent-child attachments, and antisocial behavior in adolescence. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 26 (1), 111–136.
 Vägivalla ennetamise strateegia 2015–2020 koostamise ettepanek [proposal to devise the National Development Strategy for Preventing Violence 2015–2020]. Available at: https://www.osale.ee/konsultatsioonid/files/consult/263_VVA%202015-2020%20ettepanek.pdf.
 Kask, K. 2015. Alaealiste kannatanute videosalvestatud ülekuulamiste analüüs [Analysis of videorecorded hearing of underage victims]. Kriminaalpoliitika analüüs [Criminal policy analysis] No. 1/2015 Available at: http://www.kriminaalpoliitika.ee/sites/www.kriminaalpoliitika.ee/files/elfinder/dokumendid/alaealiste_kannatanute_videosalvestatud_ulekuulamised_kristjan_kask_2015.pdf.
 Espenberg, K., Soo, K., Beilmann, M., Linno, M., Vahaste, S., Göttig, T., Uusen-Nacke, T. 2013. Vanema hooldusõiguse määramise praktika analüüs [Analysis of practice for determining curatorship of a parent]. Tartu Ülikooli sotsiaalteaduslike rakendusuuringute keskus RAKE. Available at: https://www.riigikantselei.ee/valitsus/valitsus/Vanema%20hooldus%C3%B5iguse%20m%C3%A4%C3%A4ramise%20uuring_l%C3%B5ppraport.pdf.
 Also see: in Sahin v. Germany ((30943/96)  ECHR 340 (8.07.2003)) the court detected as an important breach that the court failed to hear the child in court and noted that a national court must take significant steps in order to achieve a direct contact with the child, and only that is the way to ascertain best interests of the child. Summary available at: http://www.hrcr.org/safrica/childrens_rights/Sahin.html.
 Constitutional Review Chamber of the Supreme Court judgment in civil case no. 3-4-1-63-13, 19.03.2014. Available at: http://www.riigikohus.ee/?id=11&tekst=RK/3-4-1-63-13. Constitutional Review Chamber of the Supreme Court judgment in civil case no. 3-4-1-63-13, 19.03.2014. Available at: http://www.riigikohus.ee/?id=11&tekst=RK/3-4-1-66-13.
 Criminal Chamber of the Supreme Court judgment in criminal case no. 3-1-1-45-14, 10.10.2014. Available at: http://www.riigikohus.ee/?id=11&tekst=RK/3-1-1-45-14.
 Civil Chamber of the Supreme Court ruling in civil case no. 3-2-1-95-14, 29.10.2014. Available at: http://www.riigikohus.ee/?id=11&tekst=RK/3-2-1-95-14.
 Civil Chamber of the Supreme Court ruling in civil case no. 3-2-1-91-14, 05.11.2014. Available at: http://www.riigikohus.ee/?id=11&tekst=RK/3-2-1-91-14. Civil Chamber of the Supreme Court ruling in civil case no. 3-2-1-113-14, 05.11.2014. Available at: http://www.riigikohus.ee/?id=11&tekst=RK/3-2-1-113-14.
 Authors’ note: the European Court of Human Rights has repeatedly emphasized that issues of a child and parent must be solved in courts as quickly as possible, and not in processes going on for years. Analogous judgment. 04.11.2014.
 Affaire Zhou c. Italie. Requête no. 33773/11. Available at: http://hudoc.echr.coe.int/sites/eng/pages/search.aspx?i=001-140026.
 En l’affaire Mansur Yalçın et autres c. Turquie. Requête no 21163/11. Available at: http://hudoc.echr.coe.int/sites/eng/pages/search.aspx?i=001-146381.
 Case of O’Keeffe v. Ireland. Appeal 35810/09. European Court of Human Rights, Grand Chamber. Available at: http://hudoc.echr.coe.int/sites/eng/pages/search.aspx?i=001-140235.
 Eesti Vabariigi kolmas ja neljas perioodiline aruanne ÜRO Lapse õiguste konventsiooni täitmise kohta [Third and fourth periodic report of the Republic of Estonia on implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child]. Available at: http://vm.ee/sites/default/files/elfinder/article_files/aruanne_est.pdf.
 NGO Estonian Union for Child Welfare 2014. Kokkuvõte uuringust: „Laste ja noorte osalus ja kaasamine koolis“ [Summary of survey: participation and inclusion of children and young people at school]. Compiler H.Saar. Available at: http://www.lastekaitseliit.ee/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/Laste-ja-noorte-osalus-ja-kaasamine-koolis.pdf.
 Markina, A., Žarkovski, B. 2014. Laste hälbiv käitumine Eestis [Deviant behaviour of children in Estonia]. See footnote 6!
 Author’s note: Estonia’s first school shooting took place in 2014.
 Espenberg, K., Lees, K., Arrak, L., Aksen, M., Vahaste-Pruul, S. Välismaal töötavate vanemate ja Eestis elavate lastega pered: parimad praktikad ja võimalikud ohud [Families where parents work abroad and the children live in Estonia: best practices and possible risks]. Tartu Ülikooli sotsiaalteaduslike rakendusuuringute keskus RAKE. Available at: http://www.ec.ut.ee/sites/default/files/ec/loppraport_27.11.14.pdf.
 Pettai, I., Proos, I. 2014. Lähisuhtevägivald Eestis sotsiaaltöötaja pilgu läbi. Ekspertküsitluse tulemused 2004 ja 2014 [Domestic violence in Estonia through the eyes of a social worker. Results of expert questionnaire 2004 and 2014]. Estonian Institute for Open Society. Ekspertuuring raport [Report of expert survey], 57.
 Iivonen, E. 2013. Indikaattoritiedon hyödyntäminen lasten oikeuksien toteutumisen seurannanassa. In compilation: Lapsioikeus murroksessa. Editors: Hakalehto-Wainio, S., Nieminen. Pages 303-347.
 Üldkommentaar nr. 14 [General comment no. 14] 2013 lapse õigus tema parimatel huvide esikohale seadmisele (Art 3 para. 1)* [right of the child to have his or her best interests taken as a primary consideration] unofficial translation. Available at: http://www.lastekaitseliit.ee/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/%C3%9Cldkommentaar-nr-14.pdf.
 See more on Estonian Institute of Human Rights website: http://www.eihr.ee/mis-on-inimoigustesobralik-kool/.
 The project was funded by the Gambling Tax Council via the Ministry of Social Affairs and the NGO Fund via Open Estonia Foundation.
 In spring of 2015 the NGO Estonian Union for Child Welfare concluded an agreement with Tallinn University for creating a similar field of study by 2016.
 Toots, A., Idnurm, T., Saarts, T. 2014. Aktiivse valimisea langetamise mõjude analüüs: eelhindamine [Analysis of effects of reducing the active voting age: a prior appraisal]. Tallinn University school of governance. Available at: https://www.just.ee/sites/www.just.ee/files/vote16.pdf.
 Among them the opinion seminar „Kooseluseaduse tahud ja teravikud“ [Aspect and angles of the Cohabitation Act] 27.08.2014 at Riigikogu conference room.
 Markina, A., Žarkovski, B. 2014. Laste hälbiv käitumine Eestis [Deviant behaviour of children in Estonia]. See footnote 6!
 For examble a series of articles by K.Ibrus in Eesti Päevaleht, which investigated the background of unnatural death of children.
 Kriminaalpoliitika arengusuunad aastani 2018 [Estonian Guidelines for Development of Criminal Policy until 2018]. Available at: http://www.just.ee/sites/www.just.ee/files/elfinder/article_files/kriminaalpoliitika_arengusuunad_aastani_2018.pdf.
Political and institutional developments
During the period under focus both the 2014 European Parliamentary election and the 2015 parliamentary election took place in Estonia.
For the first time the European Parliamentary election took place based on open lists, which is stated in the European Parliament Election Act (amended 10 February 2010). In 2004 and 2009 voters at European Parliamentary elections had to make a decision based on closed lists — votes could be cast for the political parties as a whole, or for independent candidates; this time votes could be given to specific candidates.
According to democratic institutions and the report of expert group of bureau of human rights the 2015 parliamentary election in Estonia had been organised in an effective manner.
The existence of persons who do not have the right to vote and cannot participate in elections continues to be a problem. Persons of undetermined citizenship have a right to vote at local elections, but not at parliamentary elections, neither can they be set up as candidates at parliamentary elections (in 2015 there were 89,700 persons of undetermined citizenship in Estonia). Even though persons of undetermined citizenship can participate in party activities and make donations to parties and candidates, they do not have the right to become a member of a political party.
