Header image for news printout

Committee on the Rights of the Child says that Bosnia and Herzegovina needs to adopt a comprehensive law on children's rights

Committee on the Rights of the Child

11 September 2019

The Committee on the Rights of the Child this morning concluded its consideration of the combined fifth and sixth periodic report of Bosnia and Herzegovina.  Committee Experts stressed the need to adopt a comprehensive law on children,  and noted that corporal punishment was detrimental to children and should be prohibited by law. 

Committee Experts reiterated that corporal punishment should be prohibited in all settings by law.  In addition, it was also important to raise awareness on this issue.  They expressed concern about the prevalence of this practice, which was reportedly as high as 55 per cent.  They also asked when a national child’s right act would be adopted at the national level.

Saliha Duderija, Assistant Minister of Human Rights of Bosnia and Herzegovina, said that efforts had been made to obtain the Government’s green light to start drafting a comprehensive law on children’s rights, to no avail.  While laws in the country did not explicitly prohibit corporal punishment, they included special provisions on criminal offences against children.  The Government believed that these provisions and those on child abuse adequately addressed corporal punishment.

Experts said the absence of the words “corporal punishment” was interpreted by parents as permission to maintain this practice, which involved violence and humiliation.  It was important for education purpose to have these words -- “corporal punishment” -- in the law.  The violence of corporal punishment was detrimental to children’s health and development.

Mikiko Otani, Committee Expert and Co-Rapporteur for Bosnia and Herzegovina, in concluding remarks, said that, throughout the dialogue, the Committee had sensed that the State party faced various challenges.  At the same time, there had been progress.  This was encouraging.  She asked the State party to translate the concluding observations in its official languages and distribute them widely in the entities and the cantons.

Ms. Duderija, in concluding remarks, said it had been a pleasure to engage in this dialogue.  Bosnia and Herzegovina would continue to work to implement the Committee’s recommendations, which it had translated into effective policies.  Bosnia and Herzegovina was on the right track and was aware of the challenges that remained.  It was also grateful for the concrete, specific and constructive recommendations of the Committee.

Luis Ernesto Perdernera Reyna, Committee Chairperson, thanked the delegation for its availability to engage in a dialogue.  He sent his best wishes to the children of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The delegation of Bosnia and Herzegovina consisted of representatives of the Ministry of Human Rights and Refugees, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Civil Affairs, the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Health and Social Protection, the Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Policy, the Government of Brcko District, and the Permanent Mission of Bosnia and Herzegovina to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

The Committee will next meet in public today at 3 p.m., to consider the combined third and fourth periodic report of Mozambique (CRC/C/MOZ/3-4). 

Report

The Committee has before it the combined fifth and sixth periodic report of Bosnia and Herzegovina under the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC/C/BIH/5-6).

Presentation of the Report

SALIHA DUDERIJA, Assistant Minister of Human Rights of Bosnia and Herzegovina, said the Ministry of Human Rights and Refugees, as the responsible State Ministry, carried out different activities, as part of its continuous regular activities or special projects, to promote and protect the rights of children in Bosnia and Herzegovina.  Most activities were aimed at initiating activities for the implementation of the valid Action Plan for Children that followed up on concluding observations and recommendations of the Committee.  

The Action Plan for Children of Bosnia and Herzegovina had determined priority objectives and measures with a view of creating the best possible living conditions for children and families, to foster their psychosocial growth and social inclusion and participation in decision-making, in the best interest of children.  The Action Plan was a mechanism that could ensure the better implementation of the Committee’s concluding observations.  It set specific goals and measures that were also used for reporting to the Bosnia and Herzegovina Council of Ministers and other governmental bodies on the international obligations as well as on the human rights situation of children in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The general assessment was that Bosnia and Herzegovina had been continuously working on improving child protection.  It was clear, however, that there were still numerous challenges faced by all the relevant levels of Government in the coming period.  As regards the amendment of Bosnian laws, policies, strategies, coordination and reporting to improve the implementation of the general measures of the Convention, strategies were being continuously implemented and the process of harmonization of laws was moving forward, especially when it came to criminal laws in the Republika Sprska.  The alignment process was still ongoing in the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The Government had improved anti-discrimination legislation as well as laws on migration, asylum, and social and family protection.  Action plans for children had been adopted in five local communities in both entities and, in two local communities, children’s parliaments had been established.  In 10 local communities, action plans were currently being prepared.  The Government had provided funds for the work of the Council for Children of Bosnia and Herzegovina.  Additional efforts had to be made to provide more meaningful and programmatic funding for the implementation of the Action Plan for Children in the coming reporting period.

