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Experts of the Committee on the Rights of the Child Discuss Obstacles to Legal Reform with the Czech Republic

7 September 2021

The Committee on the Rights of the Child today concluded its consideration of the combined fifth and sixth periodic report of the Czech Republic under the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Several issues related to the Czech Republic's National Strategy for the Protection of Children's Rights were flagged, especially in relation to broader harmonisation and obstacles to legal reform, with Committee Experts also expressing concerns about investigations of child sexual abuse cases and institutionalisation.

Committee Experts welcomed the new information on legislation in the Czech Republic's opening statement, especially around the National Strategy for the Protection of Children's Rights. In the last concluding observations, the Committee had recommended a comprehensive review of all legislation related to children, in a bid to improve harmonisation – had an attempt at harmonisation been made? Sources had indicated that there was some confusion and disagreement over the National Strategy. Did constant debates between the three key ministries prevent proper coordination? Were major objectives that were not achieved in the last strategy part of the new one – in particular regarding childcare and protection reform? The Government bill to establish the Ombudsman for children had failed. It was important to understand the obstacles in this area.

An extremely low number of child sexual abuse cases had been investigated, which was paradoxical when compared to the fact that academic research showed that one in three girls and one in seven boys reported instances of sexual abuse. The country seemed to be in denial. Was there reporting on child sexual abuse, including child-friendly mechanisms, as well as any awareness campaigns for the population seeking to break the country out of this denial? Were any measures being taken to ensure that relevant agencies did not traumatise child victims? Were there medical professions trained in helping children disclose historical instances of abuse?

What concrete steps had the Czech Republic taken to end the institutionalisation of children? Was there a national plan on de-institutionalisation? New legislation meant that infant care centres would cease to exist and that children under the age of three would no longer be institutionalised. A Committee Expert congratulated the Czech Republic on this new law and asked the delegation to provide clarification on how fast it would be implemented, and whether it would also apply to Roma children. Disability and poverty could not be a reason for institutional placement. Did the Czech Republic had a strategy to ensure effective gatekeeping for out-of-home placement? How was it promoting the return of children to their families?

Helena Válková, Governmental Commissioner for Human Rights, Office of the Government of the Czech Republic, stated that the Czech Republic had made great progress in the last decade, noting that her statement would primarily cover the improvements made in the last year and a half. One of the main achievements in improving the fragmented child protection system was the new Strategy for the Protection of Children's Rights 2021 to 2029, which was adopted by the Czech Government in December 2020 and was followed by an Action Plan for its implementation during the first half of its term, therefore in force from 2021 to 2024. The strategy and action plan determined a strategic framework and a base for cooperation within the fragmented system of care for vulnerable children through multidisciplinary working groups. Further achievement could be seen in the ongoing legal procedure connected to the amendment of the Act on the Social and Legal Protection of Children.

The delegation noted that the new National Strategy for the Protection of Children's Rights that was approved last year was based on the unfulfilled goals of the previous strategy. New measures and terms of cooperation were being used to make it easier to implement the new strategy, based on an evaluation of the old strategy. The National Strategy was created in cooperation with a wide representation of professionals, children's groups, families and a wide range of civil society organizations, including an umbrella institution representing over 80 non-governmental organizations. This was specifically done with the knowledge that the old methods were not working. The law on the Ombudsman for children had been drafted and introduced to the Lower Chamber. The public was aware of the importance of having an Ombudsman for children and everything was in progress.

The identification of children in danger of being abused, or those already victims of sexual abuse, was the field of social work. The Czech Children Rights Committee together with other ministries was working on creating "identification cards" to allow teachers, social workers and different professionals working with children to better identify signs of sexual abuse in children. In cases where abuse was not proved, the authorities still monitored the children and their families. Ministries were involved in training programmes to create host centres, where children victims could be cared for rather than being "moved through the system". Risk factors leading to child abuse and neglect were also being defined.

The Czech Republic had made important steps on institutionalisation in recent years. An amendment to the social and legal protection law that had changed the age limit of institutionalisation was being discussed in Parliament and should be decided on this week. For the last 10 to 15 years, the Czech Republic had been pursuing a long-term effort to draw a unified Act on Children because the issue of institutionalisation was central to this unification, but so far Governments had not accepted such an Act. Multiple amendments, however, had been able to significantly lower the number of new children under three sent to institutions.

In concluding remarks, Faith Marshall-Harris, Committee Vice-Chairperson and Rapporteur for the Czech Republic, noted that the Czech Republic was attempting a variety of solutions, but hoped the delegation would pay closer attention to the critical issues.

