Tiiu Hermat

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[1] 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.[2] 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.[3]

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,[4] 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[5] 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.[6] 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.[7] 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,[8] mainly contributing to vocational training.[9] 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,[10] various packages of rehabilitation services are being drawn up and prepared.[11]

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[12] 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,[13] there are state imposed tax incentives,[14] 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.

Legislative developments

On 19 November 2014 Riigikogu passed the Work Ability Allowance Act,[15] 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[16] 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,[17] 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.

Court practice

On 5 May 2014 the Supreme Court made a judgment[18] 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.[19] 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.


[1] „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].

[2] Eelarve ja statistika [Budget and statistics]. Estonian National Social Insurance Board. Available at: http://www.sotsiaalkindlustusamet.ee/statistika/.

[3] Ibid.

[4] „Sotsiaalteenuste kvaliteedianalüüs ja ettepanekud tervikliku kvaliteedisüsteemi tagamise juurutamiseks“ Analüüsi lõpparuanne. Ministry of Social Affairs. 2013.

[5] Work Capacity Reform. Ministry of Social Affairs. Available at: https://www.sm.ee/et/toovoimereform.

[6] 2015 Statistical Yearbook of Estonia.

[7] „Töövõimetoetuse seaduse mõjuanalüüs – eelhindamine“ [The effect analysis of Work Ability Allowance Act – a prior appraisal]. Saar Poll 2014.

[8] „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.

[9] 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.

[10] „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.

[11] Töövõimereformi eesmärk [The objective of the Work Capacity Reform]. Estonian National Social Insurance Board. Available at: http://www.sotsiaalkindlustusamet.ee/toovoimereform/.

[12] „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.

[13] 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.

[14] 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.

[15] Töövõimetoetuse seadus [Work Ability Allowance Act]. State Gazette. Available at: https://www.riigiteataja.ee/akt/113122014001.

[16] Sotsiaalhoolekande seadus [Social Welfare Act]. State Gazette. Available at: https://www.riigiteataja.ee/akt/123032015134.

[17] State Gazette: http://eelnoud.valitsus.ee/main#5SJRc0hF

[18] 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.

[19] „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.

Helika Saar

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[1] on the Rights of the Child[2] 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.[3] Such recognition shows the importance of the role of civil society in promoting, facilitating and protecting the rights stated in the convention.[4] 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).[5] 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.[6] 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.[7]

Legislative developments

Adoption of the new Child Protection Act[8] 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.[9] The 2015 amendment to the constitution[10] 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[11] 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[12] 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.[13] The amendment to the Citizenship Act[14] 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[15] is to make the European justice system more child-friendly.[16] 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),[17] 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[18] 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.[19] 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[20] 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[21] 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.[22]

The Supreme Court deliberated repeatedly over kindergarten places in the course of constitutional review proceedings in 2014;[23] found that leaving a seven year old child home alone may not be a breach of guarantor obligations;[24] specified allowed use of force in execution a court decision on communicating with a child.[25] It also emphasized the court’s role in directing parents towards compromise in disputes over communication.[26] 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.[27]

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);[28] general education schools must guarantee the student the opportunity not to participate in religious education class (Mansur Yalcin and others v. Turkey).[29] 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).[30] 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,[31] 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).[32] 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[33] proved that in comparison to 8 years ago the students have committed significantly fewer offences.[34] 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[35] 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).[36]

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.[37]

Good practices

General Comment no. 14 of the Committee on the Rights of the Child on the right of the child[38] 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”,[39] 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!”[40] (the voice of the child), containing subjects of human rights and children’s rights, child protection and practical work with children and families.[41] 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”[42] 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[43] 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[44] 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.[45] The media actively covered instances of domestic violence in 2014, where violence against the child had resulted in death of the child.[46]

“Estonian Guidelines for Development of Criminal Policy until 2018”[47] 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.).

[1] 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/).

[2] ÜRO Lapse õiguste konventsioon [UN Convention on the Rights of the Child]. Available at::https://www.riigiteataja.ee/akt/24016.

[3] 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.

[4] 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.

[5] Laste heaolu. Child Well-being.. Ed. Kutsar, D. Statistics Estonia 2013. Available at: https://www.stat.ee/65395.

[6] 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.

[7] Markina, A., Žarkovski, B. 2014. Laste hälbiv käitumine Eestis [Children’s deviant behaviour in Estonia]. Kriminaalpoliitika uuringud 19 [Criminal policy surveys]. Available at: http://www.kriminaalpoliitika.ee/sites/www.kriminaalpoliitika.ee/files/elfinder/dokumendid/laste_kaitumise_uuring_2014.pdf.

[8] Lastekaitseseadus [The Child Protection Act]. State Gazette I. 06.12.2014. Available at: https://www.riigiteataja.ee/akt/106122014001. The act will come into force on 1 January 2016.

[9] Poopuu, T. 2014. Uus lastekaitseseadus ootab rakendamist [The new Child Protection Act is waiting to be implemented]. Sotsiaaltöö no. 6, 2014.

[10] Eesti Vabariigi põhiseaduse muutmise seadus kohaliku omavalitsuse volikogu valimistel valimisea langetamiseks [Act that amends the Constitution for reducing the voting age at local government council elections]. State Gazette I, 15.05.2015, 1.

[11] Karistusseadustik [The Penal Code]. State Gazette I, 23.12.2014, 16. Available at: https://www.riigiteataja.ee/akt/123122014016.

[12] 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/.

[13] 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.

[14] The Act that amends the Citizenship Act and the State Fee Act was passed 21.01.2015. Available at: https://www.riigiteataja.ee/akt/103022015001.

[15] 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.

[16] 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.

[17] 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.

[18] 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.

[19] 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.

[20] 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.

[21] 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.

[22] Also see: in Sahin v. Germany ((30943/96) [2003] 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.

[23] 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.

[24] 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.

[25] 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.

[26] 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.

[27] 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.

[28] Affaire Zhou c. Italie. Requête no. 33773/11. Available at: http://hudoc.echr.coe.int/sites/eng/pages/search.aspx?i=001-140026.

[29] 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.

[30] 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.

[31]   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.

[32]   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.

[33] Markina, A., Žarkovski, B. 2014. Laste hälbiv käitumine Eestis [Deviant behaviour of children in Estonia]. See footnote 6!

[34]   Author’s note: Estonia’s first school shooting took place in 2014.

[35]   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.

[36] 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.

[37]   Iivonen, E. 2013. Indikaattoritiedon hyödyntäminen lasten oikeuksien toteutumisen seurannanassa. In compilation: Lapsioikeus murroksessa. Editors: Hakalehto-Wainio, S., Nieminen. Pages 303-347.

[38]   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.

[39] See more on Estonian Institute of Human Rights website: http://www.eihr.ee/mis-on-inimoigustesobralik-kool/.

[40] The project was funded by the Gambling Tax Council via the Ministry of Social Affairs and the NGO Fund via Open Estonia Foundation.

[41] 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.

[42] See more at: http://oiguskantsler.ee/sites/default/files/field_document2/6iguskantsleri_ettepanek_nr_27_alaealisusega_seotud_piirangud_raseduse_katkestamisel.pdf.

[43] 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.

[44] Among them the opinion seminar „Kooseluseaduse tahud ja teravikud“ [Aspect and angles of the Cohabitation Act] 27.08.2014 at Riigikogu conference room.

[45] Markina, A., Žarkovski, B. 2014. Laste hälbiv käitumine Eestis [Deviant behaviour of children in Estonia]. See footnote 6!

[46] For examble a series of articles by K.Ibrus in Eesti Päevaleht, which investigated the background of unnatural death of children.

[47]              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).[1] 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.[2]

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).[3] 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.[4]

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.[5]

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.[6] 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.[7]

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.[8]

Legislative developments

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.[9] 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.”[10]

According to law, persons who are at least 16 years of age can vote at the 2017 local government elections.

Court practice

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.[11] 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.[12]

The Minister of Justice found in his appraisal that proportionality of the disputed limitation on active right to vote is questionable.[13] 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.[14]

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.[15]

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.[16]

Good practices

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.[17]

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.

[1] Euroopa Prlamendi valimise seaduse muutmise seadus [The Act amending the European Parliament Election Act. Available at: https://www.riigiteataja.ee/akt/13282688.

[2] 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.

[3] Lõimumine: eesmärgid [Integration: goals]. Available at: https://valitsus.ee/et/eesmargid-tegevused/loimumine/loimumine-eesmargid.

[4] 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.

[5] Estonian Prison Service Yearbook. Available at: http://issuu.com/vanglateenistus/docs/vanglaameti_aastaraamat_veeb.

[6] “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.

[7] “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.

[8] Tubro, Katre. Vangide valimisõigusest [On prisoners’ right to vote]. Riigikogu Toimetised. Available at: http://www.riigikogu.ee/rito/index.php?id=14443.

[9] 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/.

[10] 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.

[11] 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.

[12] 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.

[13] Riigikohtu üldkogu kohtuotsus asjas nr 3-4-1-2-15 [Supreme Court en banc judgment in case no. 3-4-1-2-15]. Available at: http://www.riigikohus.ee/?id=11&tekst=222578548.

[14] Riigikohtu üldkogu kohtuotsus asjas nr 3-4-1-2-15 [Supreme Court en banc judgment in case no. 3-4-1-2-15]. Available at: http://www.riigikohus.ee/?id=11&tekst=222578548.

[15] Aktiivse valimisea langetamise mõjude analüüs: eelhindamine [Analysis of the effects of active voting age]. Available at: https://www.tlu.ee/UserFiles/VOTE%2016_loplik.pdf.

[16] Available at: http://www.vordoigusvolinik.ee/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/Riigikogu_valimisnimekirjad_2015.pdf.

[17] “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.[1] 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.[2] 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.[3] 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.[4] 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.[5] The developments are also based on the development plan for special welfare for 2014–2020.[6] 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.[7] 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.[8] [9] [10]

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.[11] 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.[12] 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.[13] 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.[14] 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.[15] 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.

Legislative developments

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.[16] 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.[17]

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.[18]

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.[19]

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.[20]

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.[21]

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.[22] 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.[23]

In February of 2017 the National Audit Office published a survey on state’s activity in preparing for the Work Ability Reform.[24] 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.[25] 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.

Good practices

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.[26] 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.[27] 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.[28]

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.[29]

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).[30] 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.[31] The Estonian Association of the Deaf developed an international sign language e-dictionary, which can be used in Estonian as well as in English.[32]

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.[33] 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.[34] The Estonian National Social Insurance Board also detected possible cases of invoicing fraud in August of 2017.[35]

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.[36] 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. [37]


  • 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.


