Children are people here and now, and just adopting acts of law is not enough to guarantee their rights, supportive actions and changing the situation on the whole are also necessary (law in books →law in action). In 2014 when the 25th anniversary of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child was celebrated, the children were in focus in Estonia as well as the world in general. The Nobel peace prize was given to Kailash Satyarth who had been devoted to protection on children’s rights and Malala Yousafzai. Such recognition shows the importance of the role of civil society in promoting, facilitating and protecting the rights stated in the convention. The purpose of the convention is to protect the child from all kinds of risks to his or her development and wellbeing in all kinds of environments. It is equally important to observe the treatment of the child in the family, the kindergarten, the school, health care institutions and the society in general.
The number of children in need of help is increasing every year. The problem is the state’s insufficient support at caring for a child with disability, in practice the local governments are unable to guarantee all children with disability a place at a regular kindergarten, there is also insufficient support for teachers for teaching children with special needs (for example, in 2013 the position of a support specialist had been created at just 53% of kindergartens). Not all teachers are sufficiently prepared for implementing the inclusive education policy, and there is a lack of resources for creating the necessary environment for learning. The percent of children that have fallen victim is worrying: 22% of children fell victim to school bullying, 16% to cyber bullying, 22% to theft, and 7% were attacked in 2013. The risk factors for children’s offences and for falling victim are violence in family and use of violence on the child as well as conflicts in the family, lacking parental overview, alcohol and drug problems of parents.
Adoption of the new Child Protection Act expressly forbidding physical punishment of children can be considered the most important step. For the first time in Estonian legislation it is stated that in matters regarding children it is important to place the child’s interests first, and allow the child to express his or her view. The 2015 amendment to the constitution reducing the voting age at local government council elections from 18 to 16 is also worth mentioning. As a result of the review of the Penal Code the definition of domestic violence was set for the first time in legislation, and due to the amendment the punishment committed in a close relationship or a dependent relationship is harsher. It is extremely unacceptable that there were 12,138 children in Estonia at the beginning of 2014 whose maintenance obligation was voluntarily not fulfilled by one parent (execution proceedings were initiated in the total sum of 10,766,732.10 euros). It is a growing trend in violating the rights of the child, and the methods for recovering alimony have not been sufficiently effective for the total debt of alimony to be reduced. However, it is positive that the amendment of the Code of Enforcement Procedure in 2015 established a number of options, implementation of which would make the alimony debtors’ lives uncomfortable to some extent (including suspending the debtor’s right to drive). The necessity to amend the Citizenship Act for better protection of rights of the child has repeatedly been drawn attention to by the Chancellor of Justice Indrek Teder as well as Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Nils Muižnieks. The amendment to the Citizenship Act allows minors to acquire the citizenship of another country in addition to Estonian citizenship, and for under the age of 15 children of parents with undetermined citizenship to acquire Estonian citizenship by naturalization from birth.
Court proceedings and practice
One of the main goals of the EU Agenda for the Rights of the Child is to make the European justice system more child-friendly. It is an area that the European Union has jurisdiction according to the EU treaties to actually implement the rights of the child based on EU law. Contact with the justice system is often an unpleasant experience for the child (environment that makes them uneasy, lack of information and explanation suitable for their age, little attention to families and lengthy proceedings), which is why it is important to support children participating in proceedings in every way. However, it must be conceded that the rights of the child are still not sufficiently guaranteed in this area in Estonia. For example, there is no system of support persons in place for the benefit of children in court proceedings, and access to supporting services varies in different districts. Children who have witnessed (domestic) violence are not offered special treatment, even though various surveys confirm that children who have witnessed violence in their childhood have a greater risk of falling victim of domestic violence as adults. The safety of child victims is also not always sufficiently guaranteed, for example at designation of curatorship existence of domestic violence does not always have weight in the decision-making. It is important from the point of view of interests and rights of children how the child is treated also in criminal proceedings, including hearing of a child. It became apparent from analysis of video recorded hearings of underage victims that the children are not always asked permission to video record the hearing, neither is the child also always told the truth, and if the specialist included in the hearing has not been prepared on criminal proceedings and the tactics of hearing, he or she will find it hard to stand up for the best interests of the child. It became apparent from the analysis of determining curatorship that in court decisions, considering the interests of the child is only limited to admitting that it has been taken into consideration, however, few decisions explain how the court did it.