Despite OSCE’s proposals, the appraisal of the Chancellor of Justice and several recommedations made in human rights reports, Estonia is one of the few states in Europe where all prisoners automatically, by law, lose their right to vote. There were 2291 prisoners in Estonia in 2014.
In the beginning of 2014 the then Minister of Foreign Affairs Urmas Paet sent the Chairman of the Constitutional Committee Rait Maruste a letter stating the need to urgently change the prisoners’ right to vote in acts of law, as an absolute ban on voting contradicts the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. The topic was discussed at the session of the Constitutional Committee in 2014; in the personal appraisal of the then Chairman of the Constitutional Committee Rait Maruste changes should be made in acts of law regulating elections in order to fulfill an international obligation that Estonia took by joining the Convention in 1996. Although in the appraisal of the Ministry of External Affairs as well as Ministry of Justice the absolute ban to vote for prisoners ought to be made less severe, the Constitutional Committee lacks the political will to do it.
In 2015 the adviser at the legal and analysis department of Chancellery of the Riigikogu Katre Turbo also pointed out in her article that solving this problem has been put off for a long time, even though it ought to be clear that it can’t be put off forever.
On 1 July 2014 a draft Act to amend the Constitution initiated by 41 members of Riigikogu, which requested the voting age at local government council elections be reduced to 16, was submitted to legislative proceeding of Riigikogu. This amendment required that the constitution also be amended, therefore it had to be confirmed by two consecutive compositions of The Riigikogu. The Act on Amendments to the Constitution of the Republic of Estonia for Reducing the Voting Age for Local Government Council Elections was passed on 1 June 2015 as follows:
- 1. § 156 subsection 2 of Constitution of the Republic of Estonia is amended and worded as follows:
“At local authority council elections, the right to vote is held, under conditions established by law, by persons who reside permanently in the territory of the local authority and have attained at least sixteen years of age.”
According to law, persons who are at least 16 years of age can vote at the 2017 local government elections.
Most of the appeals to the electoral committee and from there as an appeal to the Supreme Court predominantly concern the principle, which automatically bans all prisoners from voting. Disproportionality of this law has been referred to by various ministries, international organizations as well as local experts.
Most public discussion concerned the Tallinn Circuit Court administrative case no. 3-15-403, where in the opinion of the appellant the ban stated in Riigikogu Election Act for a person who has been convicted of a criminal offence by a court and is imprisoned shall not participate in voting is disproportionate. The court found that according to the judgment, Riigikogu, for a long time, has not brought the election act into concordance with the practice of the European Court of Human Rights, which does not allow the state to uniformly and without exception limit the right of all prisoners to participate in parliamentary elections. Because Riigikogu has not made the decision based on which criteria the prisoners’ right to vote is limited and in which procedure, the Riigikogu Election Act is unconstitutional. Therefore, because of the judgment, two prisoners, as an exception, were given the right to vote, but at the same time the court failed to apply the unconstitutional limitation in the case, which initiated the constitutional review proceedings in the Supreme Court, whose sole jurisdiction it is to declare the limitation void. The Supreme Court found in its judgment that they would not declare the limitation void based on this particular case.
The Chancellor of Justice found in his appraisal that he sent the Supreme Court that curtailing the active right to vote of persons convicted of a crime and serving a prison sentence (§ 4 (3) and § 22 (3) of the Riigikogu Election Act) is in clear contradiction with the requirements of Article 3 of the first protocol to European Convention on Human Rights as well as § 123 (2) of the Constitution. Since in Estonian law the general right to vote applies at Riigikogu elections and restricting this right is only possible according to the principle of proportionality, the disputed paragraphs also contradict paragraphs 11, 57 and 58.
The Minister of Justice found in his appraisal that proportionality of the disputed limitation on active right to vote is questionable. A the same time the minister of External Affairs considered the § 4 (3) and § 22 (3) of the Riigikogu Election Act unconstitutional because of their disproportionality.
Statistics and surveys
Ministry of Justice ordered that Tallinn University Institute of Political Science and Governance carry out a survey “Analysis of reducing the active voting age: a preliminary assessment”, which concluded that similarly to the experience of other states the 16 year olds in Estonia are mature enough to vote at local elections. The analysis detected that by reducing the voting age from 18 to 16 the electorate would increase by 24,000 votes, which makes up 2–2,3% of the entire electorate. The main problem could be the weakness of the desired effect of policy change, or the lack of effect altogether. The likelyhood of this occurring is greater if young people do not take an active position in articulating their interests and needs and conform in their voting or do not take part at all.
The survey commissioned by the Gender Equality and Equal Treatment Commissioner discovered that the portion of women candidates on lists of candidates for political parties has not changed noticeably during the last 10—15 years, however, the number of women in top tens and top twenties of national lists of political parties has increased somewhat. The survey pointed out that most women candidates were in the Social Democratic Party (36.8%) and the least in the Union of Pro Patria and Res Publica (24.0%). The largest number of women on district list of candidates is in the Estonian Centre Party (41.7%) and the smallest in the Social Democratic Party (8.3%). In the first three district candidates the percentage of women is largest in the Social Democratic Party (36.1%) and the smallest in the Estonian Reform Party (22.2%). Among top tens of national lists there are most women in the Social Democratic Party (60%), which is followed by the Estonian Centre Party (50%). In the Estonian Reform Party and the Union of Pro Patria and Res Publica national top ten women make up 20%. There is not a single woman in the national top ten of the Conservative People’s Party of Estonia.
One of Estonia’s success stories, internet voting, has been made more secure and transparent, mainly thanks to creation of the Electronic Voting Committee with the National Electoral Committee, the function of which is to carry out internet voting and confirm the results of e-voting. A verification process has also been created in order to confirm that the voter’s e-vote was delivered expediently and recorded on the server that contains votes. At the same time, accountability of voting via internet continues to be a problem. For example, the OSCE is of the opinion that in order to increase accountability of internet voting system the agencies should continue with their efforts to add end-to-end verification to the system, so that voters would have confirmation that their votes are counted in the same way as they had been recorded.
Noteworthy public discussions
Giving 16 year olds the right to vote brought about extensive discussion, which mostly supported making amendments to the Constitution; the Centre Party was most critical of the draft act, being of the opinion that the amendment was a partial solution and in addition to having the right to vote, 16 year olds should also have the right to be elected.
During the 2014 European Parliamentary election and the 2015 parliamentary election discussion in media was initiated mainly by the Centre Party on safety of e-elections.
- Amend the relevant acts of law so that only prisoners bearing an additional punishment of not being allowed to vote are banned from voting.
- Consider whether banning political outdoor advertising during the campaigning period is reasonable and purposeful.
 Parliamentary elections. 1. March 2015. ODIHR-i valimiste eksperdirühma aruanne [ODIHR election expert team report]. Warsaw 26 May 2015. Available at: http://www.osce.org/et/odihr/elections/estonia/165836?download=true.
 Lõimumine: eesmärgid [Integration: goals]. Available at: https://valitsus.ee/et/eesmargid-tegevused/loimumine/loimumine-eesmargid.
 Parliamentary elections. 1. March 2015. ODIHR-i valimiste eksperdirühma aruanne [ODIHR election expert team report]. Warsaw 26 May 2015. Available at: http://www.osce.org/et/odihr/elections/estonia/165836?download=true.
 Estonian Prison Service Yearbook. Available at: http://issuu.com/vanglateenistus/docs/vanglaameti_aastaraamat_veeb.
 “Urmas Paet: vangide valimisõiguse osas tuleb viivitamatult seadust muuta.” [Urmas Paet: acts of law regarding prisoners’ right to vote must be amended immediately] Delfi. 15.01.2015. Available at: http://www.delfi.ee/news/paevauudised/eesti/urmas-paet-vangide-valimisoiguse-osas-tuleb-viivitamatult-seadust-muuta?id=67609316.
 “Võimusaadikud panid vangide valimiskeelu leevendamisele pidurit.” [The powers put a stop to alleviating the prisoners’ ban on voting] Postimees. 15.01.2015. Available at: http://www.postimees.ee/2661958/voimusaadikud-panid-vangide-valimiskeelu-leevendamisele-pidurit.
 Eesti Vabariigi põhiseaduse muutmise seadus kohaliku omavalitsuse volikogu valimistel valimisea langetamiseks 703 SE [The Act on Amendments to the Constitution of the Republic of Estonia for Reducing the Voting Age for Local Government Council Elections]. Available at: http://www.riigikogu.ee/tegevus/eelnoud/eelnou/b0f58e59-bf36-40e3-bbd7-3aff08428bdf/.