[1] Eesti Statistika Kvartalikiri [Quarterly journal of Statistics Estonia]. 2017. 2. Available at: https://www.stat.ee/valjaanne-2017_eesti-statistika-kvartalikiri-2-17

[2] Estonian Unemployment Insurance Fund’s home page. Töövõimereform [Work Ability Reform]. Available at: https://www.tootukassa.ee/toovoimereform

[3] Ministry of Social Affairs. Heaolu arengukava 2016–2023 [Welfare Development Plan 2016–2023]. 2016. Available at: https://www.sm.ee/et/heaolu-arengukava-2016-2023

[4] 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

[5] Erihoolekandeasutuste reorganiseerimine [Reorganisation of special welfare institutions]. 2015. State Gazette I, 22 Available at: https://www.riigiteataja.ee/akt/115092015022

[6] 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

[7] 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

[8] 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

[9] 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

[10] 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

[11] Ministry of Social Affairs. Heaolu arengukava 2016–2023 [Welfare Development Plan 2016–2023]. 2016. Available at: https://www.sm.ee/et/heaolu-arengukava-2016-2023

[12] Hoolduskoormuse rakkerühm [Care work load task force]. 2015. Available at: https://riigikantselei.ee/et/hoolduskoormus

[13] 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

[14] 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

[15] 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

[16] 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

[17] Sotsiaalhoolekande seadus [Social Welfare Act]. 2017. State Gazette I, 7.  Available at: https://www.riigiteataja.ee/akt/130122015005?leiaKehtiv

[18] Estonian National Social Insurance Board. Tegevuskohad [Places of activity]. 2016. Available at: https://www.sotsiaalkindlustusamet.ee/sites/default/files/tegevuskohad_070316.pdf

[19] 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

[20] 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

[21] 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

[22] 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

[23] Ibid.

[24] 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

[25] 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

[26] 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

[27] Tallinn. Kodukohanduse projekt [Project for adapting dwellings]. 2016. Available at: http://www.tallinn.ee/est/Kodukohanduse-pilootprojekt-2

[28] 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

[29] 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

[30] 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

[31] 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

[32] International Sign online dictionary. 2017. Available at: https://rv-sonastik.ead.ee/

[33] 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/

[34] 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

[35] 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

[36] 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/

[37] 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[1] 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[2] the Council of Europe Strategy for the Rights of the Child (2016–2021).[3] The priorities of the strategy – creating equal opportunities for all children; children’s right to participate;[4] 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;[5] which was also confirmed in the 2017 “EU Guidelines for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of the Child”.[6]

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.[7] 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,[8] and the Office of the Chancellor of Justice and children’s ombudsman.[9] 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.[10] The Committee submitted the state its Concluding observations in March of 2017,[11] 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).[12] 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.[13] In comparison of the years the proportion of under-18-year-old children and young persons[14] 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.[15] The results of the survey on increasing effectiveness and development of child protection work on local level[16] 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.

Institutional Developments

The Child Protection Council[17] 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[18] 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[19] 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,[20] 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.

Legislative developments

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)[21] 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[22] and the Istanbul Convention,[23] 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[24] 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,[25] 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).[26] 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).[27] 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).[28] 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),[29] that the kindergarten in addition to the service of child care also has contractual liability (3-2-1-128-16),[30] and that same-sex couples have the right to protection of family life as well (3-3-1-19-17).[31]

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);[32] 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);[33] 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)[34] 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).[35] In October of 2017 the European Court of Human Rights (case no 23022/13, D.MD. v. Romania)[36] 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,[37] 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.[38] According to the National Audit Office’s audit on state’s activity in keeping children healthy and treating them[39] 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.[40]

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.[41] Analysis of need and opportunities for special intervention for minors who have committed sexual offences[42] 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[43] 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.

Good practices

An example of a good practice is the project coordinated by Eesti Noorteühenduste liit “Noored valimisvalvurid” (young election guardians),[44] 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,[45] 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.[46] 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;[47] a short film for young people exploring cases involving trafficking in young persons was made as well.[48]

Stemming from section 14 subsection 2 of the Child Protection Act refresher training of child protection officials was started in 2016.[49] 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.[50]

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.[51] Amendments to current legislation will be prepared based on the recommendations of the working group.

The Office of the Chancellor of Justice[52] 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.[53] 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.[54] The repeat poll of the NGO Estonian Union for Child Welfare on supporting children’s participation and inclusion in decision-making processes[55] 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.


[1] ÜRO lapse õiguste konventsioon [UN Convention on the Rights of the Child]. Available at: https://www.riigiteataja.ee/akt/24016

[2] 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/

[3] Council of Europe Strategy for the Rights of the Child (2016-2021). Available at: https://rm.coe.int/168066cff8

[4] 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

[5] 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).

[6] EU Guidelines for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of the Child Available at:

[7] UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Article 44.

[8] 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:


[9] 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

[10] Saar, H., Gornischeff, K. 2016. On the supplementary report to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Social work 4, 2016. Available at: http://www.tai.ee/images/2016_4_31kuni37.pdf

[11] 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

[12] 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/

[13] 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

[14] 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%.

[15] Read more at: http://www.lastekaitseliit.ee/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/kiri2-4.pdf

[16] 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

[17] 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.

[18] Lastekaitseseadus [The Child Protection Act]. RT I, 06.12.2014.  Available at:  https://www.riigiteataja.ee/akt/LasteKS

[19] 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

[20] The model of Children’s house (Barnahus) has been used in work with abused children since 1998 in Iceland. Read more about the service: http://www.tai.ee/images/Lastemaja.pdf

[21] Read more at: https://www.ispcan.org/

[22] 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:

[23] Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence. State Gazette II, 26.09.2017, 2. Available at: https://www.riigiteataja.ee/akt/203112016001

[24] Töölepingu seadus [Employment Contracts Act]. State Gazette I 2009, 5, 35. Available at: https://www.riigiteataja.ee/akt/112072014146?leiaKehtiv

[25] General comment No. 19. 2016. on public budgeting for the realization of children’s rights. Article 4.

[26] Available at: https://www.riigikohus.ee/lahendid?asjaNr=3-2-1-15-17

[27] Available at: https://www.riigikohus.ee/lahendid?asjaNr=3-2-1-179-16

[28] Available at: https://www.riigikohus.ee/lahendid?asjaNr=3-2-1-26-16

[29] Available at: https://rikos.rik.ee/?asjaNr=3-2-1-35-16

[30] Available at: 3-2-1-128-16

[31] Available at: https://www.riigikohus.ee/et/lahendid/?asjaNr=3-3-1-19-17

[32] Available at: http://hudoc.echr.coe.int/eng?i=001-166950

[33] Available at: http://hudoc.echr.coe.int/eng?i=001-162220

[34]  Available at: http://hudoc.echr.coe.int/eng?i=001-170838

[35] Available at: http://hudoc.echr.coe.int/eng?i=001-160313

[36] Available at: http://hudoc.echr.coe.int/eng?i=001-177226

[37] The number of overweight school children has increased from 7.4% to 11.3% in 2006–2014.

[38] 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

[39] 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:


[40] 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

[41] 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

[42] Ibid.

[43] 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

[44] 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).

[45] Available at: http://www.lastekaitseliit.ee/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/%C3%9CRO-Lapse-%C3%95iguste-Komitee-%C3%9Cldkommentaar-nr-12-Lapse-%C3%B5igus-olla-%C3%A4ra-kuulatud-eesti-keeles.pdf

[46]  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.

[47] 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

[48] Read more at: http://www.kriminaalpoliitika.ee/et/kuriteoennetus/valmis-luhifilm-noortega-seotud-inimkaubanduse-juhtumitest

[49] 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

[50] 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;

[51] 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

[52] 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

[53] Read more at: https://www.hm.ee/sites/default/files/kool_ja_valimised_pohimotted.pdf

[54] 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

[55] 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


2015 saw a rapid increase in asylum seekers in the European Union. According to the statistics, for the first time, the number of asylum seekers exceeded 1.2 million, most of whom were Syrian, Afghan and Iraqi refugees.[1] In comparison to 2014 the number of asylum seekers increased by more than half – the number of Syrian asylum seekers nearly doubled, the number of Afghan asylum seekers quadrupled and the number of Iraqi asylum seekers increased nearly seven-fold.[2] All this influenced developments for 2016 and 2017 – Estonia pledged to relocate and settle in Estonia 550 asylum seekers from Italy and Greece within two years (2016–2017). 136 asylum seekers were relocated and settled in Estonia from 2016 until 30 June 2017. An additional 20 asylum seekers were relocated to Estonia from Turkey. Estonia has been providing international protection since 1997 when it acceded to the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees (1951)[3] and the Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees (1967). In the years 1997–2016 Estonia has received 957 applications for asylum, 326 persons were granted international protection.[4]

Political and institutional developments

On 9 September 2015 the European Commission in relation to the ever-increasing migration crisis, came up with a new plan to ease the migratory pressure.[5] “In addition to relocation of the 40,000 persons already in the European Union previously agreed upon among the Member States, the European Commission proposed distributing another 120,000 persons among the Member States based on obligatory quota.”[6] Resettling has to do with 20,000 persons in refugee camps outside the European Union who have been declared refugees by the UN; Estonia’s share involves relocation of 20 persons within two years. Relocation has to do with a total of 160,000 persons who are in the European Union (in Italy and Greece), but whose applications need to be processed; Estonia is ready to accept 550 asylum seekers out of these people.

On 21 November 2015 an application to check the activity of asylum seekers’ accommodation centre in guaranteeing their safety was submitted to the Office of the Chancellor of Justice by an asylum seeker staying at Vao Accommodation Centre. The Office of the Chancellor of Justice came to the conclusion that the action of the Accommodation Centre was indicative of readiness to solve the situation that had arisen quickly and decisively and their activity in guaranteeing safety had been lawful.[7] The statement explained that: “the Accommodation Centre for Asylum Seekers simultaneously contains people of various cultural, language and religious backgrounds. The situation of people staying at the centre has to be considered as well, as lack of certainty regarding the asylum proceedings’ decision and an unstable future make matters more tense. Therefore, it is understandable that there may be disputes, friction and conflicts among the people staying at the accommodation centre. The conflict cannot always be solved by changing the room or one’s roommates.”

On 12 September 2016 the Constitutional Committee discussed the Riigikogu decision on holding a referendum for establishing a quota for beneficiaries of international protection (229 OE) and the draft act submitted by the Conservative People’s Party of Estonia on holding a referendum regarding European Union immigration redistribution plan in order to stop Estonia’s participation in the refugee redistribution mechanism. The draft act 229 OE prescribed holding a referendum on basic principles of granting international protection to aliens, that Republic of Estonia would set a quota of people it offers international protection to each year. Neither the Riigikogu decisions 229 OE nor the draft act submitted by the Conservative People’s Party of Estonia received the necessary support.