The Government sought to improve mechanisms related to child protection and raise awareness to prevent and combat violence against children.  That was why it had become the sixth Council of Europe Member State to ratify the Convention on preventing and combatting violence against women and domestic violence, also known as the Istanbul Convention.

Much remained to be done to improve the education of Roma children and ensure the inclusion of children with disabilities.  The Platform for the Development of Pre-School Education in Bosnia and Herzegovina had been adopted in December 2017. It remained to be seen to what extent the objectives of this strategic document would be achieved in the coming reporting period.

Questions by the Committee Experts

GEHAD MADI, Committee Co-Rapporteur for Bosnia and Herzegovina, noted that the State party had adopted some good strategies and policies in areas such as foster care and justice for children.

There was, however, a lack of systematic implementation of the said policies and strategies.  Many children were not benefitting from services in several areas.

The Committee had recommended the adoption of a national child’s rights act at the national level.  Noting that the State party had stated that it sought to ensure uniform application of the principles and provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child throughout the country, he asked the delegation to clarify when a comprehensive law would be adopted at the national level.

Mr. Madi said the State party had said that the national plan would be enacted last year.  He requested information about the Government’s assessment of the previous action plan.  Could the delegation shed some light on what had been achieved so far?

Turning to coordination, he said the State party had not addressed the concerns expressed by the Committee in paragraph 14 of its latest concluding observations.  What measures had been taken to strengthen the coordination role of the Ministry for Human Rights and Refugees -- throughout the country and at all levels -- with regard to the implementation of the Convention?

Had the State party established a budgeting process that took into consideration the needs of children at all levels?  Did this process provide for the establishment of indicators and monitoring mechanisms related to the Convention, he asked?

On data collection, while welcoming the latest census, he said the Committee was still concerned about the lack of disaggregated data on all the children in Bosnia and Herzegovina.  Data should be collected in a manner that would allow the identification of human rights-related issues faced by all children.

The State party had written in its report that the Law on Ombudsman for Human Rights had not been adopted.  Was the draft law rejected?  Or was its adoption merely postponed?

He requested information about the new agreement envisaging the establishment of an Advisory Body of the Council of Ministers of Bosnia and Herzegovina for cooperation with civil society.

He expressed concern about the protection of children's rights from any harmful impact of private business activities.  Could the delegation comment on the link between children’s rights and the business sector?

VELINA TODOROVA, Committee Vice-Chairperson and Co-Rapporteur for Bosnia and Herzegovina, asked if the Government would consider removing the provisions allowing the marriage of children over the age of 16 and if there were measures in place to raise awareness about early marriages.

MIKIKO OTANI, Committee Expert and Co-Rapporteur for Bosnia and Herzegovina, asked about measures put in place to prevent discrimination against children in society.  Awareness-raising activities were sometimes just as important as legislation, in that regard.  Was the Government taking any measures to address online discrimination?  Could the Ombudsman receive discrimination-related complaints from children?

On the preparation of the new action plan for children, she requested information on the role of the Council for Children.  Were children themselves involved in that process?

On corporal punishment, she requested information on the Children Council’s amendment proposals to inter alia, family laws, laws on social and child protection, and laws on protection against domestic violence.  To whom had these proposals been sent?  What had been the outcomes? 

She also asked if the Government had plans to put in place mechanisms to monitor the prevalence of corporal punishment.  It seemed that the prevalence was as high as 55 per cent in Bosnia and Herzegovina.  Were the Government’s efforts to foster positive parenting skills still ongoing?  What impact had they had?  She requested information on Guidelines for Child Protection Case Management and asked if training on those guidelines would be provided.