 Eesti Vabariigi põhiseaduse muutmise seadus kohaliku omavalitsuse volikogu valimistel valimisea langetamiseks [The Act on Amendments to the Constitution of the Republic of Estonia for Reducing the Voting Age for Local Government Council Elections]. Available at: https://www.riigiteataja.ee/akt/115052015001.
 Tallinna Ringkonnakohtu otsus haldusasjas nr 3-15-403 [Tallinn Circuit Court judgment in administrative case no. 3-15-403]. Available at: https://www.riigiteataja.ee/kohtuteave/maa_ringkonna_kohtulahendid/menetlus.html?kohtuasjaNumber=3-15-403/11.
 Arvamus põhiseaduslikkuse järelevalve kohtumenetluses Riigikogu valimise seaduse § 4 lõige 3 ja § 22 lõige 3 [Opinion in constitutional review proceedings on Riigikogu Election Act § 4 (3) and § 22 (3)]. Available at: http://oiguskantsler.ee/sites/default/files/field_document2/6iguskantsleri_arvamus_riigikogu_valimise_seaduse_ss_4_loige_3_ja_ss_22_loige_3_3-4-1-2-15.pdf.
 “Kesknoored valimisea langetamisest: see on noorte petmine” [Centre Party youths on decreasing voting age: youths are being cheated]. Delfi. 6.05.2015. Available at: http://www.delfi.ee/news/paevauudised/eesti/kesknoored-valimisea-langetamisest-see-on-noorte-petmine?id=71403581.
Human rights as a basic framework of progressive politics have been increasingly heavily criticised in the past years. Historically, the discourse of human rights has primarily been used to protect the rights of the individual from abuse by authority of the state. Let’s think of Charter 77, which set the socialist Czechoslovakian state against breaches of freedom of expression, right to a fair trial and freedom of assembly. Let’s think of humanitarian interventions in Balkan countries in the 1990s.
In those moments, in the name of protecting human rights, it was possible to create great coalitions, where persons holding very different ideologies agreed that no matter the other differences between them they can all agree on unfairness of torture, unfair trials and political repressions.
Although the human rights framework has proved itself to be the rhetorical and institutional weapon with which to prevent most horrible cruelty and guarantee order, which the philosopher Judith Shklar has called “liberalism of fear”, the challenges of the 21st century seem to be made from a different stuff. Estonia has independent judiciary, people are not repressed here for their political views, here human dignity isn’t degraded. These generally recognised fundamental rights are protected.
And yet for many people the formal guarantee of human rights does not mean that they can fully enjoy their individual freedoms in the society to the full extent. Even though we declare that genders are treated equally in Estonia we continue to have one of the greatest gender pay gaps in Europe. Many institutions monitoring equal treatment are funded by Norwegian project funds or by EU’s structural funds and them continuing on after three or four years is increasingly unsure. Legal counselling is accessible for weakened groups only to a limited extent. At an age of increasing inequality, it is increasingly clear that not only the formal inequality in the eyes of the law needs to be addressed, but also new ways of empowering people so that they can actually use their rights needs to be figured out. But here the consensus on universality of human rights disappears. In the world of politics, a situation, which seems to be a breach of a social right for one person may seem to be a restriction on freedom to conduct business or freedom to dispose of private property for another.
In opposition to the critics who think that human rights’ discourse that centres on legislation and state institutions does not have anything to say about the increasing inequality in the real world, the “Human Rights in Estonia 2016–2017” points out a series of shortcomings which have to do with applying active activities to formal rights. Guaranteeing human dignity of psychiatric patients in observation rooms, guaranteeing legal counselling for vulnerable groups, issues of data protection on the level of the state as well as private companies (Facebook and other social networks), open governance turning from a declaration into an activity with substance – these are all topics that need positive, active action, not just restriction of the authority of the state in order to be solved.
The report also prescribes steps, which do set new obligations for the society as a whole, but for this price empower the vulnerable individuals. An example of this is establishment of the state-funded maintenance allowance fund, which makes it possible to pay allowance also to those single parents who for some reason cannot retrieve maintenance from the other parent. Turning the focus of their activities to these topics would mean greater politization from human rights activist and redefining the market fundamentalist liberalism dominating the Estonian society as something more social and crowdsourced. This would be a very welcome change.
In the beginning of 2017 there were 149,900 persons with disabilities in Estonia (11.4% of the population), which means an addition of nearly 3600 persons compared to the previous year. Most of the persons with disabilities belong to an older age group (more than two thirds are at least 55 years old).
The Work Ability Reform, which was initiated in 2016 brought several changes to the discipline. Instead of incapacity for work as of 1 July 2016 the person’s preserved work ability is evaluated instead. Instead of a pension for incapacity for work the persons with diminished capacity for work are paid work ability allowance; labour market measures are actively developed in order to help persons with diminished capacity for work to get back to work. As a result of systemic rearrangements, the Estonian Unemployment Insurance Fund is now the body responsible for supporting persons of working age and persons with diminished capacity for work. The task of the Estonian National Social Insurance Board is to detect the degree of disability and work with children, people of retirement age and persons with no work ability. The purpose of the changes is to support active life of persons with disabilities and their return to the labour market. Additionally, in the beginning of 2017 the obligation of providing support services to children with severe and profound disabilities along with compiling case plans was moved from the Estonian National Social Insurance Board to local authorities.
Political and institutional developments
In June of 2016 the Government approved the “Welfare Development Plan 2016–2023”, which gathers together strategic goals for labour, social protection, gender equality and equal treatment policies for 2016–2023. One of the goals of the Development Plan is to develop provision and organisation of social services and improve accessibility and quality of the services.
At the end of 2015 Estonia submitted its first periodic report to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities based on activities for 2012–2015. Based on international practice the Estonian Chamber of Disabled People started putting together its own independent report on the situation of persons with disabilities in Estonia in 2016.
In 2015 the state continued modernisation of special welfare service places. The developments are also based on the development plan for special welfare for 2014–2020. The European Union, in order to implement the changes, is intending to reorganise the infrastructure of special welfare and improve the quality and accessibility of services from structural instruments for 2014 – 2023. The plan is to reorganise 1200 special care home places, create at least 200 new places and replace large dorm-style special care homes with smaller ones containing up to 30 places. The process of changing the service places is called deinstitutionalisation. Then again, the viewpoint of service providers has not always matched that of service users, the persons close to them and the surrounding community’s.  
The reduction of caregivers’ care work load and the increase of the opportunities for them to participate in labour market has been paid vital attention to. A care work load task force was established with the Government Office in December of 2015 with the intention of relieving the care work load of family caregivers. The goal of the task force was to chart out problems related to family caregiving and create solutions based on the needs of persons close to them. The 2017 survey of International Bank for Reconstruction and Development on the situation of long-term caregiving in Estonia was one of the results of the task force’s activities. The report recommends Estonia significantly increase funding for long-term caregiving in order to meet the demands stemming from aging of the population. The report also describes that organisation of long-term caregiving is fragmented between social and health sectors and places a disproportionately large care work load on the family members and persons close to them. A recommended solution is to create common criteria for assigning caregiver’s allowance and develop support networks for family caregivers, as well as counselling, along with increased funding of the sector.
Information system SKAIS 2, which was supposed to be ready by the end of 2016 and was supposed to be used for exchanging data on social services and social benefits, has still not been completed and implemented. Neither has been completed and implemented the electronic technical aid card, which means a person with a disability has to be “jogged” between various institutions and service providers when applying for a technical aid. Problems have also been caused by faulty data in e-health, which has been the reason why a person’s assessment of work ability has been wrong, or it hasn’t been possible at all. Faulty data means that a person has to wait for the decision on assessment of work ability and decision on disability for longer.
The new Social Welfare Act stating conditions on how liability is distributed between the state and the local authority in providing social services came into force in 2016. Problems have been caused by different interpretations of the Local Government Organisation Act. This has also been drawn attention to by the Chancellor of Justice in her address of towns and rural municipalities. The absence of sign language interpretation service from the list of local governments’ social services has also been pointed out as a problem; neither is it defined as a state service.
In 2016 the rehabilitation system was split in two – the social rehabilitation and work rehabilitation. The goal of social rehabilitation is to achieve as independent living as possible along with education suitable for the person’s capabilities, acquiring of skills needed for work, and participation in community life. The goal of work rehabilitation is to increase the person’s work ability and support their activity on the labour market. However, there are problems with access to rehabilitation, as for example at the moment there are no service providers in Hiiumaa.