The Supreme Court deliberated repeatedly over kindergarten places in the course of constitutional review proceedings in 2014; found that leaving a seven year old child home alone may not be a breach of guarantor obligations; specified allowed use of force in execution a court decision on communicating with a child. It also emphasized the court’s role in directing parents towards compromise in disputes over communication. Regulation regarding communication between the child and the parent living separately is problematic in Estonia. In 2014 Tallinn Administrative court awarded damages against the state in the sum of 7500 euros in favour of a father, because the father had used up all the opportunities stemming from the law in three years to meet his child, and the forced absence from his child had created non-patrimonial damage. The state needs to actively work on this topic.
The European Court of Human Rights emphasized among other things that it is not reasoned that a child is taken from a parent who cannot manage raising the child materially (Zhou v. Italy); general education schools must guarantee the student the opportunity not to participate in religious education class (Mansur Yalcin and others v. Turkey). In 2014 the Grand Chamber of European Court of Human Rights made a decision, according to which it holds the government of Ireland responsible for sexual harassment of children in general education schools in 1970s (O´Keeffe v. Ireland). According to the decision the state is not absolved from responsibility by passing the responsibility of operating the school to a private institution or individuals.
Statistics and surveys
The state fulfilled its duty under the Convention on the Rights of The Child – by submitting the Committee on the Rights of the Child the third and fourth periodic report on application of the convention, based on activities and statistics of 2003 – 2011 in 2014 (six years after it was due). In 2015 the organisations in the field, lead by the NGO Estonian Union for Child Welfare, gathered their supplementations and proposals to be submitted to the Committee on the Rights of the Child as a supplementary report.
In order to draw attention to rights of the child and most of all Article 12 of the convention, and making the opinion of children heard, the NGO Estonian Union for Child Welfare carried out a survey on participation and inclusion of children and young people at school, the purpose of which was to find out to what extent children are included in decisions about school life, in which way and on which topics; also whether the children and young people believe the level of inclusion is sufficient, on what topics they would like to have a say and in which way they would most like to do it. 1787 children across Estonia responded to the questionnaire (including 404 Russian-speaking children). Despite the fact that Estonia ratified the convention already in 1991 and the national curriculum of the basic school prescribes making it known among students, 59% of respondents stated they had never heard of the convention.
The survey of deviant behaviour among 7–9th grade students in Estonia proved that in comparison to 8 years ago the students have committed significantly fewer offences. The number of hate crimes has increased (6% of children admitted that they had been threatened with violence or had experienced violence because of his or her religious beliefs, language, skin colour, social standing or other reasons). Children find it hard to retain their identity and familial relations if the child and parents are living in separate countries. A recent study confirms that the absence of parents may increase missing school and thereby influence the child’s progress at school, it can also cause or deepen health, behavioural and dependency problems. At the same time the social workers lack information about such families (41% considered information about families where children live alone, because their parents live outside Estonia to be insufficient).
In comparison to earlier in 2014–2015 more studies concerning children were conducted, however, more attention should be paid to gathering and analysing national data, and supporting relevant scientific initiatives. The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child also emphasizes the need to gather information regarding children and inspires to develop indicators for monitoring realisation of rights of children.
General Comment no. 14 of the Committee on the Rights of the Child on the right of the child to have his or her best interests taken as a primary consideration (art. 3, para.1 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child) was translated into Estonian on the initiative of the NGO Estonian Union for Child Welfare. The general comments will continue to be translated into Estonian in the coming years to better understand the content of the articles of the convention. The project of the Estonian Institute of Human Rights “Human rights in education system – networking, teacher training and empowering young people”, in the course of which “Compass”, the Council of Europe manual for human rights was translated into Estonian was also aimed at raising awareness.
In 2014 the University of Tartu faculty of social sciences in cooperation with the faculty of law initiated a study module on the rights of the child as a part of Master’s curriculum of social work and social politics aimed at the future child protection and social workers, lawyers and other specialists working with children. The module was introduced as a part of the NGO Estonian Union for Child Welfare project “Lapse hääl!” (the voice of the child), containing subjects of human rights and children’s rights, child protection and practical work with children and families. No institute of higher education in Estonia had offered a systemic study of children’s rights before, thereby the creation of module filled an important gap which had been referred to also by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child.
Noteworthy public discussions
The right of the minor to influence decisions regarding him or her in health care institutions have to do with the child’s right to participate, but also with right to protection and care. In the summer of 2014 the Social Affairs Committee of the Riigikogu discussed proposal no. 27 “Limitations to termination of pregnancy regarding being underage” of the Chancellor of Justice with the representatives of the Ministry of Social Affairs, the Ministry of Justice, the Estonian Council on Bioethics, the Estonian Union for Child Welfare and the Estonian Gynaecologists Society, according to which § 5 (2) of the Termination of Pregnancy and Sterilisation Act is in contradiction with the constitution as it disproportionately limits the right to self-determination of women under 18 years of age, making her excessively dependent on her parents or her guardian. Wider discussions continued in the beginning of 2015 when Riigikogu abrogated the limitation.
