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Committee on Rights of Child examines report of Poland

Committee on the Rights of the Child

18 September 2015

The Committee on the Rights of the Child today concluded its consideration of the combined third to fourth periodic report of Poland on its implementation of the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Presenting the report, Radoslaw Mleczko, Undersecretary of State at the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy, said that the Government policy fully supported all families in determining their child’s interests, while at the same time taking the child’s best interest into account.   Recognising the primacy of family as the most appropriate environment for upbringing of children, the Government had taken a variety of measures to support families, including the increase in the financial support for parents of children with disabilities, a parental allowance for 12 months from the birth of the child, a family card with discounts in services for multi-child families, and extension of parental leave from 26 to 52 weeks.  Poland, as a pioneer in advocating children’s rights, had ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and the Council of Europe Convention on the Protection of Children Against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse.  Furthermore, in 2013, the Government had withdrawn its reservations to Article 7 and Article 38 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and amended its interpretative declaration to the Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict.

During the interactive dialogue, Committee Experts congratulated Poland for its strong discipline in dealing with the subject of children’s rights. They underlined the existing gender stereotypes and discrimination about against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender children, and asked about the measures taken by Poland to deal with such stereotypes, including the roles of men and women.  Experts also inquired about measures taken to raise awareness about the Convention, to enhance the situation of children of migrants and children of stateless persons in the country, to eliminate ethnic discrimination, and to reduce the numbers of early marriage.  Among other issues, questions were asked about the status of Roma people, child abuse by priests, children with disabilities, best interest of the child, police detention centres, foster care, begging children, new-born baby abandonment, exclusive breastfeeding of infants, domestic violence, help lines, hate crimes related to sexual identity, and abortion.

In concluding remarks, Kirsten Sandberg, Committee Expert and Country Co-Rapporteur for Poland, thanked the delegation for providing the Committee with detailed answers.  She hoped that the delegation would take the recommendations seriously.

Mr. Mleczko thanked the Committee for the fruitful and constructive debate and said that the implementation of the Convention in Poland was backed up by a team of experts, who were competent, sensitive and dedicated to the promotion and the protection of the children’s rights.  The rights and needs of children were in the heart of Polish policies.

The delegation of Poland included representatives from the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy, Ministry of Health, General Public Prosecutor's Office, Ministry of Administration and Digitization, Ministry of the Interior, Ministry of Justice, Ministry of National Education, Office for Foreigners, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Chancellery of the Prime Minister, Chancellery of the Prime Minister’s Office of the Government Plenipotentiary for Equal Treatment, Polish National Police, and the Permanent Mission of Poland to the United Nations Office in Geneva.

The next public meeting of the Committee will take place at 3 p.m. on Monday, 21 September, to consider the combined second to fourth periodic report of Brazil (CRC/C/BRA/2-4).
Report
 
The third to fourth periodic report of Poland can be read here.
 
Presentation of the Report
 
RADOSLAW MLECZKO, Undersecretary of State at the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy, said that 2012 had marked the seventieth anniversary of the death of Janusy Korcyak, one of the pioneers of children’s rights.  The Polish Ombudsman for Children had organised a Warsaw International Congress on the Rights of the Child for the Korczak Year commemorations. The Congress had adopted the Warsaw Declaration, calling on all to make sure that the rights of every child were fully respected, including the right to live free from violence, neglect and other degrading treatment.

Poland’s children policy underlined that the family constituted the most appropriate environment for the upbringing of children.  It was up to the parents to determine their child’s best interest, while paying attention to children’s wishes and views.  Accordingly, the Government had a mission to support all families in delivering their task through alleviating financial and organisational burdens of child-rearing, as well as through offering counselling services.

Poland’s constant commitment to the promotion and protection of children’s rights had been demonstrated by the ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the Council of Europe Convention on the Protection of Children Against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse.  In 2013, Poland had withdrawn its reservations to Article 7 and Article 38 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and amended its interpretative declaration to the Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict. The Ombudsman for Children played an important role in monitoring the Government’s activities and policies towards children, as well as in initiating new projects.  The Office’s competence had been enhanced, particularly in the area of litigation. 

Mr. Mleczko stated that the Government fully recognised the primacy  of family as the most appropriate environment for the upbringing of children.  A number of measures had been introduced recently to support families.  Parental leave was essential in enabling families to be with their children at the beginning of their lives.  In 2012, parental leave had been extended from 26 to 52 weeks, and was now among the longest in the European Union.  The Government had increased its financial support for parents of children with disabilities in 2014.  Starting from 2016, financial support to families would proportionally depend on their income level.

In 2014, a Family Card had been introduced, providing multi-child families with numerous discounts in sports and cultural centres, public transportation, and other businesses.  78,000 businesses and institutions had already joined the programme, and over one million cards had been issued. 