It should be considered progress that in addition to the accommodation centre in Vao, renovation works at a new accommodation centre in Vägeva village in Jõgevamaa were finished in summer of 2016, and, for the time being, five families have moved in.[8] Vägeva accommodation centre is only meant for families, and single asylum seekers are not placed there. Renovations were carried out in both centres in 2016, in order to increase their capacity.[9]

Beneficiaries of international protection have the right to apply for subsistence benefit on the same basis as other persons living in Estonia permanently or temporarily, and family allowance is paid on a similar basis as to persons who have the right to live in Estonia on a permanent or temporary basis if the family lives in Estonia.[10]

Legislative developments

In 2016–2017 amendments were made to the Act Granting International Protection to Aliens (VRKS) on three occasions – on 1 January 2016, on 1 May 2016 and in 18 January 2017. It can be pointed out that as of 1 May 2016 the refugees are obliged to learn Estonian language. According to the VRKS the beneficiaries of international protection of working age (from 18 until the age of old age pension) have the obligation to take part in Estonian language studies and fulfilment of this obligation is taken into consideration when deciding whether to extend their residence permit or issue them a new residence permit.

One of the greatest developments of 2016 was the entering into force of the VRKS provision defining the final decision. The final decision states how long a person is considered to be an asylum seeker. According to the provision a final decision is: a) a decision made by the Police and Border Guard Board with regards to the dismissal of an application or revocation of international protection, which has not been contested in an administrative court during the time-limit for an appeal; b) a decision of the Police and Border Guard Board with regard to the dismissal of an application or revocation of international protection, the appeal against which has been dismissed by the administrative court; or c) a decision of the Police and Border Guard Board, including the decision arising from the respective guidelines of the administrative court, to recognise an applicant as a refugee or a person eligible for subsidiary protection and grant international protection to him or her.

The amendment that came into force on 1 May 2017 also contained provisions on resettlement and relocation and a provision giving the Police and Border Guard Board the right to establish a list of safe countries of origin.

Court practice

2016 and 2017 contributed many significant court judgments regarding detention, definition of safe third country, state legal aid and definition of final decisions. In its 3 March 2016 resolution the Administrative Law Chamber conceded (in case no 3-3-1-14-16) that detention of asylum seekers at the detention centre exceeding 18 months is disproportionate in any case. This is an important case stating maximum time limits on detention of asylum seekers. There was no maximum time limit on detention of asylum seekers before. The Supreme Court stated that length of detention in case of asylum proceedings and expulsion proceedings cannot be added – the person cannot be detained for longer than 18 months in either proceeding. The Supreme Court has specified in its 16 June 2017 decision in case no 3-3-1-24-17 that although detention that is based on VRKS and VSS (Government of the Republic Act) cannot be added, the long duration of repeated detention can make detention disproportionate. The court added that the Police and Border Guard Board cannot refrain from assessing the person’s previous behaviour in making the prognose decision and that the Police and Border Guard Board and courts have the duty to assess the threat of escape while detaining aliens in each single case.

In the period of 2016–2017 there were also several applications in process in courts regarding defining Russia as a safe third country. The courts (Tallinn Administrative Court, Tallinn Circuit Court) came to the conclusion that Russia cannot automatically be considered to be a safe third country. Tallinn Administrative Court pointed out in its administrative matter no 3-16-1087 that it is not enough that a state has ratified the Refugee Convention and the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, the state must also follow them in practice; the state must also actually guarantee proper asylum proceedings (in addition to establishing and implementing norms) and enable use of effective legal remedy. This has also been confirmed by the Circuit Court, pointing out in its 14 November 2016 administrative matter no 3-16-1061 that it will stick to its statement made in 18 August 2016 in case no 3-15-2702 that:

“VRKS’s section 8 subsection 2 clauses 2–4 cannot be interpreted in a way that accession to Refugee Convention and the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and regulation of asylum proceedings would suffice. The VRKS’s section 8 subsection 2 clauses 2–4 as well as Directive 2013/32/EU Article 39 section 2 indicate that in defining a safe third country it is important to make sure that the country actually follows the provisions of the Refugee Convention. Such interpretation is in concordance with the general principles of providing international protection and the purpose of protecting people’s rights. Mere existence of declarations and ratification of international treaties guaranteeing basic rights is not enough to guarantee suitable protection from threat of abuse, if trustworthy sources state authorities’ activities or activities tolerated by them, which clearly contradicts the principles of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (see ECtHR 28 February 2008 judgment in case no 37201/06: Saadi v. Italy, p 147; Court of Justice 6 September 2016 judgment in case no C-182/15: Petruhhin, p 57)

An important decision regarding detention was made by the Circuit Court in its 18 August 2017 administrative matter no 3-17-1361, where among other things the court stated that the threat of the person concerned cannot be precluded (which is objectively impossible), but in order to detain that person the threat has to be reasonably big. The court added that “in order to deprive such a person (legally staying in Estonia’s territory) of liberty according to the VRKS there have to be particularly weighty reasons. Illegal arrival in Estonia and alleged inconsistencies about visited EU states do not indicate in this context the desire to escape to such an extent that strict requirements are fulfilled to detain the asylum seeker belonging among vulnerable persons.”

On 2 March 2017 the Administrative Law Chamber issued a court ruling in case no 3-3-1-54-16, which concerned many asylum seekers whose application for international protection had not been satisfied and who have appealed this decision. According to VRKS’s section 251 subsection 2 the applicant has the rights and obligation specified in this Act within the time limit for an appeal and during the judicial proceedings, including the right to stay in the territory of Estonia until the final decision is made. The Chamber pointed out that the final decision is the Police and Boarder Guard’s decision with regards to the dismissal of an application or revocation of international protection, the appeal against which has been dismissed by the administrative court. It is important to remark here that the decision doesn’t have to have come into force.

The Chamber emphasised that the final decision ends the proceedings for international protection but does not preclude the person’s general right to appeal or to apply for implementation of legal remedies. According to VRKS the person has a basis for stay in Estonia until the final decision is made, however, the court may allow the person to stay in Estonia during further judicial proceedings as well. The Chamber explained that after the Administrative Court’s decision was made dismissing the appeal of the decision of the Police and Border Guard Board, the person no longer has the status of applicant for international protection.

In cooperation with the Police and Border Guard Board two court cases regarding persons who were represented by the Estonian Human Rights Centre were settled, and the Police and Border Guard Board agreed to make a decision on the substance of the case regarding relocated asylum seekers right away, and not a decision of subsidiary protection, which would have to be reviewed a year later.

Statistics and surveys

111 persons applied for international protection in Estonia in 2016 (27 of them were subsequent applications and 22 applications were to live with a family member); in 2017 (as of 31 August 2017) there were 80 applicants (6 of them subsequent applications and 14 applications to live with a family member). The largest number of asylum seekers (from 1 January 2016 until 31 August 2017) have been from Ukraine (27) and Russia (25). 44 persons were granted refugee status in 2016 (9 from Russia, 9 from Iraq, 7 from Afghanistan, 5 from Sudan, 3 from Georgia, 3 from Sri Lanka, 2 from Pakistan, 2 from Palestine, 1 from Benin, 1 from Gambia, 1 from Nigeria, 1 from Syria); 21 persons from Ukraine were granted subsidiary protection in 2016. In 2017 refugee status was granted 6 persons (6 from Georgia, 2 from Syria, 1 from Turkey and 1 from Russia) and 6 persons were granted subsidiary protection (5 from Ukraine, 1 from Sudan). In 2016 residence permit for family reunification was given to 16 persons, and in 2017 (as of 31 August 2017) to 20 persons.

An important study worth mentioning is the UNHCR’s 27 January 2017 study “Integration of refugees in Estonia: Participation and Empowerment”, which introduces and discusses integration of refugees in Estonia.[11]

On 6 December 2016 the public opinion poll was published revealing that Estonia’s residents’ general attitude towards migration and refugees has significantly improved within a year.[12] 75% of the participants believed that people have the right to freely migrate and 56% favoured accepting people who are in trouble. The same figures from June of 2015 were 63% and 43% respectively. According to the poll, 30% of the general population was extremely critical of refugees in 2016. In 2015 this figure had been nearly 40%.

Good practices

In order to increase effectivity of communication and spread information the Government of the Republic created a web page providing information about refugee issues; it also includes suitable terms.[13]

An example of a good practice is the Vao kitchen, which offers catering service with the aid of asylum seekers. The goal is to use food to create connections between locals and asylum seekers. The cooks there are rotated and food has been offered from Sudanese, Ukrainian, Albanian, Georgian, Dagestan, Iranian as well as Sri Lankan kitchens.[14]

Other examples of good practices are the activities of the Estonian Refugee Council, and the support person service provided by Johannes Mihkelson Centre and the Estonian Refugee Council. With the help of the International Organization for Migration the persons wishing to voluntarily return to their country of origin can do so more easily and receive a small additional financial contribution.

The Estonian Human Rights Centre continued providing legal aid to asylum seekers in cooperation with the UNHCR and on their funding. Through this several asylum seekers were also represented in judicial proceedings.


Occasionally the asylum seekers who have crossed the Russian-Estonian border irregularly have been punished by having to pay a fine to public revenues. This practice is not consistent, but it is applied once in a while.

Access to kindergarten placements is still complicated for asylum seekers at the accommodation centre because of their financial situation. Since the asylum seekers staying at the accommodation centre are not registered there as residents they have to pay a higher kindergarten fee than the locals whose place of residence is registered in Väike-Maarja rural municipality. As has already been stated in the previous report – this fee is more than the asylum seekers can afford.

Estonian Human Rights Centre has repeatedly received complaints from asylum seekers that they are provided poor quality legal aid or none at all during the asylum application process and the subsequent judicial proceedings.

Applicants for international protection are generally placed at the detention centre for up to two months, until the bases of detention cease to exist. In practice, it doesn’t seem to be the case that bases of detention are evaluated sufficiently effectively in an ongoing manner, which is why, when the court has given permission to detain a person for up to two months the Police and Border Guard Board detain the person to maximum extent or a few days less.


  • Enable the asylum seekers a kindergarten place and fee on the same grounds as registered residents.
  • Place asylum seekers in the detention centre as a last resort if alternatives are not available.
  • Evaluate during detention whether the bases for detention for the asylum seeker have ceased and do not mandatorily detain persons to the maximum extent.
  • Offer asylum seekers good quality legal aid.


[1] Eurostat news release 44/2016, 04.03.2016. Available at: http://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/documents/2995521/7203832/3-04032016-AP-EN.pdf/

[2] Ibid.

[3] Pagulasseisundi konventsioon (1951) [Convention relating to the Status of Refugees]. State Gazette II 1997, 6, 26.