Helena Válková, Governmental Commissioner for Human Rights, Office of the Government of the Czech Republic, thanked the Committee for the dialogue and for the attention and analysis they afforded to the situation in the country.

Mikiko Otani, Committee Chairperson, expressed hope that this dialogue would help the more effective implementation of the Convention in the Czech Republic.

The delegation of the Czech Republic consisted of representatives of the Office of the Government, Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs, Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports, Ministry of the Interior, Ministry of Regional Development, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Permanent Mission of the Czech Republic in Geneva.

The Committee will next meet in public on Monday, 13 September at 3 p.m., to consider the combined fifth and sixth periodic report of Poland (CRC/C/POL/5-6).

Report

The Committee has before it the combined fifth and sixth periodic report of the Czech Republic (CRC/C/CZE/5-6).

Presentation of the Report

HELENA VÁLKOVÁ, Governmental Commissioner for Human Rights, Office of the Government of the Czech Republic, stated that the Czech Republic had made great progress over the previous decade, noting that her statement would primarily cover the improvements made in the last year and a half. One of the main achievements in improving the fragmented child protection system was the new Strategy for the Protection of Children's Rights 2021 to 2029, which had been adopted by the Czech Government in December 2020 and had been followed by an Action Plan for its implementation during the first half of its term, therefore in force from 2021 to 2024. The strategy and action plan determined a strategic framework and a base for cooperation within the fragmented system of care for vulnerable children through multidisciplinary working groups. Further achievements could be seen in the ongoing legal procedure connected to the amendment of the Act on the Social and Legal Protection of Children. Above all, the current amendment included the regulation of an age limit of three years for the placement of a child in institutional care.

Just the previous week, the Constitutional Court had revoked a disposition of the Law on Material Deprivation which allowed the practice of supplement-free zones. The new draft law to establish an Ombudsman for children would be discussed by the Lower Chamber after the October elections – until that time, most competences were already partially covered by the Public Defender of Rights. The implementation of children's rights in the Czech Republic was also monitored by the Committee of the Government on the Rights of the Child. The Annex to the Framework Education Programme for Primary Education governing the education of "mentally challenged" pupils had been abolished and incorporated into the inclusive curriculum in 2016. From September 2021, a new system for the organization and financing of language preparation for foreign children was being put in place. Moreover, the Criminal Code had been amended to establish a new crime that criminalised participation in sexual practices with children older than 15 years when an offender was aware that a remuneration or another benefit had been promised to the child.

Questions by Committee Experts

FAITH MARSHALL-HARRIS, Committee Vice-Chairperson and Coordinator of the Task Force for the Czech Republic, welcomed the new information on legislation in the statement, especially around the National Strategy for the Protection of Children's Rights. In the last concluding observations, the Committee had recommended a comprehensive review of all legislation related to children, in a bid to improve harmonisation – had such an attempt at harmonisation been made? What was the status of the draft legislation on social housing?

Did the legislation define the "best interests of the child"? There seemed to be room for interpretation. In the Czech Republic's Constitution, was the Convention directly incorporated in the charter of fundamental rights?

A Committee expert stated that the same issues remained in the third cycle after the initial report: it seemed that the Governments of Czechia were not willing to enter into an open debate as to why the Committee's recommendations were not taken into account. Sources had indicated that there was some confusion and disagreement over the National Strategy. Did constant debates between the three key ministries prevent proper coordination? Were major objectives that had not been achieved in the last strategy part of the new one – in particular regarding childcare and protection reform? The Government bill to establish the Ombudsman for children had failed – why could an agreement not be reached for such a long time? It was important to understand the obstacles in that area.

What was the legal basis for the participation of civil society in the processes of drafting legislation and the national strategy? More information about their involvement in awareness raising campaigns was also requested.

Another Committee expert stated that the State party should abolish any age limit on the right of children to express their views.

Was abortion undertaken with the consent of the girl child, and did procedures respect the right to children's privacy?

The Committee was concerned about corporal punishment, and highly concerned that proportionate educational measures could be used by parents. How was "proportionate" defined? The Committee adopted a zero-tolerance policy on corporal punishment, and the State party should ban it in all forms and settings.

A Committee expert asked the delegation to clarify whether the media protection system that protected children from negative media influences was working well. Were there sanctions against broadcasters or Internet providers? If so, what were the statistics on the number of sanctions applied? How did the Czech Republic address disinformation and fake news, especially regarding COVID-19?