According to the law, children could be placed in foster care after all other forms of support for their families had been exhausted.  In all placement decisions, opinions of affected children had to be duly considered.  Violence against children, as well as corporal punishment, had been penalised for many years.  In 2010, Poland had also penalised physical disciplining of children. A 2014 survey indicated that 6 per cent children might experience violence within the family.  The Ministry had intensified the work with families where violence occurred.  Further, support for children victims had been made available at the level of municipalities and countries.  Similarly, in 2015, a programme called “Monitoring the Lives of Children in Distress-Social Workers Standard of Practice” had been introduced, with violence prevention as its main objective.

The Government had also undertaken several measures to strengthen the protection of children against sexual abuse and sexual exploitation.  Since 2014, incidents of rape had been prosecuted ex officio.  Poland had implemented relevant provisions of the 2007 Council of Europe Convention on the Protection of Children Against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse and the European Union Directive on combating the sexual abuse, sexual exploitation of children and child pornography. Regulations concerning the placement of children in police detention centre had been amended.

Mr. Mleczko said that equality of education opportunities was predicated on accessible quality preschool education.  The Government’s policies encouraged the establishment of preschool education facilities in local communities.  Preschool education for five-year-olds had been mandatory since 2011.  Since the beginning of the current school year, municipalities had to place every four-year-old in a kindergarten, with the parents’ permission.  However, this policy was still a subject of a heated public discussion.

As for health, the Government had initiated programmes focusing on prevention, especially of child obesity and diabetes.  Poland had also implemented its National Programme to combat cancer and treatment of children.  Vigorous actions had also been undertaken to increase the availability of paediatricians and child psychiatrists, and to improve the accessibility of hospitals for parents who wished to stay with their children during the treatment.

Questions by Experts

PETER GURAN, Committee Expert and Country Co-Rapporteur for Poland, said that Poland was one of the pioneering countries in advocating children’s rights.  His colleagues had participated in several meetings, events, trainings on children’s rights organized by the Government.  However, Poland had waited 13 years to present its third and fourth periodic report.  What was the reason for the delay

With regards to Poland’s national action plan, he asked about the updates on the monitoring and the evaluation of the plan.  Had the Article 12 and 14 been translated into Polish, and what had the Government done to raise awareness about the Convention among the public?  Why had Poland not signed the Third Optional Protocol?

KIRSTEN SANDBERG, Committee Expert and Country Co-Rapporteur for Poland, asked about the steps taken by the State party to combat gender stereotypes, including the roles of men and women.  With regard to discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender children, there were negative and hidden stereotypes in the country.  Protection against gender discrimination was included in the Constitution, yet it was limited to the labour law.  Was there any intention to include the promotion and protection of such children’s rights in the Constitution?

GEHAD MADI, Committee Expert and Country Co-Rapporteur for Poland, congratulated Poland for its strong discipline in dealing with the subject of children’s rights.   What were the obstacles for children of migrants and stateless persons?  How did the Government deal with such people?  Did Poland consider ratifying the 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons and the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness?

One Expert asked for updated information on the database on cases of ethnic discrimination and the results of the National Programme for Counteracting Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance.

What was the status of Roma people in Poland?  What kind of measures were taken to ensure access to education for Roma children, and other services for the Roma community?

Could a marriage take place before the age of 18, and what were the measures taken by the Government in that regard?  Did the Government register marriages of refugees?
Given the strong role of Catholic Church in Poland, an Expert asked what mechanisms were in place to protect children from priest abuse.

What were the actions taken to ensure full inclusion of children with disabilities in mainstream education?

Question was asked about steps taken by the Government to encourage and educate mothers on the benefits of exclusive breastfeeding of infants for the first six months and of continued breastfeeding for two years.

On the subject of abortion, there were strict rules and social stigma in the country.  Could the delegation provide any data on that issue?
 
Replies by the Delegation

On the questions related to the implementation of the Convention based on the observations and recommendations of the Committee, all relevant Ministries and Government bodies had initiated programmes and policies in accordance with the scope of their competences.  Accordingly, each body was required to provide the Minister of National Education with information about the status of the implementation of the recommendations of the Committee as well as any other ongoing activities.  Based on the information received by each body,  the Ministry prepared reports and submitted them to the Committee.  Supervision of the implementation in the country was also carried out by the national court, the Ombudsman for Children, and the Ombudsman for Civil Rights.

Regarding the delay, a delegate said that there had been a change in Government, which had also meant an organizational change at the level of Ministries.  Accordingly, the development of report and its submission could not have been done earlier.