[4] Police and Border Guard Board. Rahvusvahelise kaitse statistika 1997–2016 [Statistics on international protection]. Available at: https://www.politsei.ee/dotAsset/218156.pdf

[5] Government of the Republic. Pagulasküsimus [The refugee issue]. Available at: https://www.valitsus.ee/et/pagulased

[6] Ibid.

[7] Õiguskantsleri 07.01.2016 seisukoht varjupaigataotlejate majutuskeskuses turvalisuse tagamise osas [Chancellor of Justice’s 7 January 2016 opinion on guaranteeing safety of asylum seekers at accommodation centre]. Available at: http://www.oiguskantsler.ee/sites/default/files/field_document2/6iguskantsleri_seisukoht_oigusrikkumise_puudumise_kohta_turvalisuse_tagamine_varjupaigataotlejate_majutuskeskuses.pdf

[8] ERR. Varjupaigataotlejad kolitakse Vaolt Vägevale [Asylum seekers are moved from Vao to Vägeva]. 21.06.2016. Available at: http://www.err.ee/562110/varjupaigataotlejad-kolitakse-vaolt-vagevale

[9] Helen Mihkelson (Postimees). Ettevõte saab Vao ja Vägeva majutuskeskuste renoveerimiseks 350 000 eurot [A company is to receive 350,000 euros to renovate Vao and Vägeva accommodation centres]. 29.02.2016. Available at: http://www.postimees.ee/3600147/ettevote-saab-vao-ja-vageva-majutuskeskuste-renoveerimiseks-350-000-eurot

[10] Ministry of the Interior. Teenused ja toetused pagulastele [Services and benefits for refugees]. Available at: https://www.sm.ee/et/teenused-ja-toetused-pagulastele

[11] Available at: https://www.valitsus.ee/sites/default/files/content-editors/failid/unhcr-print_version_estonia-integration_mapping.pdf

[12] Government of the Republic. Eesti elanike üldine suhtumine migratsiooni ja pagulastesse on oluliselt paranenud [Opinion of Estonian population towards migration and refugees significantly increased]. 06.12.2016. Available at: https://www.valitsus.ee/et/uudised/eesti-elanike-uldine-suhtumine-migratsiooni-ja-pagulastesse-oluliselt-paranenud

[13] Government of the Republic. Pagulasküsimus [The refugee issue]. Available at: https://www.valitsus.ee/et/pagulased

[14] Merilin Pärli (ERR). Vao köök toob varjupaiga elanikud eestlaste sekka [The Vao kitchen brings inhabitants of the shelter to Estonians]. 04.09.2017. Available at: http://www.err.ee/616524/vao-kook-toob-varjupaiga-elanikud-eestlaste-sekka


The Registered Partnership Act, which was passed 9 October 2014 came to force in 2016 without implementing provisions. According to the plan, the Riigikogu was supposed to draw up the implementing provisions in order to pass them before the act came into force. The Riigikogu did not, however, reach consensus by the time the Registered Partnership Act came into force and 2016–2017 were spent amidst political debate. Several cases were brought because of the lack of implementing provisions, which had a diversifying effect on court practice – various court levels discussed several issues regulating cohabitation of same-sex families, and for the first time in Estonian court practice the Supreme Court expressed its opinion on same-sex families. Thanks to the Registered Partnership Act coming into force the families with same-sex parents can, for the first time in Estonia, adopt children within the family.

Political and institutional developments

The Registered Partnership Act came into force in the beginning of 2016. The implementing provisions, which had been planned to be ready at the same time were not passed and Urmas Reinsalu, who was the head of Pro Patria and Res Publica Union at the time, also proposed that no registered partnership contracts are registered while there are no implementing provisions in place. The Chamber of Notaries, on the other hand, explained that lack of implementing provisions did bring about legal problems, but the Registered Partnership Act would still be in force.[1] The Chamber of Notaries left it to the notaries themselves to decide whether to offer the service of authenticating registered partnership contracts, and according to the Estonian LGBT Association at least half of the notaries refuse to authenticate the contracts. Such a situation is difficult for the service consumer and creates even more legal confusion. In order to find a suitable notary, a couple wishing to conclude a registered partnership contract must submit inquiries to a number of notaries or ask the Estonian LGBT Association, which notary’s services are available.

Several versions on how to move forward with the Registered Partnership Act went through discussions at the Riigikogu in the first half of 2016. These caused political as well as social tension, especially for persons wishing to make use of the new right to conclude registered partnership contracts. The implementing provisions were sent from the plenary assembly back to the Legal Affairs Committee, where they have remained until today.[2] Parallel to the discussion on implementing provisions the draft act repealing the Registered Partnership Act also reached the plenary assembly of the Riigikogu, which was initiated by members of the Conservative People’s Party of Estonia, Centre Party and the Pro Patria and Res Publica Union, as well as the draft of the alternative couple-ship bill initiated by The Estonian Free Party.[3] The Legal Affairs Committee decided not to support the draft of the couple-ship bill and the members of the Riigikogu voted to exclude the act repealing the Registered Partnership Act by a narrow margin.[4] The dispute surrounding the Registered Partnership Act has influenced the entire political and institutional landscape and is causing tensions in coalition and the opposition to this day.

At the same time, the Pro Patria and Res Publica Union proposed amending the Constitution and taking marriage between a man and a woman under constitutional protection, but they subsequently discarded this wish.[5] In autumn of 2017 the Conservative People’s Party of Estonia proceeded with another draft act for declaring the Registered Partnership Act void, which made it to a plenary assembly session on October 17th and was subsequently voted out.

In April of 2016 the Riigikogu supported the Chancellor of Justice’s proposal to amend the Aliens Act in order to grant same-sex partners of Estonian citizens Estonian residence permits, and bring this into concordance with the Constitution. The Act allows application for a residence permit in order to live with a spouse residing in Estonia, but does not include cases where the partner or spouse is of the same sex. According to the Chancellor of Justice’s analysis such situations are in contradiction of the Constitution.  The draft act for amending the Aliens Act made it to the Constitutional Committee, however, it is still stuck there due to inactivity of members of the Riigikogu.[6]

The Estonian presidential elections started in July of 2016. Presidential candidates of all political parties, except the Conservative People’s Party of Estonia’s candidate Mart Helme expressed support for the Registered Partnership Act and confirmed that they would refuse to proclaim the act repealing the Registered Partnership Act. Support for the Registered Partnership Act and acts of laws regulating same-sex couples’ relationships has also been shown by Kersti Kaljulaid, who was elected President of the Republic. Expression of such support gives a direction for the political mainstream and the society as a whole. However, the public response to the President’s views by various groups indicate polarization of Estonia’s political landscape and the society as a whole. The discussion on protest culture at the Opinion Festival also resonated with these changes, where it was pointed out that in the near future civil movements on environment, social change and society’s open and closed nature are to be expected.[7]

Thanks to the Conservative People’s Party of Estonia making it into the Riigikogu opposition there is increasingly more polarization of the political landscape visible. The Conservative People’s Party of Estonia has introduced threats and insults to the political culture, in the plenary assembly of the Riigikogu as well as in the press. The threat issued towards the judges who made the decision in the court case regarding the Registered Partnership Act by the Conservative People’s Party of Estonia member Martin Helme marked a new low achieved by a member of the Riigikogu, and has, for the first time, been publicly criticised by the President.[8] The Conservative People’s Party of Estonia election platform at the local authority elections contained unusually aggressive rhetoric, which along with the slogan “Fire!” (Anname tuld) promises to fulfil the party’s ten commandments, which among other things contains the promise to remove homo and multicultural propaganda from schools and kindergartens[9] and refuses to allow insertion of gender neutral and homo propaganda in Tallinn’s schools and kindergartens.[10]

A positive political development worth mentioning is that for the first time openly LGBT+ people (civil activists and/or those promising to stand for interests of LGBT+ people in their campaign platforms) were among those running as candidates at local authorities’ election. For example, Keio Soomelt, the organiser of a LBGT+ film festival ran on the list of the Social Democratic Party in Rakvere, and Kristel Rannaääre, the manager of Estonian LGBT Association ran in Tallinn.[11] Experts in their fields in local governments would contribute to more effective and broader-based coverage and development of the fields.

Legislative developments

It was concluded in the Chancellor of Justice’s Annual Report of 2016 that the notaries that referred to the fact that the act can be implemented without the implementing provisions were acting lawfully. Absence of legal norms guiding register entries and other practical activities does not prevent making of decisions and entries that reflect them in practice. In the opinion of the Chancellor of Justice the gaps in legislation and lack of legal clarity can be overcome with the aid of the Constitution and existing acts of law.[12]

In 2016 the Ministry of Social Affairs submitted the act amending the Equal Treatment Act for approval. The draft intends to expand the application of the Equal Treatment so that it would apply equally on all grounds of discrimination. The planned time of the amendments entering into force was the beginning of 2017.[13] The draft act was not ready by that time; however, it had gone through the round of approval at the time of writing this report, and was getting last touches at the Ministry of Social Affairs.

The regulation of the Ministry of the Interior came into force in the beginning of 2017, which allows entering into register of the registered partners’ common children. Adoption works on the basis of the Family Law Act and it is allowed to adopt the biological or adopted child of the registered partner. Since this is a regulation of the Ministry of the Interior, it can be declared invalid once the government changes, and the issue of entering into register of children will once again crop up.[14] Regulating this issue with an act of law would provide families with the needed sense of security.

In 2017 preparations have been made to amend regulation on recognizing transgender people’s gender. This would separate the legal and medical processes of gender recognition and speed up the currently two-year process creating difficulties in everyday lives of transgender people. The amendment also intends to dissolve the medical assessment committee confirming whether the person is transgender. The amendments to be introduced are in accordance with views of Transgender Europe – which stands for transgender people’s rights across Europe – including the fact that the person’s right to change their gender is in essence a private law. Therefore, third persons, including the state, cannot give the person clearance for health service performance. The new Public Health Act is planned to come into force 1 January 2019.