She asked if there were mechanisms for children to report sexual abuse in a safe manner.  Could the delegation confirm that the provision of testimony through audio-visual means was applied to children across the country?

JOSÉ ANGEL RODRÍGUEZ REYES, Committee Expert and Co-Rapporteur for Bosnia and Herzegovina, said there had been measures in place to improve birth registration.  He requested information on the concrete outcome of these measures, notably as regarded children in rural areas, children whose parents were illiterate, and Roma children.

On privacy, he noted that the State party had prepared a compendium of best practices.  How effective had this been?

Replies by the Delegation

SALIHA DUDERIJA, Assistant Minister of Human Rights of Bosnia and Herzegovina, said that efforts had been made to obtain the Government’s green light to start drafting a comprehensive law on children’s rights, to no avail.  This issue was pending and it was not possible for now to say if the Government would change its views.  

The majority of the strategies specified in the report had been implemented.  The Action Plan included 127 actions and measures that were directly related to the Committee’s recommendations.  Only 57 per cent of these actions and measures had been implemented.  There were 18 measures that had not been implemented at all.  The entities lacked resources for a comprehensive implementation of the measures.  Success in the implementation of the measures was dependent to a certain extent on available financial resources.

The Government gathered information on social and health policies to monitor the success of the implementation of the Convention.  The Government was in a transition period.  Information would be more readily available from academia and civil society.

There were children’s parliaments that were involved in policy-making.  In every way possible, children were involved in the implementation of the Convention.  The Government solicited their views.

On birth registrations, she said it was important to have the basic information in the birth act; the rest of the information could be obtained through other means.

All the children that had Bosnia and Herzegovina nationality could go to consulates.  The Government was facing challenges with migrants that did not provide accurate information as regarded their identity.  There were civil registry offices that could provide certificates regardless of the place of birth. 

The delegation explained that Bosnia and Herzegovina had been implementing the law on non-discrimination which provided that the Ombudsperson would play a central role on non-discrimination.  On the basis of recommendations made by European Union bodies, the Government was making efforts to align its legislation on non-discrimination with the European acquis communautaire.  It had been praised as one of the best laws in the region.

On civil society participation, to foster a fair and equitable society, an agreement had been signed with non-governmental organizations in 2017.  It stipulated that non-governmental organizations that had not signed the agreement could do so by filling and signing a form.  This form was available online.

The non-discrimination law had been amended.  It was now set for a definition of discrimination that included any differential treatment based on real or assumed features of any group or person or those who were their relatives or otherwise affiliated to them on the basis on race, disability, ethnicity, national or social origin; affiliation with trade unions or other groups; gender identity; or any other prohibited grounds.  An amendment had reversed the burden of proof.  

An amendment on the law on the Ombudsperson was now before parliament.  As the new members of Parliament had not yet been convened following the most recent elections, the adoption of this law was still pending.

On violence prevention, the delegation explained that prevention measures were continuously in place, including through the Council of Students and other such bodies.  Protocols had been developed which outlined in great detail what actions should be taken in cases of violence against children.  There were measures in place to ensure that people could easily report instances of violence against children, or any other kind of maltreatment.

SALIHA DUDERIJA, Assistant Minister of Human Rights of Bosnia and Herzegovina, said indicators showed that peer violence had reduced thanks to the enhanced monitoring measures that were now in place in schools.

The Government planned and carried out training that covered the issue of violence against children in an interdisciplinary manner.  The whole of society had to combat this.

On discrimination, there was free legal assistance offered at the various governmental levels.  There was an obligation to investigate any allegations of violations of rights of children, notably as pertained to non-discrimination. 

Delegates explained that the “two schools under one roof” issue had been observed in only two cantons, in about 30 schools.  All of the laws enacted in Bosnia and Herzegovina guaranteed to every single person equal right of access.  No law included discriminatory provisions. 

Efforts were being made to put an end to the “two schools under one roof” system as well as the monoethnic schools.  Measures had been drawn to end assimilation and segregation.  Local communities and municipalities had to be involved in efforts to address certain issues, which could pose a challenge.  It had been agreed that relevant ministries would take measures to remove discrimination in education. 