The technical aid system was changed in the beginning of 2016, and instead of the country government and local authorities it is now being organised by the Estonian National Social Insurance Board. The change has been positive considering the fact that obtaining of a technical aid or the extent of aid is no longer influenced by the person’s place of residence, and the open market should lower the price of technical aids because of competition. At the same time the new system places on persons with disabilities and their family members a disproportionately great work load in obtaining information about and comparing the technical aids in order to make an informed decision. So far there is no comprehensive comparative information system in terms of descriptions, prices and providers.
As of beginning of 2017 the drawing up of rehabilitation plan for children is no longer the requirement for making a decision about disability, and as of July 2017 the decision-making regarding children applying for a disability for the first time became faster. Instead of the 88 days that was the time frame earlier (the average length of procedure) the Estonian National Social Insurance Board now announces the decision, if there is sufficient medical data, within 15 working days.
The Estonian Ministry of Education and Research is planning on changing the organisation of studies for students with special educational needs. The purpose of the changes is to provide students a more comprehensive support in acquiring their education and to grant schools a wider knowledge of the needs of the students.
In August of 2017 the Ministry of Social Affairs sent the amendments to the Equal Treatment Act to be approved; it would give the monitoring duty of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities to the Gender Equality and Equal Treatment Commissioner. At the time of writing this chapter the draft has not yet passed on to the Government from the Ministry. Until now the obligation of monitoring taken with ratifying the Convention in 2012 has not been regulated on legislative level. Before, the minority groups had the right to turn to the Commissioner or the courts in cases of discrimination upon being hired, in employment and in vocational training, but upon passing of the draft the Commissioner and the courts are available in case of hindrances regarding access to education, receiving social benefits and services, health care or goods and services.
Statistics and surveys
In 2016 the survey on development of social services in rural areas was carried out; it discovered the need for development of social transport in all of the counties. Social transport is considered the basic service, considering access to social services; it is also one of the services provided by local authorities that have had most problems with its quality.
In February of 2017 the National Audit Office published a survey on state’s activity in preparing for the Work Ability Reform. The survey pointed out that employers’ readiness in hiring persons with loss of work ability is low. 31% of employers were prepared to hire persons with loss of work ability, 44% saw no opportunity for doing that, and the rest did not have a viewpoint. The survey also pointed out that a great hindrance to success of the Work Ability Reform are the local authorities’ differing capabilities in providing social services supporting looking for work and going to work. The local authorities have a hard time finding support persons, although the need for them is ever-increasing.
The Estonian Centre for Applied Research Centar published a survey in 2017 on effectiveness of organisation of education for students with special educational needs and the associated methods. The survey revealed that the opportunities of children with disabilities to receive support methods differ greatly in different regions and implementation of inclusive education organisation is hindered by attitudes of the community. The offered solutions included increasing the number of support specialists, guiding attitudes of the community and increasing regional cooperation in order to support students with special educational needs.
An example of a good practice is the competition of universal design for student projects organised by Ministry of Social Affairs in 2016 – it was aimed at finding solutions to the living environment that surrounds us based on the principles of universal design. On the other hand, the regulation on accessibility has still not come into force; disability associations often carry out monitoring of accessibility themselves.
In 2016 a pilot project was initiated which aimed to improve the living conditions of persons with disabilities. Piloting took place in Tallinn and adapting dwellings of persons with restricted activity was supported on 45 occasions. In the following years the project will continue all over Estonia and by 2023 it is planned that 2000 dwellings will have been adapted.
In 2017 the government approved a draft that as of 1 January 2018 gives the parents of children with severe disability the right to apply for erasing of student loans, so far, this right was had by the parents of children with profound disability and persons with no work ability had this right.
In April of 2017 the Estonian Chamber of Disabled People and the Ministry of Social Affairs signed a joint statement of intent with the goal of providing independent counselling for persons with diminished capacity for work. This service that came into effect in the second half of 2017 makes it possible to get counselling on issues regarding assessment of work ability and there is a specialist to help file challenges.
The disability non-profit associations have issued various manuals. Estonian Association of the Blind put together a manual “Kui kohtad nägemispuudega inimest” (When you meet a person with a visual disability) and the NGO Kakora compiled “Käsiraamat ligipääsetavate ja mitmekülgsete kultuuriürituste korraldamiseks” (Manual for organising accessible and diverse cultural events). The Estonian Chamber of Disabled People compiled the widely received book “Teekond erilise lapse kõrval” (The road alongside a special child), which is meant for persons close to children and young people with special needs. The Estonian Association of the Deaf developed an international sign language e-dictionary, which can be used in Estonian as well as in English.
Noteworthy public discussions
In the beginning of 2016, upon the initiation of the technical aid reform, 200 people received unexpectedly large bills for technical aids without any warning. In 2017 the topic of technical aids continued in the public eye along with several scandals regarding the system of technical aids, where various partners of the Health Insurance Fund allegedly issued them fake invoices. The Estonian National Social Insurance Board also detected possible cases of invoicing fraud in August of 2017.
Similarly, in the social sphere much discussion was created by waiting lists for social rehabilitation, where the means for providing services ran out in the beginning of 2017 and the waiting lists grew very long. In addition to that the special welfare’s funding for creating new service places was frozen in the beginning of 2017 and a waiting list consisting of about a thousand persons allows access to service only if a current service user leaves. The issue of waiting lists for medical specialists has received a lot of attention – this also acutely affects persons with disabilities. In 2017 there was also a lot of public discussions regarding challenges to decisions of the new Work Ability Reform, which have led to court cases. 
- Establish minimum requirements for social services provided by local authorities and an effective review over their quality.
- Analyse the effect of the Administrative Reform on organisation of the social welfare system and accessibility to services in various local authorities.
- Provide specific activities for decreasing the care work load of long-term caregivers and developing support networks for family caregivers.
- Give the Gender Equality and Equal Treatment Commissioner the role of monitoring the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
- Increase support for employers and better connect the education of persons with disabilities with the expectations of the labour market in order to effectively start the Work Ability Reform.