Court practice

In the beginning of 2016 the first same-sex couple in Estonia who had registered a partnership was able to adopt within the family. Adoption is carried out based on provisions of the Family Law Act and announced with a court ruling, which cannot be appealed.[15] The adoption judgment was followed by the judgment of Tallinn Administrative court, which required the Ministry of the Interior to enter a cohabiting family’s adoption into population register. The court found that the situation where a family must prove parentage with a court ruling, which, considering confidentiality of adoption, should not reach other persons, is not an alternative to making an entry in the population register.[16]

The claim for compensation for damage caused by implementing provisions not having been passed also found a solution in court. Reimo Mets sued the Republic of Estonia for damage caused by failing to adopt the implementing provisions for the Registered Partnership Act and the administrative court allowed it.[17]  The Minister of Justice Urmas Reinsalu did not agree to compensation of damage and promised to appeal to circuit court.[18]

On December 28th, 2016, the decision of the circuit court requiring Harju County Government to enter into population register the same-sex marriage of an Estonian citizen and a Swedish citizen concluded in Sweden came into force.[19] According to Estonian jurists the legality of marriage of same-sex couples in Estonia concluded in a foreign country must be assessed on a case-by-case basis.[20]

In the beginning of 2017 Tallinn Administrative Court required Police and Boarder Guard Board to review a residence permit application, which had received a negative reply. According to the application, a U.S. citizen who had concluded marriage in a foreign country wished to apply for a residence permit in order to live with their same-sex spouse in Estonia.[21] The Police and Boarder Guard Board appealed the decision, however, Tallinn Circuit Court reached the same decision as the Administrative Court, and required the Police and Boarder Guard Board to issue a residence permit so far until the end of the court discussion.[22] In summer of 2017 the Supreme Court explained in its decision in the same court case jurisdiction of the court in application of initial legal protection. For the first time in Estonia’s legal practice the Supreme Court stated its opinion when it decided that the right to family life and prohibition of discrimination stated in the Constitution extends to same-sex couples. Right to family life in the context of the Constitution has not been made conditional on the gender or sexual orientation of the family members. The state has the right to forbid an alien from living with their family member in Estonia only if there is a good reason for it.[23]

According to the Estonian LGBT Association, the first transgender person went to court against the state in order to receive compensation for damages in August of 2017. The process has been declared closed and information regarding the case is not available.

Statistics and surveys

The Office of Gender Equality and Equal Treatment Commissioner ordered an extensive study from Tallinn University’s Institute of Social Studies on how LGBT+ persons in Estonia feel and assess their coping based on their sexual or gender identity. Even though the general assessment is rather positive, it is still sensed that the society is heteronormative and expects behaviour according to gender and sexual stereotypes. Coping in society is even more complicated for transgender persons than for gay, lesbian and bisexual persons.[24]

In 2017 the Estonian Human Rights Centre published the most extensive public opinion survey on LGBT issues in Estonia, which queried Estonian residents’ attitudes towards LGBT persons. The attitude towards LGBT persons has improved within last three years, primarily thanks to personal contacts.[25]

In 2016–2017 the Chancellor of Justice received a total of 95 petitions regarding equal treatment. There were five inquiries for discrimination based on sexual orientation, and four inquiries related to gender. The Gender Equality and Equal Treatment Commissioner registered in the same period a total of eight cases related to sexual orientation, and three related to gender.[26]

According to the information of the Estonian LGBT Association, in the course of the Baltic Pride Cultural Festival, which took place 6–9 July 2017, there were 13 incidents with elements of incitement of hatred committed towards LGBT+ persons, one of which ended in serious bodily injury. None of the victims registered their incidents with the Police.

According to statistics of the Chamber of Notaries, a total of 58 registered partnerships have been authenticated in the period of 1 January 2016 – 1 September 2017, but it is not known how many contracts have been concluded by same-sex couples. According to data of Estonian National Social Insurance Board there have been four in-family adoptions in 2017 where the parties have been registered partners.

Good practices

2017 can be considered to be a year of festivals. The largest international LGBT+ festival Baltic Pride took place in Tallinn 6–9 July 2017. Several events were organised in the course of this, including an international conference, and in cooperation with Tallinn Pride, for the first time after ten years – a solidarity procession, which drew attention to equal treatment and the need to adopt implementing provisions for the Registered Partnership Act.[27] The events generally passed peacefully, there were a few incidents during the procession, but the general response from the public was a positive one. Hopefully this did bring the LGBT+ community closer to the general public. LGBTI film festival Festheart took place in Rakvere 6–8 October 2017, in the framework of events for Republic of Estonia’s 100th anniversary celebrations, which intended to make Estonia more tolerant and understanding via quality cinema experiences and discussions.[28] The festival gained a lot of public attention because the project failed to receive backing from town of Rakvere, and the town residents made a number of statements in support as well as against the festival.[29]

According to information from the Estonian LGBT Association, there has been a drastic increase in research papers investigating the LGBT+ topics asking the Association for input and supervision. The research papers range from upper secondary school research papers to international Doctoral theses.

An example of a good practice that can be mentioned for the first time is the Estonian Human Rights Centre’s strategic litigation programme, which helps solve cases having importance in society via judicial and extrajudicial proceedings, in order to influence the quality of implementation practice of acts of law through the selected cases.[30] Strategic litigation has helped solve several problems that have arisen from lack of implementing provisions. The Human Rights Centre was also a cooperation partner in creating a unique pan-European mobile app for notification incidents of hate, which as a reporting platform concentrates on hate crimes and online hate speech aimed at LGBTI persons or persons perceived to belong in the LGBTI community.[31] The mobile app is an easy and fast solution for reporting and it helps human rights organisations receive adequate overview of hate crimes and hate speech in Estonia’s society and therefore enables to find more effective opportunities to help the victims.


  • Adopt the implementing provisions for the Registered Partnership Act, which guarantee implementation of the Act to the full extent.
  • Analyse transgender persons’ access to the Health Insurance Fund’s free services. This need is also emphasised by the Estonian Council on Bioethics with its viewpoint that sex-assignment surgery must be paid by the Health Insurance Fund.
  • Separate the legal and medical processes of gender recognition. A person must be able to change their personal data within a reasonable time regardless of medical activities. With regards to medical activities the person must have the right to decide which activities they wish and need, if at all, to feel like their perceived gender.
  • Regulate the basis for staying or living in Estonia for Estonian citizens’ or residents’ same-sex foreign partner of spouse with legislation.
  • Regulate LGBT+ persons’ protection from incitement to hatred, hate crimes and discrimination, including protection from discrimination outside the sphere of work (in education, health care, consumption of social services and access to goods and services) with legislation.
  • Carry out surveys to better chart and understand the situation of LGBT+ persons in different areas (including bullying in the school system, unequal treatment in health care system, treatment of LGBT+ persons in detention facilities).
  • Guarantee refresher training on LGBT+ topics for specialists (teachers, youth workers and health care professionals, police officers, judges and others) and add questions related to LGBT+ persons into training programmes for teachers, youth workers, police officers, judges, health care professionals and others.


[1] „Reinsalu: ärge sõlmige rakendusaktideta seaduse ajal kooselu“ [Reinsalu: Do not register partnerships while the act has no implementing provisions!]. ERR. 05.01.2016. Available at:  http://www.err.ee/551946/reinsalu-arge-solmige-rakendusaktideta-seaduse-ajal-kooselu

[2] „Õiguskomisjon lükkas kooseluseaduse muudatuste hääletamise edasi“ [Legal Affairs Committee postponed voting on amendments to Registered Partnership Act]. ERR. 21.01.2016. Available at: http://www.err.ee/552911/oiguskomisjon-lukkas-kooseluseaduse-muudatuste-haaletamise-edasi

[3] „Riigikogus on kooseluseaduse alternatiivina laual paarkonna seadus“ [Couple-ship bill on the table in the Riigikogu as an alternative to Registered Partnership Act]. ERR. 01.02.2016. Available at: http://www.err.ee/553552/riigikogus-on-kooseluseaduse-alternatiivina-laual-paarkonna-seadus

[4] „Riigikogu lõpetas paarkonna eelnõu esimese lugemise“ [Riigikogu finished first reading of the couple-ship bill]. ERR. 16.02.2016. Available at: http://www.err.ee/554535/riigikogu-lopetas-paarkonna-eelnou-esimese-lugemise

[5] „IRL tahab traditsioonilisele abielule põhiseaduslikku kaitset“ [Pro Patria and Res Publica Union want constitutional protection for traditional marriage]. ERR. 26.01.2016. Available at: http://www.err.ee/553195/irl-tahab-traditsioonilisele-abielule-pohiseaduslikku-kaitset

[6] Õiguskantsleri aastaülevaade 2015/2016 [Chancellor of Justice’s Annual Report 2015-2016]. Available at: http://www.oiguskantsler.ee/ylevaade2016/vordoiguslikkus

[7] „Lähituleviku protestid on seotud keskkonna, sotsiaalmuutuste ning avatusega“ [Protests in the near future will have to do with environment, social change and openness]. ERR. 11.08.2017. Available at: http://www.err.ee/612494/lahituleviku-protestid-on-seotud-keskkonna-sotsiaalmuutuste-ning-avatusega

[8] „President kutsus riigikogu liiget Martin Helmet korrale“ [President called member of the Riigikogu Martin Helme to order]. Postimees. 23.03.2017. Available at: http://www.postimees.ee/4056389/president-kutsus-riigikogu-liiget-martin-helmet-korrale

[9] EKRE 10 käsku [Conservative People’s Party of Estonia’s ten commandments]. Available at: https://ekre.ee/ekre-10-kasku/

[10] Conservative People’s Party of Estonia in Tallinn. Available at: https://www.ekre.ee/kov-tallinn/

[11] Sotsial Democratic Party’s candidates for local authorities. Available at: http://valimised2017.sotsdem.ee/et/

[12] Õiguskantsleri aastaülevaade 2015/2016 [Chancellor of Justice’s Annual Report 2015-2016]. Võrdõiguslikkus [Equality]. Available at: http://www.oiguskantsler.ee/ylevaade2016/vordoiguslikkus

[13] Õiguskantsleri aastaülevaade 2015/2016 [Chancellor of Justice’s Annual Report 2015-2016]. Õigusloomest [On legislative drafting]. Available at: http://www.oiguskantsler.ee/ylevaade2016/oigusloomest

[14] „Koosellujate lapsendusvõimalus püsib kohtuotsustel ja leplikul siseministeeriumil“ [Registered couples’ adoption opportunities are based on a court decision and an acquiescent Ministry of the Interior]. Eesti Päevaleht. 27.02.1017. Available at: http://epl.delfi.ee/news/eesti/koosellujate-lapsendusvoimalus-pusib-kohtuotsustel-ja-leplikul-siseministeeriumil?id=77361882

[15] „Eestis lapsendas esimene samasooline paar kaks last“ [The first same-sex couple to adopt two children in Estonia]. ERR. 29.03.2016. Available at: http://www.err.ee/557008/eestis-lapsendas-esimene-samasooline-paar-kaks-last

[16] „Kohus: riik peab kandma kooselupere lapsendamise rahvastikuregistrisse“ [Court: state has to enter the adoption of a registered partnership family in the population register]. Pealinn. 21.02.2017. Available at: http://www.pealinn.ee/newset/kohus-riik-peab-kandma-kooselupere-lapsendamise-rahvastikuregistrisse-n186943

[17] „Riik peab maksma kooseluseaduse rakendamata jätmise eest kahjutasu“ [State must pay compensation for not implementing the Registered Partnership Act]. ERR. 07.02.2017. Available at: http://www.err.ee/582082/riik-peab-maksma-kooseluseaduse-rakendamata-jatmise-eest-kahjutasu