Considering the law enforcement in Poland, analytical work had been carried out aiming at creating a new pro-family document, a delegate explained

It was clarified that the Government had not established a separate body to monitor and evaluate the implementation of the Convention.  Current bodies and Ministries were capable and competent of doing so.

The Government made sure that each of its policies was applied to children across the country, in various regions.  One example was the development of the Human Development Capital strategy, which referred to issues such as ensuring access to culture, and the activities of non-governmental organisations. 

On the issue of hearing of children, a delegate said that there was an amendment to the Civil Procedure Code, which had entered into force in 2009, acknowledging the opinions of the child in cases concerning the child. Pursuant to the newly introduced article, in the case of concerning a minor, the court would hear the child out, on condition that its physiological development, health condition and level of maturity allowed for this.  Also, the hearing would not be held in the courtroom.

The delegation noted that the rights of the child, including how to handle children-participants of the proceedings, especially children who were victims of crime, were a key component of trainings for public prosecutors and judges. Those courses would continue to be included in the schedule of the Polish National School of Judiciary and Prosecution (former National Centre for Education of Judiciary and Prosecution), which was tasked with providing trainings and courses of professional improvement for judges and public prosecutors.
Turning to the subject of discrimination, the delegation said that the Roma people in Poland were considered an ethnic minority, according to the law, and were thus entitled to a number of rights.  The basic objective of the Programme for the Roma in Poland was to obtain full participation of the Roma in the life of the civil society and bridge the gap between that group and other parts of the society.  The tasks aimed at achieving success in education, adaptation within the civil society, counteracting unemployment, health, living conditions, safety, preventing crimes related to ethnic background, culture and maintenance of Roma ethnic identity, knowledge of the Roma community. 

The educational goals specified in the Programme for the Roma community in Poland outlined activities to the benefit of the integration of Roma children into the school environment, supporting pre-school education, and levelling educational opportunities of Roma students and maintaining their ethnic identity.  The educational activities undertaken within the Programme for the Roma community in Poland had focused especially on the project that involved Roma education assistants and teachers supporting the education of Roma students.

A delegate, answering the questions about child abuse by priests, stated that there had been 42 cases concerning sexual abuse committed by priests and members of the clergy.  Those abuses qualified as paedophilia, presentation of pornographic content to minors, threats and rape.  The Government had taken all necessary measures, and in 12 cases, cooperation had taken place between church organisations and the Ministry in identifying victims and the suspect.  Further, it was a positive development that Church institutions had been undergoing a change for a while.  Given the issue of abuse, those institutions had started carrying out their own training courses to fight against that scourge.  

Replies by the Delegation
 
On the question of discrimination, a delegate said that the elimination of stereotypes was a priority for the Government, which carried out regular analysis to check if the laws treated everyone equal.  The Government had undertaken numerous initiatives and organised activities in close cooperation with national institutions and non-governmental organisations active in the area of counteracting and combating stereotypes, racism, anti-Semitism, racial discrimination and xenophobia.

Despite one Expert’s claim about the limitations on equal treatment, a delegate explained that the Polish Constitution guaranteed equality in accordance with law and prohibited discrimination based on “any reason”.  To fulfil its obligations as a member of the European Union, the Government had passed a law on the implementation of equal treatment of individuals.  Poland had actively participated in all the meetings and events related to the discrimination organised by the European Commission.

In order to enhance the effectiveness of investigations of racial crimes, training was organised for police officers in the area of hate crimes.  The Law Enforcement Officers Programme on Combating Hate Crimes had been implemented since 2006.  It was coordinated by the Ministry of the Interior and was implemented within police structures in cooperation with the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.  At the moment, the Parliament was working on the Criminal Code, making amendments to the articles on hate crime related to sexual identity.

As part of the pilot programme, in 2008 a training seminar titled Police Forum against Discrimination had been organised.  The Forum had been attended not only by police officers, but also by national, ethnic and religious minorities and non-governmental organisations concerned with discrimination.  The core training - a specialist course on preventing and combating hate crime – had commenced in November 2009 and was being continued at both national and regional levels.  The thematic scope of training covered issues connected with identifying hate crimes, appropriate reactions and prevention of such occurrences.

Moreover, training had also taken place for police officers employed at municipal police offices in the procedures applicable in cases of reporting an act of violence resulting from prejudices and discrimination.  Issues connected with racial and ethnic discrimination, anti-Semitism and xenophobia had been introduced into programmes of vocational training directed at police officers.

On the questions related to transsexual children, it was explained that the Parliament had recently completed its work on the new act on the identification of intersexual children and eliminating stigmatisation.

The Polish Constitution stated that no person could be subjected to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishments, and it was prohibited to apply corporal punishment.  Relevant preventive mechanisms clearly existed in the Penal Code.