SALIHA DUDERIJA, Assistant Minister of Human Rights of Bosnia and Herzegovina, said that guidelines had been developed to provide professional advice, as opposed to political guidance, on how to safeguard the interest of the child.  After having held consultations and meetings at different levels, the guidelines had been widely distributed.  The Government was aiming to reach as many professionals as possible in that context.

On child marriage, she said that the Government had rolled out a campaign which aimed to ensure that as few children as possible got married.  

The delegation went on to explain that legislation in Bosnia and Herzegovina defined a child as a person under the age of 18.  When the child turned 18, he or she acquired full legal capacity.  A person who was not 18 years old could not enter a marriage.  A court could, however, approve the marriage of a child aged 16 years or older.  In that context, the court usually sought the opinion of professionals, such as social workers, who often did not recommend that the children get married.

Second Round of Questions by Committee Experts

VELINA TODOROVA, Committee Vice-Chairperson and Co-Rapporteur for Bosnia and Herzegovina, asked for information on budgets allocated and actions undertaken to increase the capacity of professionals -- their salaries, status and public image. 

The Committee commended the advancement made in Republika Srpska as well as in the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina with regards to children deprived of parental care.  The Committee had been informed that there was still no uniform mechanism to assess the prevalence of children in parental care.  If it was the case, how did the Government manage to plan policies?

On adoption, she requested information on plans to ratify the Hague Intercountry Adoption Convention and the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.  

Turning to education, she said fragmented governance was an issue.  She said the common core curriculum issue was important, as the so-called “national group subject” could potentially lead to segregation in education on the basis of ethnicity.

How was the Government promoting inclusive education for Roma children?  Had the Action Plan on Educational Needs of Roma in Bosnia and Herzegovina led to an increase in enrolment rates and reduced dropout rates?

JOSÉ ANGEL RODRÍGUEZ REYES, Committee Expert and Co-Rapporteur for Bosnia and Herzegovina, asked about the resources allocated to the strategy on children with disabilities.

How did the Government intend to properly domesticate all international treaties it had signed?

Data collection was particularly important.  It had to be disaggregated by ability and disability.  Could the delegation tell the Committee what it did, precisely, in that particular area?  He requested information about the centres providing daily care to children with disabilities.  Were they inclusive?

What was the Government doing to promote breastfeeding?

GEHAD MADI, Committee Co-Rapporteur for Bosnia and Herzegovina, asked for information about cases of forced begging.  How many child exploitation cases had been referred to courts?

How many cases of trafficking in persons involving children had been reported and investigated?  How did the Government ensure that all such cases were subject to due and proper investigation?

There were no replies provided by the State party on paragraph 12 of the List of Issues, in which the Committee had asked if there were measures in place to “ensure access to education for children in detention, to establish adequate alternatives to custodial sentences, and to establish a mechanism to monitor the execution of custodial sentences for children.”  The Committee expected a response on this matter.

What measures were in place to prevent the recruitment of Bosnian children to join the armed conflict in Syria and Iraq.

Second Round of Replies by the Delegation

SALIHA DUDERIJA, Assistant Minister of Human Rights of Bosnia and Herzegovina, said a personal data agency had been set up which could sanction persons for unauthorized use of data, notably that of children.  Relevant institutions gathered data on children, in collaboration with bodies that worked on childhood issues.  Access to such data was restricted, and was only granted in compliance with the law on privacy.  There were clear regulations and related sanctions governing the media’s use of such data.  Courts could require that compensation be paid to the children whose data had been misused or improperly made public, as well as to their families.  

Bosnia and Herzegovina would strive to collect more data on the situation of children, with the participation of local governments.  

The delegation explained that, to more consistently apply article 13 of the Convention, a protocol had been signed in Republika Sprska which clearly defined the educational, social and health services to be deployed to address violence against children.  It required the immediate reporting of suspected cases of violence against children, which triggered the immediate provision of support to the concerned children.

Most authorities were obliged to collect statistics; usually it was done at the cantonal level.  The Government was harmonizing the manner in which it collected data so that it would comply with all its obligations under international treaties.  