[18] „Reinsalu lubab kahjunõude kooseluseaduse rakendamata jätmise eest edasi kaevata“ [Reinsalu promises to appeal for damages for failing to implement Registered Partnership Act]. ERR. 08.02.2017. Available at: http://www.err.ee/582157/reinsalu-lubab-kahjunoude-kooseluseaduse-rakendamata-jatmise-eest-edasi-kaevata

[19] „MTÜ: kohus kohustas maavalitsust samasooliste abielu registreerima“ [NGO: court required county government to register same-sex marriage]. Postimees. 24.01.2017. Available at: http://www.postimees.ee/3991001/mtu-kohus-kohustas-maavalitsust-samasooliste-abielu-registreerima

[20] „Õigusteadlased: samasooliste abielude kehtivust tuleb hinnata juhtumipõhiselt“ [Jurists: validity of same-sex marriage should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis]. ERR. 28.01.2017. Available at: http://www.err.ee/581514/oigusteadlased-samasooliste-abielude-kehtivust-tuleb-hinnata-juhtumipohiselt

[21] „Samasoolise partneri juurde kolimiseks elamisluba taotlenud naine sai PPA üle kohtuvõidu“ [Woman applying for residence permit to live with a same-sex partner won over Police and Border Guard Board in court]. Postimees. 25.01.2017. Available at: http://www.postimees.ee/3992027/samasoolise-partneri-juurde-kolimiseks-elamisluba-taotlenud-naine-sai-ppa-ule-kohtuvoidu

[22] „Kohus otsustas: eesti-ameerika lesbipaar saab kohtuvaidluse lõpuni koos Eestis elada“ [Court decided: Estonian-American lesbian couple can live together in Estonia until the end of court dispute]. Postimees. 15.04.2017. Available at: http://www.postimees.ee/4080639/kohus-otsustas-eesti-ameerika-lesbipaar-saab-kohtuvaidluse-lopuni-koos-eestis-elada

[23] „Riigikohus: ka samasoolistel paaridel on õigus perekonnaelu kaitsele“ [Supreme Court: same-sex couples also have the right to family life]. Delfi. 27.06.2017. Available at: http://www.delfi.ee/news/paevauudised/eesti/riigikohus-ka-samasoolistel-paaridel-on-oigus-perekonnaelu-kaitsele?id=78691582

[24] „LGBTQ inimeste igapäevane toimetulek ja strateegilised valikud Eesti ühiskonnas“ [LGBTQ persons’ daily coping and strategic choices in Estonian society]. Office of Gender Equality and Equal Treatment Commissioner. Available at: http://www.vordoigusvolinik.ee/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/LGBT_uuringuraport_LOPLIK_veeb.pdf

[25] „Uuring: Eesti inimestel on üha enam kokkupuuteid seksuaalvähemustega“ [Survey: Estonian people have more and more contact with sexual minorities]. Delfi. 23.05.2017. Available at: http://www.delfi.ee/news/paevauudised/eesti/uuring-eesti-inimestel-on-uha-enam-kokkupuuteid-seksuaalvahemustega?id=78306544

[26] Õiguskantsleri aastaülevaade 2016/2017 [Chancellor of Justice’s Annual Report 2016-2017]. Muud ülesanded [Other tasks]. Available at: http://www.oiguskantsler.ee/ylevaade2017/muud-ulesanded

[27] „Baltic Pride’i rongkäik näitab paljudele, et nad ei ole üksi“ [Baltic Pride procession shows many people that they are not alone]. Eesti Päevaleht. 07.07.2017. Available at: http://epl.delfi.ee/news/kultuur/baltic-pridei-rongkaik-naitab-paljudele-et-nad-ei-ole-uksi?id=78792212

[28] Festheart film festivali introduction. Available at: https://www.ev100.ee/et/festheart

[29] „Eesti esimene seksuaalvähemuste filmifestival jäi Rakvere linna toeta“ [Estonia’s first sexual minorities’ film festival did not gain support of town of Rakvere]. ERR. 15.02.2017. Available at: http://menu.err.ee/294387/eesti-esimene-seksuaalvahemuste-filmifestival-jai-rakvere-linna-toeta

[30] Estonian Human Rights Centre. Strategic litigation. Available at: https://humanrights.ee/teemad/vordne-kohtlemine/strateegiline-hagelemine/

[31] Estonian Human Rights Centre. Valmis unikaalne vaenust teavitamise äpp [A unique app for notifying hate created]. Available at: https://humanrights.ee/2017/10/valmis-unikaalne-vaenust-teavitamise-app/


Political and institutional developments

On the political level integration has become a boring area in a good sense – it has grown to become a natural part of Estonian governance and policy shaping, the necessity of which is generally not doubted. The coalition agreement of the new government formed at the end of 2016 also continues the custom of earlier coalition agreements and dedicates a separate part to integration.[1] Even though this is nothing revolutionary and the agreement follows in the path of earlier agreements it covers the main themes of focus for integration: improvement of accessibility and quality of Estonian language studies, citizenship issues, raising the awareness of Russian-speaking population and other topics.

In addition to the usual target group for Estonian integration policy, the Russian-speaking population, integration also has to do with two somewhat separate target groups: new immigrants and asylum seekers / refugees. In case of new immigrants, the adaptation programme initiated by the Ministry of the Interior in 2015 and so far still working well, is worth a mention; the Ministry of Social Affairs is actively working with asylum seekers and beneficiaries of international protection in cooperation with various support organisations (the Estonian Refugee Council and the Johannes Mihkelson Centre).

Legislative developments

In comparison to the previous period of reporting (2014–2015) there haven’t been remarkable changes on legislative level in this period. In the beginning of 2016 at the competition for best and worst acts of law of 2015 the amendments to the Citizenship Act (automatic naturalisation of children born into the family of parents of undetermined citizenship, legally allowing multiple citizenship for minors who have obtained Estonian citizenship by naturalisation, and dismissing over 65-year-old applicants for citizenship from the written exam) were declared the best act of law.[2]

Statistics and surveys

The results of monitoring of integration in Estonian society were published in the beginning of summer of 2017. Integration of society has been studied as a comprehensive instrument of study since 2000 and this monitoring is already the seventh. The results of the study could be divided in two. The more positive developments indicate that the Estonian language skills are improving in Estonian Russian-speaking population, four out of five Estonians share common ground on main issues of integration, and the majority of Estonian population support starting studies in Estonian already in kindergarten. The more negative developments, however, show that inequality based on nationality still reigns on Estonian labour market (in incomes, in employment, in unemployment rates), Estonian citizens still live in their own language spheres, and that contact between different nationalities primarily takes place at work or at school. Confidence in the state continues to be lower among population who does not speak Estonian than among the population that does.[3]

Another important survey was the “Estonian Human Development Report” presented in spring of 2017, the topic of which this time was “Estonia in the migration age”. The report summarizes several topics related to migration and integration and states that even though welfare in Estonia has rapidly improved it is still distributed unevenly among people. The report explains that there is a migration reversal taking place in Estonia – for the first time immigration is exceeding emigration and transnationalism is becoming an increasingly significant trend. One of the main messages of the Human Development Report is that since migration, transnationalism and integration policies make up a comprehensive unit they also need comprehensive coordinated activities to deal with them.[4]

In addition to these larger studies dissecting Estonian society more broadly several other studies looking at integration and the situation of minorities from different points of view were also published. For example, the National Audit Office published a report in the beginning of 2016 on the readiness of the state and local authorities to receive applicants and beneficiaries of international protection, which states that readiness of the state and local authorities to deal with sharp increase of refugees and their integration is only partial – of the evaluated 17 duties stemming from law Estonia can currently completely fulfil just three.[5] A lengthy UNHCR-lead review on beneficiaries of international protection was published at the end of 2016, specifically on integration of refugees into Estonian society (see chapter 12 on refugees and asylum seekers in the current report).[6] It states that even though legally Estonia meets the international and European standards on reception and other conditions, various shortcomings have to do with coordinating various parties’ work with accessibility of general services and the support persons’ scheme.

The meta-analysis on Estonian labour market division by nationality and language ordered by the Integration Foundation was also published in the spring of 2017. It shows and confirms the results of earlier such studies: that in comparison to Estonians, persons of other nationalities are at a weaker position on the Estonian labour market: differences show up in employment, in unemployment rates, in income sizes as well as in several other situations.[7]

Good practices

There were no remarkable examples of good practices changing or influencing integration or the situation of national minorities in the observable period. Nevertheless, an example of a good practice on a wider scale is the fact that the day-to-day issues of integration are being dealt with consistently, starting from supporting Estonian language studies to implementing cultural and educational integration methods.

A good example of a small scale good practice are the discussions on integration, which took place at the 2016 and 2017 Opinion Festival in Paide, the creation of concept of Estonian Language Houses, preparation of the measure enabling Estonian citizenship applicants to receive free language courses, but also regional events, such as empowering Russian-speaking young people at the first Russian-language hackathon in Narva.[8] [9] [10]

Noteworthy public discussions

The years 2016 and 2017 show some sign of calming down of public discussions over issues related to immigration and refugees. Nevertheless, three important questions related to national minorities were actively discussed in the period, all of them about citizenship: giving owners of grey passports / people of undetermined citizenship the right to vote at European Parliament elections (spring of 2016), possible legalisation of multiple citizenship for adults (summer of 2016) and giving Estonian citizenship without them having to pass the language exam and exam on the constitution to all persons who have lived in Estonia long-term (spring of 2017).

The discussion on giving persons of undetermined citizenship the right to vote at European Parliament elections arose from a petition on the issue from a member of the European Parliament.[11] In the course of the discussion two main and opposing viewpoints stood out: firstly, if to take European Parliament to meant to be a representative body of the population of the European Union and consider the fact that all Member States’ places and the European Parliament are decided based on the total population of each state it is natural that all (permanent) residents of the states are able to vote at European Parliament elections regardless of their citizenship. The other viewpoint is based on EU Treaties, which state what European Parliament can be elected by European Union citizens (that is each Member State’s citizens, which does not include persons of undefined citizenship.[12]

Another heated debate concerning citizenship and integration in a wider sense arose after the Prime Minister’s speech in the beginning of 2017, where he promised to make granting Estonian citizenship to all persons who have resided in Estonia for at least 25 years without the language exam and the exam on the Constitution one main point at the next Riigikogu election.[13] This point caused fierce debate among parties as well as within the parties,[14] and a wider response from the society.