The Government had initiated several campaigns and programmes related to the prevention of domestic violence, and provided financial support for programmes implemented by local governmental units or non-governmental organisations.  Further, the Government had developed guidelines for trainings co-financed by the State budget.  The Act on Counteracting Domestic Violence specified the obligation of public authorities and local government units to take all necessary measures to combat domestic violence, and to raise social awareness of the reasons underlying domestic violence and its effects.

In accordance with the provisions of the Convention,  Poland had initiated numerous actions to provide assistance to child victims, such as launching psychological and legal help lines for children and their families, running children’s emergency centres and crisis situation aid points.

Follow-Up Questions by Experts
 
One Expert said that two help lines existed. Were they available for children 24 hours per day and accessible at no cost?

With regard to Blue cards, were they provided for free?

Another Expert stated that the European Union officials had visited Poland in 2013 and found out numerous inhuman treatments against children.  What had been done by Poland to change the reported situation?

The number of police detention centres in Poland had been reduced in recent years.  What was the reason behind the reduction, and would not such a decrease create a geographical problem, forcing children to be detained in places far from their homes?

Was the number of children involved in domestic violence not underreported, and Expert inquired. 

She also asked for statistics on the participation level of adolescents in social life.

Another Expert asked about the new-born baby abandonment.  What were the measures undertaken by the Government to prevent baby abandonments?

What had been done to ensure the protection of children with disabilities?

Question was asked about children in strict situations, particularly begging children.  Were there any studies undertaken and if was there any available data about such children?

The Polish Criminal Code covered child trafficking, but it did not cover the issues under the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Sale of Children.   What were the measures undertaken by the Government to address that subject, an Expert inquired.

Replies by the Delegation
 
A delegate said that police detention centres were temporary places, not places for punishment.  Those centres aimed at allowing the court to make a decision within a short period of time, and the duration could not exceed more than five days.  Further, the number of such centres had been reduced due to economic reasons.  Also, some of them were not in good conditions.

Pursuant to the provisions contained in the Polish Constitution, public authorities were required to provide specific health care for each and every child.  Foreigners who resided illegally in Poland, including minor-age foreigners, had the right to health care services on a non-payable basis as soon as they made an attempt to legalise their residence.

A lot of children had been suffering from dental problems in Poland.  The monitoring and evaluation had showed that parents did not pay attention the children’s dental health.  The Government had initiated many programmes, aiming at training teachers at kindergartens on the issue.  Also, dental care for children in the country was provided for free.

The Government promoted breastfeeding as an element of healthy life style.   In that regard, the Government collaborated with various institutions and organisations dealing with mother and child care, local government institutions and non-governmental organisations.   It also conducted activities in the scope of activation of opinion-forming circles for the benefit of supporting the idea of breastfeeding.

With regard to medical treatment of children, any child above the age of 15 co-decided on the treatment process with its parents.  In case of conflict,  the court decided by taking into account the best interest of the child.

Kindergarten education had been improved significantly, the delegation said.  Since 2005, the level of enrolment in kindergartens had increased from 19 per cent to 70 per cent.  Presently, there was a kindergarten or pre-school education unit in primary schools in all communes.  The development of other forms of pre-school education contributed to such significant change.

Follow-Up Questions by Experts

An Expert restated her question about the measures taken by the Government about the registration of refugee marriages and the forced marriage.

Could parents make a decision on the sterilisation of minors with mental disabilities?

Another Expert encouraged the delegation and the Government to take a further step to ratify the Third Optional Protocol.

 
Replies by the Delegation

In Poland, sterilisation had been penalised, and it was not acceptable under the law.  It was not possible for parents to make such a decision.

Current laws clearly stated that no marriage could take place without the consent  of each person, and it would thus be considered as invalid.

The delegation responded that, regarding the ratification of the Third Optional Protocol, the Government was in the process of consultation with the partners at the national level.

The Ministry Labour and Social Policy had been monitoring the child poverty level, and producing regular reports.  Accordingly, the Department of Economic Analysis and Forecasts was working with the Central Statistical Office to conduct in-depth studies on the issue.

Concluding Remarks

KIRSTEN SANDBERG, Committee Expert and Country Co-Rapporteur for Poland, thanked the delegation for providing the Committee with detailed answers.  She hoped that the delegation would take the recommendations seriously.

RADOSLAW MLECZKO, Undersecretary of State at the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy, thanked the Committee for the fruitful and constructive debate and said that the implementation of the Convention in Poland was backed up by a team of experts, many of whom were in the delegation.  They were very competent, sensitive and dedicated to the promotion and the protection of the children’s rights.  The rights and needs of children were in the heart of Polish policies.

BENYAM DAWIT MEYMUR, Chairperson of the Committee, said that he looked forward to receiving the upcoming reports, and sent his best wishes to the children of Poland.

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