The Estonian National Youth Council lead the discussion in reducing the voting age to 16. The survey on effectiveness confirmed that there are no risks to reducing the voting age, Estonia is prepared for reducing of the voting age and the preferred policy choice is to reduce the active voting age to 16 precisely at local elections.
In 2014 as well as in 2015 the Festival of Opinion Culture (Arvamusfestival) had a separate stage for children and families discussing prevention of bullying, inclusion of children and young people as well as the rights of the child as a whole.
The public debate over the Cohabitation Act and the new Child Protection Act was heated. Occasionally, however, the expression remained that for some of the debaters the so-called standing up for the interests of children was rather due to political ambition or goals of certain interest groups rather than serious concern for wellbeing of children in general.
The number of instances of abuse of children in Estonia is very high. The children speaking Russian as their mother tongue are punished more, there is also more violence in these families. The media actively covered instances of domestic violence in 2014, where violence against the child had resulted in death of the child.
“Estonian Guidelines for Development of Criminal Policy until 2018” approved by Riigikogu establish that heightened attention must be paid to prevention of domestic violence, and a system for early detection of problems in growing environment of children, and developing parental skills of parents must be established. The National Development Strategy for Preventing Violence 2015–2020 focuses mainly on violence related to children. The Ministry of Social Affairs initiated the parenting program Incredible Years aimed at parents of children with behavioural problems, and parents who wish to prevent their children developing possible behaviour problems. Prevention of bullying behaviour is paid increasingly more attention to in the education system. Liikumine Kiusamisvaba Haridustee Eest (the movement for bullying-free education) was created at the University of Tartu Centre for Ethics value education conference in December of 2014. The movement was created by the NGO Estonian Union for Child Welfare, the Foundation Kiusamise Vastu, NGO Noorteühing TORE and University of Tartu Centre for Ethics. The common goal was to create a viable platform for cooperation through which to get a research based program preventing and solving bullying to all children’s institutions and general education schools in Estonia.
- Guarantee a more effective implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (including guaranteeing social fundamental rights). Gather systematic statistical data (including submitting regular reports), analyses of which to base policies guaranteeing the rights of the child on.
- Increase the children’s opportunities to have a say in questions regarding society, community and school life. Include children in decision making processes more.
- Increase the knowledge and skills of investigators, judges and other specialists working with children by offering them training on the rights of the child (including hearing of children) and development psychology.
- Develop the school system as a whole in order to more effectively implement inclusive education policies (including providing training for teachers, adjust the necessary learning environment, adjust study materials, also increase the volume of human rights education on various levels of education).
- Inform the society even more on the rights of the child, including using various channels to introduce the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child to adults as well as children and young people (including in Russian, considering special needs, etc.).
 The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child is the most widely ratified human rights agreement of all time. Along with three optional protocols it is a comprehensive collection of legally binding international standards promoting and protecting the rights of the child (The Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on a Communications Procedure came into force in April of 2015. See: http://www.ratifyop3crc.org/material/).
 Kailash Satyarthi has been working for reducing the use of child labour in India for years, and implemented several initiatives for reducing poverty. Malala Yousafzai is the youngest Nobel prize Laureate. She stands up for the girls’ and women’s right to education in Pakistan.
 European Parlament resolution on the 25th anniversary of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child of 27 November 2014 (2014/2919(RSP)) Available at: http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getDoc.do?type=MOTION&reference=B8-2014-0285&format=XML&language=ET.
 Explanatory memorandum to the draft act for ratifying the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and joining the Optional Protocol. Available at: http://www.ead.ee/orb.aw/class=file/action=preview/id=375878/Eeln6u_seletuskiri.pdf.
 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.
 Poopuu, T. 2014. Uus lastekaitseseadus ootab rakendamist [The new Child Protection Act is waiting to be implemented]. Sotsiaaltöö no. 6, 2014.
 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.
 Saar, H. 2014, Rights of the Child. Human Rights in Estonia 2013. Estonian Human Rights Centre. Available at: https://humanrights/inimoiguste-aruanne-2/inimoigused-eestis-2013/lapse-oigused/.
 REPORT by Nils Muižnieks Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe Following his visit to Estonia from 25 to 27 March 2013. Available at: https://wcd.coe.int/com.instranet.InstraServlet?command=com.instranet.CmdBlobGet&InstranetImage=2308567&SecMode=1&DocId=2023896&Usage=2.