The arguments supporting this issue are that granting citizenship more widely decreases the feeling of being ostracized among the Russian-speaking population, decreases security risk and increases social cohesion, but also that the differentiation based on passports has turned grey passport holders into “second class people”.[15] [16] The arguments against this are that citizenship does not add anything significant to a person since most of their rights are guaranteed anyway (except the right to elect the Riigikogu), implementation of such policy means that the target group will only vote for one specific political party, integrating into society does not come down to the colour of the passport, but to other factors, granting citizenship without exams will put those people in an unfair situation who have worked hard for Estonian citizenship, or that such a measure decreases the importance of Estonians in deciding over life in Estonia, etc.[17] [18] [19]  The after-effect of these discussions was the raise of the topic of whether integration in Estonia is necessary and possible.[20]

The third discussion over citizenship arose during the presidential election debates in the summer of 2016. Nearly all of the presidential candidates supported legalizing multiple citizenship in some way or another, the idea was also supported by most leaders of Estonian political parties in the parliament.[21] Excluding the positions against multiple citizenship (which mostly state arguments related to loyalty and security risks), the opinions primarily come down to the issue of whether multiple citizenship should be allowed for all persons regardless of the way citizenship was obtained (at birth v. naturalisation) or whether this right should only be granted to persons who are Estonian citizens at birth.[22]

It is important to note that looking back ten to twenty years, loyalty and security have been the main arguments to frame nearly all discussions regarding citizenship.[23] At the same time, the definition of citizenship is changing in the whole world – people are increasingly mobile, transnational, and children are born into such families that contain parents of different citizenships. It bears repeating here that, Estonia, as well as the rest of the world is growing more international at a rapid pace – and despite the acts on citizenship – which is why more and more children born into Estonian families have multiple citizenship of several states at birth.

Changes in issues regarding citizenship cannot take place overnight, neither is there thorough basic research conducted, for example, on legalizing or not legalizing multiple citizenship for adults (the topic has been more thoroughly researched only in the 2013 analysis by the Ministry of the Interior, and for the first time the views of Estonia’s population on the possibility of multiple citizenship and its different versions have been asked in the 2017 integration monitoring).


As in the previous period, the period of 2016–2017 is characterised by significantly greater number of discussions on the topic of immigration and refugees in comparison to the previous decade. Nevertheless, the discussions in this period have not been as fierce as in the previous period (2014–2015). Despite this, it can be concluded by observing the past decades that most public discussions concerning national minorities, integration or immigration predominantly take place in an unsystematic manner, as a rule, raising as a reaction to a current political event or a knowingly exaggerated statement. This in turn indicates that handling and discussing topics, which are important for Estonian society, have often been left to chance, not as much to a thought through plan of action.[24]


  • Stop the decades’ long play on the Russian card and nationality-based opposition in election fights and planning for them, which polarizes the voters and makes comprehensive integration of the Estonian society more difficult in all of the population groups. Draw attention to the ever-increasing use of this tactic regarding new immigrants, including the refugees.
  • Estonia does not have a migration policy in its strategic and narrative sense. The migration policy so far has been exceedingly method-based and the discussions predominantly centre on topics such as the quota, a (possible) points’ system, salary coefficient, etc. At the same time the government lack consensus and most of all a shared and communicated narrative on what Estonia’s future as an immigrant state should look like.
  • Initiate and hold discussions on citizenship systematically and according to plan, not based on current political events.
  • Pay more attention to various nationalities living in their own language sphere and inequality on the labour market stemming from nationality.


[1] See chapter VI „Integratsioon“ in „Keskerakonna, IRL-i ja SDE koalitsioonilepe täismahus“ [Estonian Centre Party, Pro Patria and Res Publica union and Social Democratic Party coalition agreement text in full]. ERR uudised. 19.11.2016. Available at: http://www.err.ee/577620/keskerakonna-irl-i-ja-sde-koalitsioonilepe-taismahus.

[2] „2015. aasta parim ja halvim seadus on selgunud“ [Best and worst acts of law of 2015 decided]. Postimees. 22.02.2016. Available at: http://pluss.postimees.ee/3591649/2015-aasta-parim-ja-halvim-seadus-on-selgunud

[3] Institute of Baltic Studies. „Eesti ühiskonna monitooring 2017“ [Monitoring of integration in Estonian society 2017]. Available at: https://www.ibs.ee/publikatsioonid/integratsiooni-monitooring-20/

[4] Foundation Estonian Cooperation Assembly. „Eesti inimarengu aruanne 2016/2017 „Eesti rändeajastul““ [Estonian Human Development Report 2016/2017 “Estonia in the migration age”]. Available at: https://inimareng.ee/

[5] National Audit Office. „Riigi ja kohalike omavalitsuste valmisolek võtta vastu rahvusvahelise kaitse taotlejaid ja saanuid“ [Readiness of the state and local authorities to receive applicants and beneficiaries of international protection]. Available at: http://www.riigikontroll.ee/DesktopModules/DigiDetail/FileDownloader.aspx?AuditId=2379&FileId=13545

[6] UNHCR. “Integration of refugees in Estonia: Participation and Empowerment”.

[7] Institute of Baltic Studies. „Eesti tööturu rahvuslik ja keeleline jaotus“ [Estonian labour market’s division by nationality and language]. Available at: https://www.ibs.ee/publikatsioonid/eesti-tooturu-rahvuslik-ja-keeleline-jaotus/

[8] Ministry of Culture. „Eesti keele majade loomine“ [Establishment of Estonian Language Houses]. Available at: http://www.kul.ee/et/eesti-keele-majade-loomine

[9] „Eesti kodakondsuse taotlejad saavad tulevikus tasuta keeleõpet“ [Estonian citizenship applicants to receive free language courses in the future]. ERR uudised. 13.07.2017. Available at: http://www.err.ee/607290/eesti-kodakondsuse-taotlejad-saavad-tulevikus-tasuta-keeleopet

[10] „Ida-Virumaa esimesel häkatonil arendati välja 21 nutikat ideed“ [21 smart ideas developed at Ida-Virumaa’s first hackathon]. Press release. 11.10.2016. Available at: https://www.ibs.ee/uudised-ja-press/ida-virumaa-esimesel-hakatonil-arendati-valja-21-nutikat-ideed/

[11] „Yana Toom andis Euroopa Parlamendile üle petitsiooni mittekodanike õiguste kohta“ [Yana Toom handed the European Parliament a petition on the rights of non-nationals]. ERR uudised. 21.06.2016. Available at: http://www.err.ee/562158/yana-toom-andis-euroopa-parlamendile-ule-petitsiooni-mittekodanike-oiguste-kohta

[12] „Õiguseksperdid on halli passi omanikele EL-i valimistel hääleõiguse andmise osas eriarvamusel“ [Legal experts disagree on giving grey passport holders the right to vote at EU elections]. ERR uudised. 15.04.2016. Available at: http://www.err.ee/558018/oiguseksperdid-on-halli-passi-omanikele-el-i-valimistel-haaleoiguse-andmise-osas-eriarvamusel

[13] „Ratas: kodakondsus tuleks anda kõigile, kes on elanud Eestis vähemalt 25 aastat“ [Ratas: citizenship should be given everyone who has resided in Estonia for at least 25 years]. ERR uudised. 23.01.2017. Available at: http://www.err.ee/581233/ratas-kodakondsus-tuleks-anda-koigile-kes-on-elanud-eestis-vahemalt-25-aastat

[14] See for example the views of I. Gräzin vs. A. Korobeinik „Ratase kodakondsusidee paistab kui poliitsepitsus“ [Ratas’ citizenship idea seems to be a political scheme]. Äripäev. 24.01.2017. Available at: http://www.aripaev.ee/uudised/2017/01/24/ratase-kodakondsusidee-paistab-kui-poliitsepitsus

[15] „Uued kodakondsed? Jah, muidugi“ [New citzens? Yes, of course.]. Äripäev. 25.01.2017. Available at: http://www.aripaev.ee/juhtkiri/2017/01/25/uued-kodakondsed-jah-muidugi

[16] „Ratas: ma ei toeta mitte üheski võtmes kodakondsuse nullvarianti“ [Ratas: I do not support any version of no citizenship]. Delfi. 25.01.2017. Available at: http://www.delfi.ee/news/paevauudised/eesti/ratas-ma-ei-toeta-mitte-uheski-votmes-kodakondsuse-nullvarianti?id=77026704

[17] „Dmitri Jegorov: lõimumine on kinni muus kui passis“ [Dmitri Jegorov: integration is not about the passport]. Postimees. 26.01.2017. Available at: https://www.postimees.ee/3993159/dmitri-jegorov-loimumine-on-kinni-muus-kui-passis

[18] „IRL ei toeta ideed anda kodakondsus kõigile, kes on Eestis elanud 25 aastat“ [Pro Patria and Res Publica Union do not support the idea of granting citizenship for everyone who has lived in Estonia for 25 years]. Delfi. 24.01.2017. Available at:  http://www.delfi.ee/news/paevauudised/eesti/irl-ei-toeta-ideed-anda-kodakondsus-koigile-kes-on-eestis-elanud-25-aastat?id=77013764

[19] „Martin Helme: hallipassi inimeste puhul tahetakse kodakondsus vägisi anda okupatsioonikolonistidele“ [Martin Helme: with regards to grey passport holders the citizenship is forced on occupation colonists]. Delfi. 24.01.2017. Available at: http://www.delfi.ee/news/paevauudised/eesti/martin-helme-hallipassi-inimeste-puhul-tahetakse-kodakondsus-vagisi-anda-okupatsioonikolonistidele?id=77009010

[20] See for example „Kaire Uusen: äkki loobudagi integratsioonist?“ [Kaire Uusen: maybe we should give up on integration]. Postimees. 16.02.2017. Available at: https://arvamus.postimees.ee/4015805/kaire-uusen-akki-loobudagi-integratsioonist; „Marianna Makarova: miks oleks integratsioonist loobumine Eestile ohtlik?“ [Marianna Makarova: why would it be dangerous for Estonia to give up integration?]. Positmees.27.02.2017. Available at:  https://arvamus.postimees.ee/4028121/marianna-makarova-miks-oleks-integratsioonist-loobumine-eestile-ohtlik or „Viktoria Ladõnskaja: kas ja kes tahab lõimumist?“ [Viktoria Ladõnskaja: whether and who wants integration?]. Postimees. 21.01.2016. Available at:  https://arvamus.postimees.ee/3476819/viktoria-ladonskaja-kas-ja-kes-tahab-loimumist

[21] „Enamik presidendiks pürgijaist pooldab topeltkodakondsust teatud juhtudel“ [Most of the candidates running as presidents favour multiple citizenship on certain cases]. ERR uudised. 14.06.2016. Available at: http://www.err.ee/561722/enamik-presidendiks-purgijaist-pooldab-topeltkodakondsust-teatud-juhtudel

[22] „Pevkur lubaks topeltkodakondsust vaid sünnijärgsetele kodanikele“ [Pevkur would allow multiple citizenship only for citizens at birth]. Postimees. 15.06.2016. Available at: https://www.postimees.ee/3733493/pevkur-lubaks-topeltkodakondsust-vaid-sunnijargsetele-kodanikele; „Henn Põlluaas: topeltkodakondsus kujutab Eestile julgeolekuohtu“ [Henn Põlluaas: multiple citizenship is a security threat for Estonia]. Delfi. 16.06.2016. Available at:


[23] The third latent postulate about these discussions has always been the political viewpoint that basic principles of citizenship policy don’t change.

