The concluding observations submitted to the state by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child were discussed at the 2018 session of the Child Protection Council (which had been created by the government), and ministries responsible were designated.
On 1 January 2018 several changes in the system of treating offenders who are minors came into force in order to respond to minors’ offences more quickly and more efficiently and address the need of a child for assistance. The service of closed children’s institution commenced operation, the system for responding to minors’ offences was amended and the activities of juvenile committees were terminated, and the general principle was established that a minor can only then be sentenced when no other sanction is sufficient to prevent the minor from committing the offence.
From 2018 the substitute home service and foster care was transformed into replacement and after-care services, delegating this responsibility to local governments. Unfortunately, the implementation of the reform was rushed, among other things, no analyses were carried out, which would enable assessment of long-term impact of the decision to delegate responsibility to local governments on the replacement care system as a whole. According to Statistics Estonia, there were 990 children living in replacement homes in 2018, therefore, the trend towards family-based replacement care continues to require supplementary support from the state. The availability of after care service is insufficient, the content of the service is not clear, the volume and extent of the service depends on the local government.
On 25 May 2018 the European Union General Data Protection Regulation came into force, which emphasises that a child’s personal data needs a more specific protection compared to that of an adult. According to Estonia’s new Personal Data Protection Act the article 6(1)(a) of the European Parliament and the Council Regulation 2016/679 is applicable to information society services provided directly to a child, which states that processing the personal data of a child is only permitted if the child is at least 13 years old.
As of 1 January 2018, according to paragraph 1302 of the Social Welfare Act, a local government unit can request that a court places a child in a closed children’s institution. Amendment to paragraph 68 of the Population Register Act states a person’s obligation to ensure that the data on their place of residence is correct in the population register, as well as existence and accuracy of the address of underage children and wards. On 1 September 2019 the amendments to the Basic Schools and Upper Secondary Schools Act came into force, giving schools the opportunity to apply measures of influence on students who have had possession of prohibited objects or substances in school.
The amendments to the Code of Civil Procedure and other acts, which came into force in March of 2019, can be considered progress as they emphasise even more the need to always take into account a parent’s violence against the other parent as well as the child in procedures of determining guardianship and communication rights involving children. In order to adopt the European Union directive on procedural safeguards for children, the government approved the draft amending the Penal Code, which would in the future guarantee individual assessment of children that have become suspects of a crime and their awareness of their rights.
The Chancellor of Justice has asked the Minister of Social Affairs to consider a legislative amendment, which would enable minors to see a psychiatrist without the parent’s permission. Each year there are instances, where children seeking help do not receive it, because their parents are categorically against psychiatric help.
Court proceedings and court practice
Several Supreme Court judgments in 2018–2019 concerned issues of child maintenance, care and communication rights. The Civil Chamber judgment, which emphasised that it was in the discretion of the courts to determine the order of communication in such a way that the child takes turns to stay with each parent for periods of two weeks caused dissenting opinions. As a precedent, the court itself initiated the limitation of parental custody and the appointment of a guardian. The Supreme Court emphasised that before stripping a parent of custody it is necessary to thoroughly consider it, the court also explained matters relating to conciliation procedure, child’s place of stay and child abduction. The Supreme Court made an unprecedented judgment regarding bullying in school.
Statistics and surveys
Despite the extensive investments in regional development in the last decade the regional inequality in Estonia and its increase continue to be a major challenge. The equivalent net income of households with children varies nearly two times in different regions, the relative poverty rate three times. The decrease in the number of child protection officials and their high turnover is a significant problem. Therefore, realisation of children’s welfare and their rights still depends of which municipality their parents live in. Statistics and various surveys point to inequality in health, differences, among other things, in access to services, support specialists and hobby education. As well as in creating the European Union new youth strategy Estonia’s youths highlighted the need, among other things, to pay more attention to equal treatment, with 81% of respondents considering the issue of inequality in Estonian society important.
According to the National Institute for Health Development, the number of obese children in Estonia has continued to grow for eight years, with young persons from families of poorer economic status being the risk group (21%). In a situation where the number of measles cases in the world is highest since 2006 and according to WHO the hesitation to vaccination is one of the ten dangers to health in 2019 the number of vaccinated children in Estonia has fallen below the recommended level in the recent years.
According to the shadow report to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities titled “Life of persons with disabilities in Estonia” the number of children with disabilities in the past decade indicates a strong growth trend. In practical life, children with disabilities experience deficient protection from discrimination, little inclusion and assistance, as well as limited access to education. Accessibility of services aimed at children with intellectual disabilities and mental disorders is also deficient. Exercising the right of children with disabilities in Estonia is in direct correlation with the parents’ capability and is not equally guaranteed for everyone.
Most of the children in Estonia feel secure and safe on the internet, reveals the EU Kids Online 2018 Estonian study. 97% of 9–17-year-old Estonian children use the internet on a daily basis. Nearly a third of the children has seen something disturbing on the net environment and nearly 40% of children has witnessed cyber bullying. 23% have had contact with bullying, unfortunately nearly third of the children does not speak about what they experience to anyone. Children take up smoking later, there has been significant decrease in consuming hookahs and an increase of students who have never consumed alcohol. Nevertheless, Estonian students are at the top compared to other European and Northern American students in trying alcohol early, getting drunk, smoking and trying cannabis. Both the study of international wellbeing “Children’s World” and the study of health behaviour of Estonian students show that as children get older their subjective wellbeing decreases, as do joy in school and the mental health indicators.