 Euroopa Komisjoni teatis Euroopa Parlamendile, nõukogule, Euroopa Majandus- ja Sotsiaalkomiteele ning Regioonide Komiteele „Lapse õigusi käsitlev ELi tegevuskava“ [Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions. „An EU Agenda for the Rights of the Child“] COM (2011)60. Available at: http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=COM:2011:0060:FIN:et:PDF.
 According to the concept of child-friendly justice the protection of rights of children upon contact with justice as a more vulnerable group has to be guaranteed.
 Euroopa Nõukogu ministrite komitee suunised lapsesõbraliku õigusemõistmise kohta [The Council of Europe guidelines on child-friendly justice]. Available at: http://www.coe.int/t/dghl/standardsetting/childjustice/Source/GuidelinesChildFriendlyJustice_ET.pdf.
 Vt nt Edleson, J. L., Ellerton, A. L., Seagren, A. E., Kirchberg, S. O., & Ambrose, A. T. 2007. Assessing child exposure to adult domestic violence. Children and Youth Services Review, 29(7), 961-971; Sousa, C., Herrenkohl, T. I., Moylan, C. A., Tajima, E. A., Klika, J. B., Herrenkohl, R. C., & Russo, M. J. 2011. Longitudinal study on the effects of child abuse and children’s exposure to domestic violence, parent-child attachments, and antisocial behavior in adolescence. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 26 (1), 111–136.
 Vägivalla ennetamise strateegia 2015–2020 koostamise ettepanek [proposal to devise the National Development Strategy for Preventing Violence 2015–2020]. Available at: https://www.osale.ee/konsultatsioonid/files/consult/263_VVA%202015-2020%20ettepanek.pdf.
 Kask, K. 2015. Alaealiste kannatanute videosalvestatud ülekuulamiste analüüs [Analysis of videorecorded hearing of underage victims]. Kriminaalpoliitika analüüs [Criminal policy analysis] No. 1/2015 Available at: http://www.kriminaalpoliitika.ee/sites/www.kriminaalpoliitika.ee/files/elfinder/dokumendid/alaealiste_kannatanute_videosalvestatud_ulekuulamised_kristjan_kask_2015.pdf.
 Espenberg, K., Soo, K., Beilmann, M., Linno, M., Vahaste, S., Göttig, T., Uusen-Nacke, T. 2013. Vanema hooldusõiguse määramise praktika analüüs [Analysis of practice for determining curatorship of a parent]. Tartu Ülikooli sotsiaalteaduslike rakendusuuringute keskus RAKE. Available at: https://www.riigikantselei.ee/valitsus/valitsus/Vanema%20hooldus%C3%B5iguse%20m%C3%A4%C3%A4ramise%20uuring_l%C3%B5ppraport.pdf.
 Also see: in Sahin v. Germany ((30943/96)  ECHR 340 (8.07.2003)) the court detected as an important breach that the court failed to hear the child in court and noted that a national court must take significant steps in order to achieve a direct contact with the child, and only that is the way to ascertain best interests of the child. Summary available at: http://www.hrcr.org/safrica/childrens_rights/Sahin.html.
 Constitutional Review Chamber of the Supreme Court judgment in civil case no. 3-4-1-63-13, 19.03.2014. Available at: http://www.riigikohus.ee/?id=11&tekst=RK/3-4-1-63-13. Constitutional Review Chamber of the Supreme Court judgment in civil case no. 3-4-1-63-13, 19.03.2014. Available at: http://www.riigikohus.ee/?id=11&tekst=RK/3-4-1-66-13.
 Criminal Chamber of the Supreme Court judgment in criminal case no. 3-1-1-45-14, 10.10.2014. Available at: http://www.riigikohus.ee/?id=11&tekst=RK/3-1-1-45-14.
 Civil Chamber of the Supreme Court ruling in civil case no. 3-2-1-95-14, 29.10.2014. Available at: http://www.riigikohus.ee/?id=11&tekst=RK/3-2-1-95-14.
 Civil Chamber of the Supreme Court ruling in civil case no. 3-2-1-91-14, 05.11.2014. Available at: http://www.riigikohus.ee/?id=11&tekst=RK/3-2-1-91-14. Civil Chamber of the Supreme Court ruling in civil case no. 3-2-1-113-14, 05.11.2014. Available at: http://www.riigikohus.ee/?id=11&tekst=RK/3-2-1-113-14.