[24] In addition to the examples stated in this chapter this trend is also very well illustrated by the issue on the future of Russian-speaking kindergartens and their language of study, which created wide-based debate in the media in the summer of 2017.

Political and institutional developments

In the reporting period the 2016 local government council elections took place in Estonia.

In 1993 there were 254 rural municipalities and towns in Estonia, since then the number of local authorities has gradually decreased. At 2013 elections the memberships of 215 local authorities were elected, in 2017 elections there were 79 local authorities.[1]

The number of local authorities shrank in two years primarily because of the Administrative Reform, where local authorities with populations smaller than 5000 had to merge. Local authorities that did not merge voluntarily were merged on the order of the Government of the Republic[2] and the Supreme Court allowed none of the appeals against merging of local authorities, therefore also all of the forced mergers took place.

Legislative developments

The Estonian Human Rights Centre has advised the Riigikogu to consider whether banning political outdoor advertising during the campaigning period is reasonable and purposeful in several of its reports. In 2017 the Chancellor of Justice also came to this point of view. In her analysis the Chancellor of Justice came to the conclusion that some of the rules on election advertising no longer fulfil their purpose and create needless additional strain on the police. Additionally, the election campaign has partly moved onto the internet, including the social media, which makes enforcing some of the rules virtually impossible.[3] The Chancellor of Justice advised Riigikogu to consider removing the ban on political outdoor advertising during period of active campaigning, as it does not fulfil its purpose, she also recommended removing the ban on active campaigning on the day of the election.

The Chancellor of Justice also made proposals for making funding of election campaigns more transparent and subject to greater scrutiny. Chancellor of Justice made the proposal to give Political Parties’ Financing Surveillance Committee greater powers (give them the right to access funding sources of political parties, increase their right to access various documents, including from third parties). The unconstitutional side-effect of donations’ ban from legal persons, which limits freedom of expression of NGOs and the private press, should also be removed. In the name of increasing transparency of funding of political powers, the citizens’ associations that have supported politicians should have the obligation to disclose information about financing sources to monitoring authorities (the Political Parties Act states that only political parties, election coalitions and persons who have run as candidates on their list and independent candidates must provide this information).

Court practice

The Constitutional Review Chamber found in its 18 May 2017 decision[4] that the name of the candidate or the political party, the contact information, trademark, domain name or field of activity exposed outdoors during the election campaign ban is not political outdoor advertising, unlike, for example, election promises. That is why the Supreme Court was unable to solve the question of constitutionality of political outdoor advertising in this court case.

The Supreme Court also discussed the issue of expenses made by legal persons governed by public law for the purpose of promoting and advertising politicians. The Administrative Law Chamber found in its 10 November 2016 judgment[5] that departing local government’s messages using the members of the political party currently in power and running in elections in the pre-election period probably influenced voters in making their decisions. Therefore, this could not have been considered customary notification, but election campaign, where one candidate was placed in a more favourable position than others using public means. The Supreme Court was of the opinion that in allowing such situations there is the danger that public means are used for carrying out election campaigns under the banner of carrying out awareness-raising campaigns.

Statistics and surveys

In 2017 58% of persons possessing the right to vote took part in the local government council elections, whereas 42.1% of people voted at advance polls (in 2013 this portion had been 35.7%). The total number of candidates was 14,784 with 60% of them men and 40% women.

68.9% of those elected were men and 31.1% women,[6] the percentage of women running as candidates and becoming elected has never been this high.

Good practices

Since 2009 the Network of Estonian Nonprofit Organisations[7] has invited all of the persons running for representative bodies to follow the good election practice so that campaigns have substance, are ethical, and help voters make smart decisions. Along with voluntary Guardians of Good Conduct the Network of Estonian Nonprofit Organisations observes and comments on keeping to the election practice. The Guardians of Good Conduct have garnered positive media response and created a platform for discussion, therefore, this is a sustainable activity, which has increased people’s awareness of empty and unethical campaign elements.

In relation to the fact that in 2017 the 16 and 17-year-olds first had the right to vote in elections Eesti Noorteühenduste Liit in association with Eesti Õpilasesinduste Liit, the Office of the Chancellor of Justice and the Network of Estonian Nonprofit Organizations initiated in the election year the project of “Noored valimisvalvurid” (young election guardians).

The Project “Noored valimisvalvurid” guides young people to participate in the work of their local (whether in towns or rural municipalities) electoral committee, try out the role of an official election observer, or participate in activities of election guardians. The first results show that the voter turnout among young people was extremely low (only 7.4% of the election group took part in e-voting),[8] therefore such initiatives should also be carried out in the following election periods.

Noteworthy public discussions

The topic of ban on political outdoor advertising was actively picked up after the interview of the Police and Boarder Guard Board to the news programme “Aktuaalne Kaamera”, where the police claimed that according to the interpretation political outdoor advertising also includes portraits and election slogans of candidates published on social media. The Police and Boarder Guard expert said that according to the act of law the outdoor advertising is banned during the active campaign period and the politicians should delete election propaganda from Facebook.[9]

On the same day the Estonian Human Rights Centre issued a press release stating that interference of law enforcement authorities in free elections in a way that breaches and endangers the right to vote just before elections take place is not in accordance with a democratic regime. Within hours the police also changed their point of view and announced that the ban on outdoor advertising does not extend to social media.[10]

On September 5th, 2017, the Information System Authority (RIA) announced at a press conference that the ID-card used for internet voting has a detected security risk. It was mentioned at the press conference that the security risk is a theoretical one and that the National Electoral Committee would decide whether e-elections take place.[11] Already a day later, on September 6th, the National Electoral Committee decided that e-voting at municipal elections will take place according to law and to plan.[12] The chairman of the National Electoral Committee Meelis Eerik said that the main argument for going ahead with e-voting according to law is the fact that not a single actual security fault was found, and everything concerning the ID-card’s chip is hypothetical.

The Conservative People’s Party of Estonia (EKRE) then submitted a complaint with the Supreme Court demanding annulment of e-voting;[13] the court did not allow the complaint. The Supreme Court found that they had no reason to doubt the adequacy of information gathered by the National Electoral Committee and the appraisal given to the security of electronic voting.[14]


  • 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.


[1] Valimisringkonnad ning volikogude suurused KOV 2017 [Electoral districts and sizes of municipal councils. Municipal elections 2017]. Available at: https://www.valimised.ee/et/kohalikud-valimised-2017/valimisringkonnad-ning-volikogude-suurused-kov-2017

[2] Ministry of Finance. Vabariigi Valitsuse algatatud ühinemised [Mergers initiated by the Government of the Republic]. Available at: https://haldusreform.fin.ee/vv-algatatud-uhinemised/

[3] Chancellor of Justice. 16.11.2017. Report to the Riigikogu. Valimiskampaaniate rahastamise ning reklaami regulatsiooni ajakohasus ja põhiseaduspärasus [Funding of election campaigns and timeliness and constitutionality of advertising regulation]. Available at: http://www.oiguskantsler.ee/sites/default/files/field_document2/Valimiskampaaniate%20rahastamise%20ning%20reklaami%20regulatsiooni%20ajakohasus%20ja%20põhiseaduspärasusest_0.pdf

[4] Constitutional Review Chamber. 18.05.2017. Judgment in case no 3-4-1-3-17. Available at: https://rikos.rik.ee/?asjaNr=3-4-1-3-17

[5] Administrative Law Chamber. 10.11.2016. Judgment in case no 3-3-1-50-16. Available at: https://www.riigikohus.ee/et/lahendid?asjaNr=3-3-1-50-16

[6] Toimunud kohaliku omavalitsuse volikogu valimised [Local Government Council Elections that have taken place]. Available at: https://www.valimised.ee/et/valimiste-arhiiv/toimunud-kohaliku-omavalitsuse-volikogu-valimised

[7] Valimiste valvurid [Election guardians]. Available at: https://heakodanik.ee/valimiste-valvurid/

[8] Pihlak, A. 22.10.2017. „Alaealised andsid keskmisest kaks korda vähem e-hääli, kas sellest saab teha järeldusi nende valimisaktiivsusest?“ [Minors gave half as many e-votes as the average, can conclusions be made regarding their voting activity?]. Delfi. Available at: http://www.delfi.ee/news/kov2017/uudised/alaealised-andsid-keskmisest-kaks-korda-vahem-e-haali-kas-sellest-saab-teha-jareldusi-nende-valimisaktiivsusest?id=79867622

[9] Raiste, A. 13.09.2017. „Välireklaami keelu ajal tuleks ka Facebookist valimispropaganda kustutada“ [Election propaganda should also be deleted from Facebook during campaign ban period]. ERR. Available at: http://www.err.ee/618438/valireklaami-keelu-ajal-tuleks-ka-facebookist-valimispropaganda-kustutada

[10] Luts, P. (ed.). 14.09.2017. „Politsei leebus: välireklaami keeld ei laiene sotsiaalmeediale“ [Police relented: the ban on outdoor advertising does not extend to social media]. Available at: http://www.err.ee/618512/politsei-leebus-valireklaami-keeld-ei-laiene-sotsiaalmeediale

[11] Velsker, L. 05.09.2017. „ID-kaardi kiibis avastati teoreetiline turvarisk“ [Theoretical security risk discovered in ID-card’s chip]. Postimees. Available at: https://tehnika.postimees.ee/4233255/id-kaardi-kiibis-avastati-teoreetiline-turvarisk

[12] Vabariigi Valimiskomisjon: e-hääletamine toimub [National Electoral Committee: e-voting will take place]. 06.09.2017. Available at: https://www.valimised.ee/et/uudised/vabariigi-valimiskomisjon-e-hääletamine-toimub

[13] Einmann, A. 12.09.2017. „Valimiskomisjon saatis EKRE e-hääletuse kaebuse riigikohtusse“ [Electoral Committee sent EKRE’s e-voting complaint to the Supreme Court]. Postimees. Available at: https://poliitika.postimees.ee/4240715/valimiskomisjon-saatis-ekre-e-haaletuse-kaebuse-riigikohtusse

[14] Talvik, M. 21.09.2017. „Riigikohus ei rahuldanud EKRE kaebust valimiskomisjoni otsusele“ [Supreme Court did not satisfy EKRE’s complaint about decision of National Electoral Committee]. Available at: https://www.riigikohus.ee/et/uudiste-arhiiv/riigikohus-ei-rahuldanud-ekre-kaebust-valimiskomisjoni-otsusele