The Statistics Institute had their own data collection methodologies which were different from that of centres for social work.  This had been a major issue.  An electronic database had been created to gather information about social protection policies.  Since 2014, it had been continuously upgraded to better monitor social benefits at the canton and federal levels.  The system now included information about non pecuniary services, such as foster families.

Bosnia and Herzegovina faced many challenges in collecting data which it hoped to overcome in the upcoming reporting period.

On adoption, legislation allowed the adoption of any child under 5 and provided for incomplete and complete adoption.  While Bosnia and Herzegovina had not signed international conventions on adoption, its laws on adoption protected the best interest of the child.  If the persons who wanted to adopt a child and the concerned child had different nationalities, the laws from both the child’s and the potential parents’ countries applied.  

Deinstitutionalization was ongoing in Bosnia and Herzegovina.  Before, homes for children without parental care mainly provided accommodation services.  A new approach was now in place, to provide more services.  In order for deinstitutionalization to be successful, it was key to work on preventing the entry of children into institutions, in other words to have a preventive strategy.  In 2018, for one child placed in a foster family, there were three children in institutions.  The search for potential foster families was conducted in partnership with civil society organizations.

Turning to education, delegates explained that there was a coordinating body for education, which made decisions by consensus.  It often established strategic priorities and worked on harmonization with European and international standards.  It acted in an advisory capacity.  

There were four framework laws on education, respectively dealing with pre-school, primary, secondary and higher education.  The standards which they set forth had to be respected by all levels of Government.  Common guidelines had also been adopted on teacher training.  Studies were conducted into the quality of education in Bosnia and Herzegovina.  For instance, in 2019, one such assessment had been conducted between May and June.  The results of these studies would inform policy-making.

A common core curriculum had been developed for eight teaching areas.  This document had changed the paradigm, putting the focus on children’s learning, rather than the content.  It was based on the learning outcomes. The Government would work to harmonize the policies of the relevant bodies throughout the country.  This would be a challenge.

Preschool education was a priority for the Government, delegates stressed.

An Expert asked for information on the Government's policies on children’s right to play as well as policies to give them access to cultural and leisure activities, such as playing outside.

VELINA TODOROVA, Committee Vice-Chairperson and Co-Rapporteur for Bosnia and Herzegovina, expressed concerns about segregated education.  Were Bosnian, Serbian and Croat children taught geography or history differently?  These children had a common history, she recalled.

JOSÉ ANGEL RODRÍGUEZ REYES, Committee Expert and Co-Rapporteur for Bosnia and Herzegovina, asked if any media had been punished for violating privacy laws.

Another Expert asked if corporal punishment was an issue of concern in Bosnia and Herzegovina.  He expressed concerns about the quality of care provided to children who had been victims of violence.  Did the Government place children of different ages together?

MIKIKO OTANI, Committee Expert and Co-Rapporteur for Bosnia and Herzegovina, asked if she was right to understand that the two entities had a different system to deal with violence against children, but a protocol had been established to harmonize these two systems, as well as those of cantons.  She requested additional information about the helpline.

On non-discrimination, she said this issue required a more vigorous approach to address instances where discrimination was not voluntary or was indirect, in particular as regarded children’s access to services.

SALIHA DUDERIJA, Assistant Minister of Human Rights of Bosnia and Herzegovina, said that, in 2014, a criminal provision had been introduced to criminalize going abroad to participate in conflicts.  No children had gone abroad to participate in the conflicts in Syria and Iraq between 2014 and 2017.  There were children who were born there and these children had the citizenship of Bosnia and Herzegovina.  A rehabilitation programme had been put in place to reintegrate those who had come back into society.  The establishment of a coordination body had been recommended.

On the media, she said that hate speech was criminalized.  Anyone disseminating hate speech would be punished.

Delegates explained that culture, leisure and sports activities were organized for children.  There were, for instance, “creative summer vacation projects” to foster children’s creativity. 