Minors committed 1124 criminal offences in 2018, which is an increase of 10% on 2017. The number of criminal offences increased primarily because of the increase in number of thefts. Instances of violence and vandalism by groups of young persons have increased. As of end of the year, there were 14 minors in prison, ten of them convicted and four arrested.
The right of the child to a supportive environment free from violence is one of the central rights in the child’s life. Unfortunately, 36% of adults do not consider physical punishment of children to be violence, but a method of upbringing. The total number of sexual offences (505 in 2018) is the highest in ten years and has increased particularly because of increase in sexual offences involving a victim who is a minor (87%), the number of rapes has also increased (137).
Compared to 2012, the proportion of adults who have not heard of rights of the child has not increased, the proportion of children who have heard of rights of the child has decreased slightly. In the opinion of the children in Estonia children are provided care and protection from danger, but adults have not yet taken to hearing out the children and taking their opinion into consideration, the adults also lack life skills for understanding children at critical moments.
Effectiveness of the Convention on the Rights of the Child depends on how widely the rights of the child stated therein are known, understood and applied. Below are stated some solutions as examples of good practices from 2018–2019:
a) Kuldmuna grand prix in 2019 went to the documentary staging “Südames sündinud”, which was a part of National Institute for Health Development’s awareness-raising of the topic of foster parenting and to encourage people to become foster parents. The staging can be watched in the full extent at the portal tarkvanem.ee.
b) At the initiative of the Estonian Union for Child Welfare in cooperation with the Department of Prisons of the Ministry of Justice materials were gathered onto the website www.vangla.ee for children and parents who have persons close to them who are in prisons.
c) There is a legal basis for handling and implementing human rights in Estonia’s educational system and in schools, but teaching human rights often depends on how competent the teachers are at handling human rights topics in an integrated manner. NGO Mondo published a methodical guideline for handling rights of the child called “Right to be a child”.
d) The Estonian Union for Child Welfare has created digital guidelines unifying the programmes “Free from bullying” and “Surfing smart”, which introduces for teachers of pre-school children’s institutions and schools ways to address important topics in digital environments in the framework of the “Free from bullying” programme.
e) The Police and Border Guard Board adopted a concept for preventative work and a declaration on the rights of the child, which stated the activities at Estonia’s 100th birthday, which the Police and Border Guard Board will do in order for every child to grow up happy. The prosecutors at prosecutor’s office specialised in minors concluded an agreement in Narva-Jõesuu in 2018 on special treatment of minors who have committed criminal offence in criminal proceedings. The Chancellor of Justice has concluded a brief on the rights of the child upon primary contact with the police. Ministry of Justice’s criminal policy department headed a memo on child-friendly proceedings, which is meant for practitioners who come in contact with children in various proceedings.
Trends and challenges
Even though the Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, a 16 year old schoolgirl, whose school students’ climate protests taking place each Friday since August of 2018 has founded a world-wide movement #FridaysForFuture, has drawn attention here and abroad, the surveys still show that when it comes to issues affecting the child him- or herself the children in Estonia mostly have a say, then there is fewer experience of having a say on issues affecting the family and even less in school life or topics in wider society. Even very active young persons sense that their inclusion is often rather formal and superficial. In order to avoid superficiality in inclusion of children and young persons in local decision-making, inclusion, among other things, has to be continuous and systemic and cannot become current just once in every four years. Survey of young people in Europe shows Estonia’s young persons’ mild interest for internal politics and that anxious times make young people socially active. The issue at the heart of the young persons’ opinion festival in June of 2018 was young persons’ freedom of opinion, young persons attending the climate discussion at the 2019 opinion festival expressed their concern about the eco-crisis.
Bullying had decreased, but according to the children’s welfare study the proportion of persons who have experienced teasing has increased. Because of unsafe relationships the students are less satisfied with their fellow students and this also decreases joy from school, which partly explains the considerable reduction in children’s school-related satisfaction after 4th grade. School bullying does not often stay at school, but follows children home on phones and on the internet. The challenge for Estonia’s society is to contribute to creation of safety at school and to increase joy of school with various activities.
The survey on school students’ health behaviour shows that students’ depression has increased in time, in the 2017/2018 school year nearly a third had already experienced it. The older children get the worse they feel. Mental health of 15-year-olds has worsened significantly, nearly every fifth has thought of suicide within the year.
It is positive to note that in 2018–2019 these issues have been addressed more actively on different levels, both in prevention and in intervention. Society’s awareness is raised of negative consequences of domestic violence, bullying and mental health problems, and the need for early detection is emphasised.
- Increase children’s effect on shaping the society, facilitate children’s participation in various decision-making processes, thereby strengthening society’s cohesion.
- Raise society’s awareness on the rights of the child even more, increase volume of human rights education in various school levels and in continuing education related to children.
- Ensure more effective implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, including social fundamental rights for children. Pay more attention to prevention, early detection, access to mental health services and supporting specialists. Contribute to promotion of multidisciplinary cooperation.
- Systemically gather statistical information (including regularly submitting reports) to analyse and base policies ensuring rights of the child on.
 The Council consists of representatives from the Estonian Union for Child Welfare, Association of Estonian Cities, Association of Estonian Rural Municipalities, the Estonian School Student Councils’ Union and the Union of Estonian Youth Associations, as well as the Minister of Education and Research, The Minister of Culture, The Minister of Justice, the Minister of Interior Affairs, The Minister of Finance and directors of the Estonian National Social Insurance Board and the National Institute for Health Development. The council’s chairperson is the Minister of Social Protection, whose jurisdiction the coordination of child protection policy falls into.
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 Information originates from a conversation with management of Viru prison at the session of the Viru prison committee on 24 September 2019.
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