 Authors’ note: the European Court of Human Rights has repeatedly emphasized that issues of a child and parent must be solved in courts as quickly as possible, and not in processes going on for years. Analogous judgment. 04.11.2014.
 Affaire Zhou c. Italie. Requête no. 33773/11. Available at: http://hudoc.echr.coe.int/sites/eng/pages/search.aspx?i=001-140026.
 En l’affaire Mansur Yalçın et autres c. Turquie. Requête no 21163/11. Available at: http://hudoc.echr.coe.int/sites/eng/pages/search.aspx?i=001-146381.
 Case of O’Keeffe v. Ireland. Appeal 35810/09. European Court of Human Rights, Grand Chamber. Available at: http://hudoc.echr.coe.int/sites/eng/pages/search.aspx?i=001-140235.
 Eesti Vabariigi kolmas ja neljas perioodiline aruanne ÜRO Lapse õiguste konventsiooni täitmise kohta [Third and fourth periodic report of the Republic of Estonia on implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child]. Available at: http://vm.ee/sites/default/files/elfinder/article_files/aruanne_est.pdf.
 NGO Estonian Union for Child Welfare 2014. Kokkuvõte uuringust: „Laste ja noorte osalus ja kaasamine koolis“ [Summary of survey: participation and inclusion of children and young people at school]. Compiler H.Saar. Available at: http://www.lastekaitseliit.ee/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/Laste-ja-noorte-osalus-ja-kaasamine-koolis.pdf.
 Markina, A., Žarkovski, B. 2014. Laste hälbiv käitumine Eestis [Deviant behaviour of children in Estonia]. See footnote 6!
 Author’s note: Estonia’s first school shooting took place in 2014.
 Espenberg, K., Lees, K., Arrak, L., Aksen, M., Vahaste-Pruul, S. Välismaal töötavate vanemate ja Eestis elavate lastega pered: parimad praktikad ja võimalikud ohud [Families where parents work abroad and the children live in Estonia: best practices and possible risks]. Tartu Ülikooli sotsiaalteaduslike rakendusuuringute keskus RAKE. Available at: http://www.ec.ut.ee/sites/default/files/ec/loppraport_27.11.14.pdf.
 Pettai, I., Proos, I. 2014. Lähisuhtevägivald Eestis sotsiaaltöötaja pilgu läbi. Ekspertküsitluse tulemused 2004 ja 2014 [Domestic violence in Estonia through the eyes of a social worker. Results of expert questionnaire 2004 and 2014]. Estonian Institute for Open Society. Ekspertuuring raport [Report of expert survey], 57.
 Iivonen, E. 2013. Indikaattoritiedon hyödyntäminen lasten oikeuksien toteutumisen seurannanassa. In compilation: Lapsioikeus murroksessa. Editors: Hakalehto-Wainio, S., Nieminen. Pages 303-347.
 Üldkommentaar nr. 14 [General comment no. 14] 2013 lapse õigus tema parimatel huvide esikohale seadmisele (Art 3 para. 1)* [right of the child to have his or her best interests taken as a primary consideration] unofficial translation. Available at: http://www.lastekaitseliit.ee/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/%C3%9Cldkommentaar-nr-14.pdf.
 See more on Estonian Institute of Human Rights website: http://www.eihr.ee/mis-on-inimoigustesobralik-kool/.
 The project was funded by the Gambling Tax Council via the Ministry of Social Affairs and the NGO Fund via Open Estonia Foundation.
 In spring of 2015 the NGO Estonian Union for Child Welfare concluded an agreement with Tallinn University for creating a similar field of study by 2016.
 Toots, A., Idnurm, T., Saarts, T. 2014. Aktiivse valimisea langetamise mõjude analüüs: eelhindamine [Analysis of effects of reducing the active voting age: a prior appraisal]. Tallinn University school of governance. Available at: https://www.just.ee/sites/www.just.ee/files/vote16.pdf.
 Among them the opinion seminar „Kooseluseaduse tahud ja teravikud“ [Aspect and angles of the Cohabitation Act] 27.08.2014 at Riigikogu conference room.
 Markina, A., Žarkovski, B. 2014. Laste hälbiv käitumine Eestis [Deviant behaviour of children in Estonia]. See footnote 6!
 For examble a series of articles by K.Ibrus in Eesti Päevaleht, which investigated the background of unnatural death of children.
 Kriminaalpoliitika arengusuunad aastani 2018 [Estonian Guidelines for Development of Criminal Policy until 2018]. Available at: http://www.just.ee/sites/www.just.ee/files/elfinder/article_files/kriminaalpoliitika_arengusuunad_aastani_2018.pdf.