 Eesti Statistika Kvartalikiri [Quarterly journal of Statistics Estonia]. 2017. 2. Available at: https://www.stat.ee/valjaanne-2017_eesti-statistika-kvartalikiri-2-17
 Estonia’s first report to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. 2015 Available at: https://www.sm.ee/sites/default/files/content-editors/puudega_inimesele/pik_aruanne_eesti_keeles.pdf
 Ministry of Social Affairs. Erihoolekande arengukava aastateks 2014–2020 [Development plan for special welfare for 2014–2020]. 2014. Available at: https://www.sm.ee/sites/default/files/content-editors/eesmargid_ja_tegevused/Sotsiaalhoolekanne/Puudega_inimetele/erihoolekande_arengukava_2014-2020.pdf
 Ministry of Social Affairs. Erihoolekande arengukava aastateks 2014–2020 [Development plan for special welfare for 2014–2020]. 2014. Available at: https://www.sm.ee/sites/default/files/content-editors/eesmargid_ja_tegevused/Sotsiaalhoolekanne/Puudega_inimetele/erihoolekande_arengukava_2014-2020.pdf
 Kangur, M. 2015. Psüühiliste erivajadustega inimeste peremaja kerkimist naabrusse Tartus veel peljatakse [Building family houses for people with mental special needs in Tartu is still feared]. Available at: http://www.err.ee/536400/psuuhiliste-erivajadustega-inimeste-peremaja-kerkimist-naabrusesse-tartus-veel-peljatakse
 Kaasik, M. 2016. Suured erihooldekodud kaovad, lähedased on reformi eel mures [Large special care homes to disappear, the people close to them worried ahead of the reform]. Available at: http://www.err.ee/578547/suured-erihooldekodud-kaovad-lahedased-on-reformi-eel-mures
 Pott, T. 2017. Erihooldekodu krundivalik pealinnas tekitab vaidlusi [Selection of building plot for special care home creates disputes in the capital]. Available at: http://www.err.ee/588342/erihooldekodu-krundivalik-pealinnas-tekitab-vaidlusi
 World Bank Group. Reducing the burden of care in Estonia. 2017. Available at: https://riigikantselei.ee/sites/default/files/content-editors/Failid/hoolduskoormus/estonia_ltc_report_final.pdf
 Government Office. Maailmapank soovitab Eestil märkimisväärselt suurendada pikaajalise hoolduse rahastamist [International Bank for Reconstruction and Development recommends Estonia significantly increase funding for long-term caregiving]. 2017. https://riigikantselei.ee/et/uudised/maailmapank-soovitab-eestil-markimisvaarselt-suurendada-pikaajalise-hoolduse-rahastamist
 National Audit Office. Riigi tegevus töövõimereformi ettevalmistamisel [State’s activity in preparing for the Work Ability Reform]. 2017. Available at: http://www.riigikontroll.ee/tabid/168/amid/557/ItemId/950/language/et-EE/Default.aspx
 Chancellor of Justice. Sotsiaalteenused kohalikus omavalitsuses [Social services in local authorities]. 2016. Available at: http://www.oiguskantsler.ee/sites/default/files/field_document2/sotsiaalteenused_kohalikus_omavalitsuses.pdf
 Sotsiaalhoolekande seadus [Social Welfare Act]. 2017. State Gazette I, 7. Available at: https://www.riigiteataja.ee/akt/130122015005?leiaKehtiv
 Estonian National Social Insurance Board. Tegevuskohad [Places of activity]. 2016. Available at: https://www.sotsiaalkindlustusamet.ee/sites/default/files/tegevuskohad_070316.pdf
 Estonian Chamber of Disabled People. Esmakordselt puuet taotleva laste otsuste tegemise aeg muutub kiiremaks [Decision-making timeframe regarding children applying for a disability for the first time to become shorter.]. 2017. Available at: http://www.epikoda.ee/esmakordselt-puuet-taotleva-laste-otsuste-tegemise-aeg-muutub-kiiremaks/#more-10528
 Estonian Ministry of Education and Research. Hariduslike erivajadustega õpilaste õppekorralduse muutmine [Changing the organisation of studies for students with special educational needs]. 2017. Available at: https://www.hm.ee/sites/default/files/pgs_eelnou_tuge_vajavate_opilaste_infomaterjal.pdf
 Ministry of Social Affairs. Võrdse kohtlemise seadus tagab edaspidi kõigi diskrimineerimistunnuste alusel samaväärse kaitse [The Equal Treatment Act to guarantee equal protection based on all grounds for discrimination in the future]. 2017. Available at: http://www.sm.ee/et/uudised/vordse-kohtlemise-seadus-tagab-edaspidi-koigi-diskrimineerimistunnuste-alusel-samavaarse
 Analysis. Sotsiaalteenuste arendamine maakondades 2016–2020 [Development of social services in counties 2016–2020]. 2016. Available at: https://www.sm.ee/sites/default/files/content-editors/eesmargid_ja_tegevused/Sotsiaalteenuste_ja_-toetuste_andmeregister_STAR/Lisainfo/mak_analuus_toimetatud.pdf
 National Audit Office. Riigi tegevus töövõimereformi ettevalmistamisel [State’s activity in preparing for the Work Ability Reform]. 2017. Available at: http://www.riigikontroll.ee/tabid/168/amid/557/ItemId/950/language/et-EE/Default.aspx
 The Estonian Centre for Applied Research Centar. 2017. Haridusliku erivajadusega õpilaste kaasava hariduskorralduse ja sellega seotud meetmete tõhusus [Effectiveness of organisation of education for students with special educational needs and the associated methods]. Available at: http://www.centar.ee/uus/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/P%C3%B5hiraport-final.pdf
 Ministry of Social Affairs. Algas universaalse disaini konkurss [The universal design competition has begun]. 2016. Available at: https://www.sm.ee/et/uudised/algas-universaalse-disaini-konkurss
 Tallinn. Kodukohanduse projekt [Project for adapting dwellings]. 2016. Available at: http://www.tallinn.ee/est/Kodukohanduse-pilootprojekt-2
 Ministry of Social Affairs. Raske puudega laste vanematel tekib õigus õppelaenu kustutamiseks [Parents of children with severe disability to have right to apply for erasing of student loans]. 2017. Available at: https://www.sm.ee/et/uudised/raske-puudega-laste-vanematel-tekib-oigus-oppelaenu-kustutamiseks
 Ministry of Social Affairs. Eesti Puuetega Inimeste Koda ning tervise- ja tööminister allkirjastasid ühiste kavatsuste protokolli [Estonian Chamber of Disabled People and the Ministry of Social Affairs signed a joint statement of intent]. 2017. Available at: https://www.sm.ee/et/uudised/eesti-puuetega-inimeste-koda-ning-tervise-ja-toominister-allkirjastasid-uhiste-kavatsuste
 NGO Kakora. Sündmusi kõigile! Käsiraamat ligipääsetava ja mitmekülgse kultuuriürituse korraldamiseks [Events for everyone! Manual for organising accessible and diverse cultural events]. 2017. Available at: http://www.kakora.sarasyl.com/et/Kultuur/K%E4siraamat.pdf
 Teekond erilise lapse kõrval. Käsiraamat puudega ja erivajadustega laste ning noorte lähedastele [The road alongside a special child. A manual for persons close to children and young people with special needs]. Habicht, A., Kask, H. 2016. Available at: http://www.epikoda.ee/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/Teekond-erilise-lapse-k%C3%B5rval.pdf-WEB.pdf
 Social Affairs Committee. Sotsiaalkomisjon leidis abivahendite reformi käivitamisel puudusi [Social Affairs Committee detected shortcomings in initiating the technical aids reform]. 2016. Available at: https://www.riigikogu.ee/pressiteated/sotsiaalkomisjon-et-et/sotsiaalkomisjon-leidis-abivahendite-reformi-kaivitamisel-puudusi/
 Postimees. Lakson, P. Haigekassalt väidetavalt raha välja petnud firma suhtes algatati kriminaalasi [Criminal proceedings initiated against the company that allegedly gained money from Health Insurance Fund by deceit]. 2017. Available at: http://www.postimees.ee/4055859/haigekassalt-vaidetavalt-raha-valja-petnud-firma-suhtes-algatati-kriminaalasi
 Raieste, A. Sotsiaalkindlustusamet uurib 32 000 euro ulatuses võimalikke arvepettusi [Estonian National Social Insurance Board is investigating possible invoicing fraud worth 32,000 euros]. 2017. Available at: http://www.err.ee/613786/sotsiaalkindlustusamet-uurib-32-000-euro-ulatuses-voimalikke-arvepettusi
 Estonian Chamber of Disabled People. Eesti Puuetega Inimeste Koda: Olukord sotsiaalvaldkonnas on kriitiline [Estonian Chamber of Disabled People: the situation in the social sphere is critical]. 2017. Available at: http://www.epikoda.ee/eesti-puuetega-inimeste-koda-olukord-sotsiaalvaldkonnas-on-kriitiline/
 Eesti Päevaleht. Ibrus, K. Värske töövõimereformi otsused on juba viinud esimeste kohtuasjadeni [The decisions of the new Work Ability Reform have already lead to first court cases]. 2017. Available at: http://epl.delfi.ee/news/eesti/varske-toovoimereformi-otsused-on-viinud-juba-esimeste-kohtuasjadeni?id=77685466
Rights of the Child
Years ago, at a Chicago church on Father’s Day the then senator, later 44th President of the United States Barack Obama emphasised in his speech: “What I’ve realized is that life doesn’t count for much unless you’re willing to do your small part to leave our children – all of our children – a better world.” In a globalising world, at a time of over-population, hybrid wars and ecological crises we all need to take the time to think about what kind of world we are going to leave our children, and make our contribution, as private individuals, communities and the state as a whole.
Contributing to the rights of the child will contribute to creating a fairer and a more inclusive society. It is a positive occurrence that in years 2016–2017 Estonia was on the international front line of promoting rights of the child. Children and rights of the child are also in focus on a national plane with several remarkable developments and initiatives taking place, a selection of which will be discussed in this chapter.
Estonia celebrated the 25th anniversary of passing the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in 2016. Estonian Ambassador to the UN served as the President of the United Nations Children’s Fund Executive Board; Estonia was also given an award by the UN partner organisation IFFD (International Federation for Family Development), which recognised the state’s consistent and powerful activity in improving welfare of children and families. At Council of Europe presidency, the rights of the child, among other issues, were also in focus; discussion was initiated on implementing the Council of Europe Strategy for the Rights of the Child (2016–2021). The priorities of the strategy – creating equal opportunities for all children; children’s right to participate; violence-free life; child-friendly justice; rights of the child in digital environment – are all equally topical for Estonia as well. The Estonian Presidency of the Council of the European Union takes place from July until December of 2017 with the goal of helping to create an inclusive and sustainable Europe. Even though European Union has not joined the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child the EU has expressed the desire to be bound by principles of rights of the child stated in the Convention; which was also confirmed in the 2017 “EU Guidelines for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of the Child”.