On corporal punishment, a special law had been adopted at the entity level, in line with the spirit of international standards.  The law included special provisions on criminal offences against children.  The hearing of children by a court was done through audio and video mechanisms, and with the assistance of professionals such as psychologists and pedagogues.  A child could only be heard twice in relation to a given case.

SALIHA DUDERIJA, Assistant Minister of Human Rights of Bosnia and Herzegovina, said there was no explicit prohibition of corporal punishment, but any person found to have been involved to any kind of abuse of children was criminally liable.

The Government believed that its provisions and those on child abuse adequately addressed corporal punishment.

Questions by Committee Experts

An Expert said the approach described by the delegation was typical in the European countries.  And yet, the absence of the words “corporal punishment” was interpreted by parents as permission to violence and humiliation.  It was important for education purpose to have these words, “corporal punishment,” in the law.  It did not mean that if a parent slapped their child that the parent should go to prison.  But there should be clear regulations in families addressing these issues.

Another Expert added that ordinary violence and not criminal violence was at issue here.  This violence was detrimental to children’s health and development.  It was paramount that families chose different pathways to educate them.  It was a complex matter, but the State party should look at other European countries -- a number of them had been able to overcome resistance and ban corporal punishment.

Responses by the Delegation

The delegation of Bosnia and Herzegovina explained that there was only one religious institution, for which there was government oversight.

The Government, along with non-governmental organizations, cantonal authorities and international organizations, had conducted campaigns to ensure that poverty did not lead to children’s removal from their families.  While the financial situation of the family, in and of itself, did not cause the removal of children, there were other social problems and problematic behaviours related to poverty that could lead to this.

There were two helplines for children who were victims of violence.  They were anonymous and free of charge.

According to the labour legislation, there was a possibility to penalize employers that contravened it, including for the maternal leave matters.  Dismissing women because they were pregnant was prohibited.

On inclusive education, delegates explained that when it was found, after a comprehensive assessment, that a pupil had major difficulties, the school was allowed to establish a special department.  The school was also required to develop adjusted programmes and provide the children with specialized assistance when necessary.  

Children were obliged to attend preschool classes, and the Government had put in place programmes to include as many children as possible.  It had trained over 1,000 teachers and equipped several classrooms with didactic material for preschool education, aiming to reach children in rural areas.  This had been done in collaboration with Save the Children.  The Government had improved the enrolment in preschool education, and would continue to improve its performance in that regard.

In 2016, Bosnia and Herzegovina had adopted a law on asylum.  It provided that people could ask for asylum regardless of their age.  In managing asylum applications, the Government gave priority to asylum seekers whose movements were limited, people who had been subjected to violence or torture, pregnant women, and children, including unaccompanied minors.

Asylum-seekers were entitled to primary health care in Bosnia and Herzegovina.  Guardians were appointed for unaccompanied children on the same basis as they were for children who held Bosnia and Herzegovina nationality.

On non-discrimination, Bosnia and Herzegovina had a modern law that had been commended at the national and international levels.  Numerous activities had been undertaken after the adoption and amendment of this law.  A database would be set up.  Some discriminatory behaviours were considered normal in Bosnia and Herzegovina.  To address this issue, the Government had carried out awareness-raising campaigns.

Concluding Remarks

MIKIKO OTANI, Committee Expert and Co-Rapporteur for Bosnia and Herzegovina, said that, throughout the dialogue, the Committee had sensed that the State party faced various challenges.  At the same time, there had been progress.  This was encouraging.  She asked the State party to translate the concluding observations in its official languages and distribute them widely in the entities and the cantons.

SALIHA DUDERIJA, Assistant Minister of Human Rights of Bosnia and Herzegovina, said it had been a pleasure to engage in this dialogue.  Bosnia and Herzegovina would continue to work to implement the Committee’s recommendations, which it had translated into effective policies.  Bosnia and Herzegovina was on the right track and was aware of the challenges that remained.  It was also grateful for the concrete, specific and constructive recommendations of the Committee.

LUIS ERNESTO PERDERNERA REYNA, Committee Chairperson, thanked the delegation for its availability to engage in a dialogue.  He sent his best wishes to the children of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

______

For use of information media; not an official record