Estonia has the obligation stemming from the Convention to submit reports describing the national situation to the Convention’s monitoring authority, the Committee on the Rights of the Child every five years. Estonian state submitted its second report in 2014, in 2015 reports were submitted by the NGO Estonian Union for Child Welfare as representative of citizens’ association, and the Office of the Chancellor of Justice and children’s ombudsman. In February of 2016 representatives of the NGO Estonian Union for Child Welfare and the Office of the Chancellor of Justice jointly presented their reports in Geneva in front of the Committee on the Rights of the Child and answered the Committee members’ questions. The Committee submitted the state its Concluding observations in March of 2017, where it welcomed passing the Child Protection Act that had come into force 1 January 2016, recommended Estonia set up the necessary regulations and make budgetary provisions in order to effectively enforce the current legislative measures, including the effective implementation of the Child Protection Act. The recommendations confirm what was mentioned in the Estonian Human Rights Centre’s Annual Report “Human Rights in Estonia 2014/2015” that children are people here and now, just adopting acts of law is not enough to guarantee their rights, supportive action and changing the entire situation is needed (law in books →law in action). The Committee recommended making improvements regarding collecting data concerning children, training of specialists working with different children, helping abused children, fighting against bullying, hiring supporting specialists, granting Estonian citizenship for 15–18-year-old children, but also that Estonia further regulate obligations of local authorities in creating child protection officials’ positions. Most of the Committee’s regulations match the supplementary report of the Estonian Union for Child Welfare and the report of the Office of the Chancellor of Justice.
The main effect of regional development in Estonia on need for social protection and its organisation stems from differentiation in incomes of the population on local authority level. In comparison of the years the proportion of under-18-year-old children and young persons in the population has primarily decreased and the proportion of persons 65 and older has increased. The decrease, aging and relocation of population has a direct effect on sustainability of local authorities. The results of the survey on increasing effectiveness and development of child protection work on local level once again confirmed that the organisation, customs and work methods of child protection work differ greatly in various local authorities, based primarily on the type of local government – whether it has great socio-economic effect, whether it surrounds the regional centre or is a small local authority on the outskirts of the region. The problem is that the child protection workers are overworked and lack time, which causes the preventative activities to suffer. The challenges stemming from the administrative reform are almost at hand. It is essential that the number of officials does not further decrease due to the administrative reform and reforming of rural municipalities, that children as a vulnerable target group are not the collateral damage of the reform, but that local authorities are more capable in guaranteeing welfare of children and families. Cooperation and interdisciplinary developments would help bring state closer to those who need help as well as use the existing resources more effectively.
The Child Protection Council established by the Government of the Republic based on the Child Protection Act convened for the first time in June 2017 with the intention of setting child protection policy goals and implementing them, making proposals regarding guaranteeing children’s welfare and protection of rights of the child and making recommendations on preventative work regarding child protection. It is important to have an overview of the rights of the child and children’s welfare on a government level in a situation where different disciplines discuss children often only from their point of view, and activities regarding children are often fragmented.
The new Child Protection Act increased the role of local authorities and state authorities. With the Child Protection Act coming into force 1 January 2016 the Estonian National Social Insurance Board, which has created a department for child protection, was given the role of increasing the quality of child protection work and supporting accessibility to good quality national help. The National Social Insurance also has the task of organising child protection, implementing the national child protection policy, implementing national strategies and coordinating interdisciplinary cooperation and prevention on child protection. Due to county governments finishing work in 2018 in the course of the Administrative Reform the National Social Insurance Board also organises national adoption since 2017.
According to the survey on spread of children’s and young people’s sexual abuse 32% of young people of the age 15–19 have experienced sexual abuse; every 10th young person has experienced sexual violence, while every 6th young person was under 14 at the time of the incident. Since 2017 the National Social Insurance Board provides a child-friendly and multidisciplinary service of Children’s house, which allows to provide better help to abused children and detect more instances of abuse. The service supports closer cooperation between the child protection and the legal protection system, helps put child’s best interests first and make criminal proceedings more child-friendly.
UNESCO special ambassador Her Royal Highness Princess Laurentien of the Netherlands emphasised at the international conference of ISPCAN (International Society for the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect) in The Hague in October of 2017 that children are not only our future, they are our present as well. Any kind of abuse of children must be combated and prevented every day. This goal is, in addition to the Strategy for Preventing Violence for 2015–2020 and the Strategy of Children and Families 2012–2020, also supported by the Council of Europe’s Lanzarote Convention and the Istanbul Convention, that were adopted in Estonia in the reporting period.
The large number of maintenance allowance debtors (ca 8900) who do not pay alimony to their children (more than 11,000) continues to be a big problem. In 2017 the maintenance allowance scheme came into force, measures applied to maintenance allowance debtors also became stricter. A supplementary state support for hobby education and recreational activities is a positive development worth noting. Despite opposition from interest groups the amendments to the Employment Contracts Act were passed, which should broaden the opportunities for employment for minors and make it easier for entrepreneurs to hire them.
Committee on the Rights of the Child published General Comment No 19, which for the first time provides states specific guidelines on UN level regarding investing in children, emphasising that states must follow the practice of open, inclusive and responsible mobilisation of resources and expenses, this means including children and young people in planning the budget. Hopefully this comment will be considered in future budgeting on state and local authority level.
The Government has initiated amendment to the Penal Code and other relevant acts (the treatment of juvenile offenders’ amendment, draft act 453 SE), which was motivated by the draft act amending the Social Welfare Act and other relevant acts (draft act 360 SE), which would declare the Juvenile Sanctions Act invalid as of 1 January 2018 and dissolve the juvenile committees. A paradigm shift is taking place – from penalizing justice to restorative justice; juvenile offenders will be treated after the amendment comes into force as children who need help.
Court proceedings and practice
Several judgments of the Supreme Court had to do with providing maintenance to a child – for example, the Supreme Court was of the opinion that the parents have the duty to earn an income stemming from obligation to provide maintenance to an underage child, however, the parents cannot be required to earn an income that allows paying maintenance allowance that is larger than the minimum amount (3-2-1-15-17). Application of the 1980 Hague Convention (on international kidnapping) also came up – the Supreme Court found, among other things, that there is no specific requirement regarding the form of consent of the parent’s agreement to moving to another state with the child in the sense of Article 13 section 1 of the Convention, but the agreement has to be sufficiently clear (3-2-1-179-16). Once again arose the question of best interest of the child regarding a mother who had been imprisoned, where the Court found that according to section 54 subsection 1 of the Imprisonment Act the mother doesn’t always have the right to live with the child and this will be decided on each individual case’s facts (3-2-1-26-16). The Supreme Court also conceded that determining the whereabouts of the child each time is not a regular matter of child care, but an important matter relating to the child (3-2-1-35-16), that the kindergarten in addition to the service of child care also has contractual liability (3-2-1-128-16), and that same-sex couples have the right to protection of family life as well (3-3-1-19-17).
European Court of Human Rights emphasised in the reporting period among other things that in deciding the right to communicate with the separated parent also the child’s recent opinion must be considered (case no 23280/08 Moog v. Germany); in deciding communication with the child the court is not allowed to rely on expert opinion that is years old (case no 68884/13 Cincimino v. Italy); the state has the obligation to actively support preserving relations between the parent living separately and the child (case no 76171/13 Solarino v. Italy) and the principle of best interests of the child has to be the basis in the decision-making process (case no 71776/12 N.Ts. v. Georgia). In October of 2017 the European Court of Human Rights (case no 23022/13, D.MD. v. Romania) emphasised that states members to the Convention should strive for protection of dignity of children expressly and uniformly. In practice this requires presence of suitable legal framework which enables children protection from domestic violence, including a) efficient deterrent from serious violation of such personal integrity, b) reasonable steps to prevent abuse that the authorities know or should know about, and c) effective official investigation if a person has submitted a believable claim regarding abuse.
Statistics and surveys
In comparison to 2014 poverty of children, young people and middle-age people has decreased. At the same time, according to the 2016 UNICEF survey children from the poorest families in Estonia suffer from 28% more health complaints than children from richer families. Various studies show that many children are overweight, chronic illnesses are on the rise, there are increasingly more mental health problems detected, children smoke and use alcohol earlier than in other states, and are less physically active. The speed of increasing number of children with disabilities is worrying – for years it has been more than twice of what has been detected among people of working age or the older population. The proportion of children among persons with disabilities has reached 41% by 2017, while mental and behavioural disorders have increased by 3.4 times in comparison to 2010. According to the National Audit Office’s audit on state’s activity in keeping children healthy and treating them the health care organisation of Estonian children requires rapid changes, since the children’s illnesses are not detected sufficiently early they are not treated in time, treatment is not always consistent and the state lacks overview of the number of children with illnesses and their illnesses.
In at least 26% of the registered instances of domestic violence in 2016 the domestic violence was either witnessed by a child, or a child was the victim. Children in domestic violence instances were most often (in nearly 80% of the case) victims to physical abuse (hitting with a hand or a belt, kicking with feet), in 13% of the cases they were victims to sexual abuse, and in 4% of threatening.
It is a positive tendency that in ten years the number of offences committed by minors has decreased a little over three times. In 2016 there were 1016 criminal offences committed by minors registered, which is 29% less than in 2015. The number of misdemeanours committed by minors has also decreased. Analysis of need and opportunities for special intervention for minors who have committed sexual offences revealed that there is no special standard model for treatment of minors who have been convicted of committing sexual offences and are imprisoned or probationers, and they lack the opportunity to receive professional help stemming from the specifics of the offence.
The proportion of young persons who are studying or working has generally increased. The survey on young people starting independent life from substitute homes revealed the causes of lower than average levels of education for substitute home youths: gaps in education (including interruptions at various levels of schooling); difficulties in continuing the interrupted education (including difficulties in combining work and studying), young persons’ lower educational ambitions and relatively low awareness of support opportunities aimed at young persons from substitute homes.
An example of a good practice is the project coordinated by Eesti Noorteühenduste liit “Noored valimisvalvurid” (young election guardians), which aims to guide young persons 16–19 years of age to participate in their local electoral committee’s work, to try out the role of an official election observer, or to participate in activities of election guardians.
The Committee on the Rights of the Child General Comment no 12, which explains what the right of the child to be heard means, was translated into Estonian on the initiative of the NGO Estonian Union for Child Welfare. The Estonian Union for Child Welfare will continue to translate the Committee on the Rights of the Child General Comments also in the coming years in order to better understand the content of articles of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
In the past couple of years, the most common type of abuse of minors has been abuse with intention of trafficking in human beings. The Ministry of Justice carried out the campaign 1ELU (1 life) in February of 2017 inviting people to notice cases related to trafficking in human beings; a short film for young people exploring cases involving trafficking in young persons was made as well.
Stemming from section 14 subsection 2 of the Child Protection Act refresher training of child protection officials was started in 2016. The study module on rights of the child was compiled and implemented on the initiative of the NGO Estonian Union for Child Welfare in cooperation with the Office of the Chancellor of Justice. The course received positive feedback from participants and will continue in 2018.
For the sixth time, the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival’s Children’s and Youth Film Festival Just Film contained the programme on the rights of the child, which was organised in cooperation with Just Film, the Office of the Chancellor of Justice, Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Social Affairs and the NGO Estonian Union for Child Welfare.
Noteworthy public discussion
The topic of funding of private schools gained the public’s attention. On 7 June 2016 the Riigikogu passed an amendment replacing the earlier obligation of the state to cover operational expenditure of private schools with the local authorities’ voluntary participation in covering operational expenditure.
In 2017 the school students’ health protection working group started work on the initiative of the Ministry of Social Affairs; it is to discuss whether limits to organisation of studies, which have been set for the protection of children’s health have been sufficiently implemented. Amendments to current legislation will be prepared based on the recommendations of the working group.
The Office of the Chancellor of Justice initiated discussion on whether it is justified to ask for a transference fee upon the child changing a sports club. Several sports federations, the Ministry of Culture, the Ministry of Education and Research, the Estonian Youth Work Centre, Estonian Olympic Committee, and Tallinn Sports and Youth Department participated in the discussion.
In October of 2017 young persons of at least 16 years of age could participate in municipal council elections for the first time. So far only a few European states have applied such rare extension of the right to vote. The effects of the amendment can be discussed in the future, however, in order to prevent risks associated with lowering of voting age the Office of the Chancellor of Justice in cooperation with Eesti Noorteühenduste Liit helped the Ministry of Education and Research put together guidelines on election and schools, principles on how to guarantee neutrality of educational establishments during local government elections. One of the reasons why participation of children and young people in society is necessary is the aspect of the rights of the child, which states that children are full members of the society and as people they must also have the right to participate in society and processes. The repeat poll of the NGO Estonian Union for Child Welfare on supporting children’s participation and inclusion in decision-making processes revealed that in comparison to 2006 the local authorities were much more active at initiating inclusion of children and young persons, and they used more diverse forms and channels of inclusion, also the proportion of direct communication had increased in 2013. Nevertheless, local authorities check the opinion of children and young persons significantly less in questions regarding local cultural life and the local transport. 63% of the participant children and young people are aware of their right to express opinion on organisation of local life. Readiness of children and young people to get involved in organising the local life has somewhat decreased in comparison to 2013. Dalia Doman and Linda Tälli from the Youth Council of Estonian Union for Child Welfare emphasised in their presentation at 13th Towns’ and Rural Municipalities’ Days in March that participation of children and young people in organising their own lives and life around them and in voluntary activities creates a basis for developing a strong civil society, where the young people are part of active social change. In order for the voice of children and young people to have weight in different environments, it is necessary to contribute on the level of the individual, the community, as well as the state.
- Guarantee a more effective implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (including children’s social fundamental rights). Systematically collect statistical data (this includes regularly submitting reports), analysis of which to base policies guaranteeing rights of the child on.
- Increase children’s opportunities to participate in issues concerning the society, the community, and school life. Increasingly include children in decision-making processes in all environments.
- Increase multidisciplinary cooperation and knowledge and skills of investigators, judges and other experts working with children on child-friendly justice (for example, offering them training on how to question children)
- Develop the school system as a whole in order to more effectively implement inclusive education politics (this includes organising training for teachers, adjusting the necessary study environment).
- Guarantee children, including children with disabilities, access to consistent health care services, also guarantee access to support specialists at schools.
- Raise the public’s awareness on rights of the child more, introduce the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child to adults and children alike. Increase volume of human rights education on various educational levels and continuing education in occupations relating to children.
 The main focus of the “Conference on Children’s Rights in the Migration Crisis and in the Digital Environment” organised by the Estonian Institute of Human Rights, the Estonian Union for Child Welfare, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Office of the Chancellor of Justice in Tallinn on 3–4 November 2017 was on the rights of the child and their greater inclusion in decision-making processes and children’s rights in the digital environment and the Migration Crisis. Read more at: http://childrensrights.humanrightsestonia.ee/
 Council of Europe developed a means of assessment consisting of ten indicators, which aims to assess children’s participation in the state on three different levels: protection of right to participate, promotion and raising awareness of participation and creating space for participation. This means of assessment was piloted by three countries – Ireland, Romania and Estonia. In Estonia this means of assessment was piloted by the NGO Estonian Union for Child Welfare in association with the Ministry of Social Affairs. Available at: https://www.sm.ee/sites/default/files/content-editors/Lapsed_ja_pered/Lapse_oigused_ja_heaolu/et_laste_osalusprojekt_raport_2015_21_07_2015.pdf
 The Court of Justice in its 20016 case C-540/03 European Parliament v. Council of the European Union recognised the principle that in order to evaluate whether EU law is in concordance with fundamental rights of the child, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which is binding to the Member States, must be relied on (points 35–37).
 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Article 44.
 NGO Estonian Union for Child Welfare. 2015. Supplementary report to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Supplements, commentaries and recommendations of Estonian NGOs. Tallinn, 2015. Available at:
 Office of Chancellor of Justice. 2015. Report of Chancellor of Justice on implementation of UN Convention on the Rights of the Child regarding third and fourth periodic report. Available at: http://www.oiguskantsler.ee/sites/default/files/LÕK-i%20raport-eesti-FINAL.pdf
 Committee discussed Estonia’s combined 2nd–4th periodic report (CRC/C/EST/2-4) at its 2167th and 2169th meetings (CRC/C/SR. 2167th and 2169th) held on 17–18 January 2017 and took its 2193rd meeting held on 3 February 2017. Concluding observation on the 2nd–4th periodic reports of Estonia. UN Committee on the Rights of the Child. CRC/C/EST/CO/2-4. Available at: http://www.sm.ee/et/lapse-oigused-ja-heaolu-0
 Saar, H. 2015. Rights of the Child. Human Rights in Estonia 2014/2015. Estonian Human Rights Centre. Available at: https://humanrights.ee/teemad/inimoigused-eestis/inimoiguste-aruanne/inimoigused-eestis-2014-2015/lapse-oigused/
 Kõre, J., Keskpaik, A. 2017. Regionaalareng ja sotsiaalne kaitse Eestis: seosed ja vastastikused mõjud [Regional development and social protection in Estonia: connections and mutual effects]. Social Work. 2016 special edition. Available at: https://intra.tai.ee//images/prints/documents/146789980772_ST2_eri_2016_web.pdf
 There were 258,000 children up to the age of 18 in Estonia in 2015, forming 20% of the population. In ten years the number of children has decreased by nearly 30,500 or ca 11%.
 Viira, A. 2017. Kohaliku tasandi lastekaitsetöö tulemuslikkuse suurendamine ja jätkusuutlik arendamine [Increasing effectiveness and sustainability of child protection work on a local level]. Ministry of Social Affairs. Available at: https://www.sm.ee/sites/default/files/content-editors/Ministeerium_kontaktid/Uuringu_ja_analuusid/Sotsiaalvaldkond/kohaliku_tasandi_lastekaitsetoo_tulemuslikkuse_suurendamine_ja_jatkusuutlik_arendamine.pdf
 The Council includes representatives of the Estonian Union for Child Welfare, Association of Estonian Cities, Association of Municipalities of Estonia, Eesti Õpilasesinduste Liit and Eesti Noorteühenduste Liit as well as the Minister of Education and Research, the Minister of Culture, the Minister of Justice, the Minister of the Interior, the Minister of Finance and heads of the Estonian National Social Insurance Board and the National Institute for Health Development. The chair of the Council is the Minister of Social Protection, whose responsibilities include coordinating the child protection policy.
 Seksuaalse väärkohtlemise leviku uuring Eestis [Survey on spread of sexual abuse in Estonia]. 2016. Ministry of Justice. Available at: http://www.kriminaalpoliitika.ee/sites/krimipoliitika/files/elfinder/dokumendid/raport.pdf
 The act ratifying the Council of Europe Convention on the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse. State Gazette II, 03.11.2016, 1. Available at:
 Töölepingu seadus [Employment Contracts Act]. State Gazette I 2009, 5, 35. Available at: https://www.riigiteataja.ee/akt/112072014146?leiaKehtiv
 General comment No. 19. 2016. on public budgeting for the realization of children’s rights. Article 4.
 Available at: https://www.riigikohus.ee/lahendid?asjaNr=3-2-1-15-17
 Available at: https://www.riigikohus.ee/lahendid?asjaNr=3-2-1-179-16
 Available at: https://www.riigikohus.ee/lahendid?asjaNr=3-2-1-26-16
 Available at: https://www.riigikohus.ee/et/lahendid/?asjaNr=3-3-1-19-17
 The number of overweight school children has increased from 7.4% to 11.3% in 2006–2014.
 Kreitzberg, M. 2017. Puuetega inimeste arv, suundumused ja osatähtsus rahvastikus [Number of persons with disabilities, tendencies and proportion in population]. Social Work. 3/2017. Available at: http://www.tai.ee/images/uudiskirja_Puuetega_inimeste_arv.pdf
 National Audit Office. 2.11.2016. Riigi tegevus laste tervise hoidmisel ja ravimisel [State’s activity in keeping children healthy and treating hem]. Available at:
 Kraas, K., Tammiste, B. 2016. Seksuaalkuritegusid toime pannud alaealistele mõeldud erisekkumise vajaduse ja võimaluste analüüs [Analysis of need and opportunities for special intervention for minors who have committed sexual offences]. Kriminaalpoliitika analüüs [Criminal policy analysis]. Ministry of Justice. Available at: http://www.kriminaalpoliitika.ee/sites/krimipoliitika/files/elfinder/dokumendid/seksuaalkuritegusid_toime_pannud_alaealiste_erisekkumiste_vajaduse_ja_voimaluste_analuus_2016.pdf
 Kuritegevus Eestis 2016 [Crime in Estonia 2016]. Alaealiste kuritegevus [Minors’ crime]. Pages 24-53. Available at: http://www.kriminaalpoliitika.ee/sites/krimipoliitika/files/elfinder/dokumendid/kuritegevus_eestis_est_web_0.pdf
 Osila, L., Turk, P., Piirits, M., Biin, H., Anniste, K., Masso, M. 2016. Asendushoolduselt elluastuvate noorte uuring [Survey on young people starting independent life from substitute homes]. Tallinn: Praxis Center for Policy Studies. Available at: https://www.sm.ee/sites/default/files/content-editors/Lapsed_ja_pered/Asendushooldus/asendushooldus_loppraport_praxis_final.pdf
 Eesti Noorteühenduste Liit in association with Eesti Õpilasesinduste Liit, the Office of the Chancellor of Justice and the Network of Estonian Nonprofit Organizations initiated on the election year the project of “Noored valimisvalvurid” (young election guardians).
 In 2016 there were 59 registered instances of abuse of minors (§ 175) regarding 8–18-year-old children. Most of the instances of abuse were committed via web cameras on Facebook, Skype, web pages and other social networks (such as Snapchat and VKontakte), using various user accounts and names.
 Kriminaalpoliitika koduleht [Criminal policy home page]. Sotsiaalkampaania 1ELU alaleht [Sub-page of social campaign 1ELU]. Available at: http://www.kriminaalpoliitika.ee/et/kuriteoennetus/sotsiaalkampaania-kutsub-markama-inimkaubandusega-seotud-juhtumeid
 Read more about refresher training for child protection officials on the home page of the National Institute for Health Development: http://www.tai.ee/et/tegevused/koolituskeskus/koolitused/lastekaitsetootajate-koolitused
 Erakooliseaduse, noorsootöö seaduse ning põhikooli- ja gümnaasiumiseaduse muutmise seadus [Act amending the Private Schools Act, the Youth Work Act and the Basic Schools and Upper Secondary Schools Act] – State Gazette I, 16.06.2016, 1;
 The poll on school bags (“Sinu lapse koolikott”) carried out by the NGO Estonian Union for Child Welfare revealed that the school bag of 85% of the students exceeds the limit set by Minister of Social Affairs Regulation no 36 “Tervisekaitsenõuded kooli päevakavale ja õppekorraldusele” [health-protection requirements to schools’ daily plan and organisation of studies]. Available at: http://www.lastekaitseliit.ee/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/Uuring-Sinulapsekoolikott.pdf
 The queries submitted to the Chancellor of Justice in the reporting period included protection of children’s rights in relation to media, questions concerning organising tests at school, if and at what age can children be temporarily left at home alone, whether schools’ limitations on use of smart devices are in accordance with the Constitution, issues related to education of children with educational special needs, etc. See more in Chancellor of Justice’s Annual Report 2015/2016. Available at: riigi järjepidevat ja jõulistseles kohus rõhutab, etus inud ema suhtes, kus kohus leidis, et tal olt algatatudhus ja alaealiste riigi järjepidevat ja jõulistseles kohus rõhutab, etus inud ema suhtes, kus kohus leidis, et tal olt algatatudhus ja alaealiste http://www.oiguskantsler.ee/ylevaade2016/lapsed-ja-noored
 Farthing, R. 2012. Why Youth Participation? Some Justifications and Critiques of Youth Participation Using New Labour’s Youth Policies as a Case Study. Youth&Policy. Nr 109. September 2012. Available at: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Rys_Farthing/publication/298745098_Why_Youth_Participation_Some_Justifications_and_Critiques_of_Youth_Participation_Using_New_Labour’s_Youth_Policies_as_a_Case_Study/links/56eab5c108ae8c97677b9fa9/Why-Youth-Participation-Some-Justifications-and-Critiques-of-Youth-Participation-Using-New-Labours-Youth-Policies-as-a-Case-Study.pdf
 NGO Estonian Union for Child Welfare. 2017. 49 local authorities and 856 children and young persons (for 698 the mother tongue was Estonian and for 158 of them the mother tongue was Russian) participated in the repeat poll “Laste osaluse toetamine ja kaasamine otsustusprotsessides”. Available at: http://www.lastekaitseliit.ee/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/Laste-osalus-ja-kaasamine-otsustusprotsessidesse-3.pdf