An extremely low number of child sexual abuse cases had been investigated, which was paradoxical when compared to the fact that academic research showed that one in three girls and one in seven boys reported instances of sexual abuse. The country seemed to be in denial. Was there reporting on child sexual abuse, including child-friendly mechanisms, as well as any awareness campaigns for the population seeking to break the country out of this denial? Were any measures being taken to ensure that relevant agencies did not traumatise child victims? Were there medical professionals trained in helping children disclose historical instances of abuse.

Replies by the Delegation

HELENA VÁLKOVÁ, Governmental Commissioner for Human Rights, Office of the Government of the Czech Republic, thanked the experts for their questions and expressed hope that this discussion would be open in character.

The delegation noted that the new National Strategy for the Protection of Children's Rights that was approved the previous year was based on the unfulfilled goals of the earlier strategy. New measures and terms of cooperation were being used to make it easier to implement the new strategy, based on an evaluation of the old one. An intra-coordination group that included representatives of civil society, local authorities and children's organizations was also seeking to make communication and implementation easier. The strategy had been created in cooperation with a wide representation of professionals, children's groups, families, and a wide range of civil society organizations, including an umbrella institution representing over 80 non-governmental organizations. This was specifically done with the knowledge that the old methods had not been working.

A 2021 amendment of the Civil Code prepared by the Ministry of Justice had come into force to prevent children's debts. Parents were the guarantors of the debt, and their responsibilities were now substantially expanded. The amendment also limited tort liability of children under the age of 13 and made several other substantial changes to the Czech legislation. New rules also applied retroactively to young adults up to the age of 21, making sure that it applied also to older cases.

HELENA VÁLKOVÁ, Governmental Commissioner for Human Rights, Office of the Government of the Czech Republic, noted that the law on the Ombudsman had been drafted and introduced to the Lower Chamber. There had been very intensive debates, and the Office of the Public Defender of Rights had been afraid that the traditional agenda items of this office would be moved to the new Child Ombudsman office. After the debates, the agenda items had been divided and amendments had been made to the draft law. Everything had been prepared to adopt this law in Parliament – but elections were taking place in October, pausing certain processes. The public was aware of the importance of having an Ombudsman for children, and everything was in progress.

The delegation stated that cooperation with civil society was mainstreamed in all Government activities of the Czech Republic. The Convention on the Rights of the Child had been adopted into Czech law by a Government resolution.

The Czech Republic had a common approach on the definition of the best interests of the child based on General Comment number 14 of the Committee, and it was also available in a child-friendly version on the Internet. Now, definitions and perceptions from different resources, professions and ministries were being collected as part of the National Strategy that aimed to unify the approaches.

It was always important to respect the views of the child in cases of abortion, while also taking into account the intellectual and social maturity of the child. Therefore, parents or legal guardians had to consent in cases of children up to 16 years old, and legal guardians had to be notified of cases of abortion in girls under the age of 18.

One of the six main objectives of the National Strategy for the Protection of Children's Rights was dedicated fully to the right of children to participate in society. The Czech Republic was involved in the CP4 Europe project of the Council of Europe which would bring children's views into all legislative procedures in the country. This process was undergoing a review currently, and the Council's child participation tool would be fully implemented the following year. The Czech school inspectorate's report highlighted that 41 per cent of primary school and 53 per cent of secondary schools had school parliaments that participated in the management of the schools. Students had to cooperate with the adults, but their voices were strongly heard, and they participated in school life, rules, activities and so on. Children were creating their own projects, which were voted on by all children in a school, and the winners were then funded by municipalities. The delegation emphasised that children very much participated in Czech society.

The delegation further stated that corporal punishment was not fully banned – ways to lower instances of corporal punishments were being sought, as the Government was implementing awareness campaigns on positive parenting and the negative consequences of corporal punishment. Programmes on improving parental competencies, teaching parents to manage stressful situations, raising children's awareness of corporal punishment, and more were being implemented. Another programme of early identification of risk factors leading to violence against children, even within families, also existed. The public opinion in the Czech Republic was divided, therefore the abolition of corporal punishment was a gradual process. Deputies from some political parties were against full abolition, which was the reason why it was still not abolished. The legislative framework that encouraged proportional measures was, in the meantime, a strong tool. The delegation took the remarks of the Committee on this topic very seriously.

The identification of children in danger of being abused, or those already victims of sexual abuse, was within the realm of social work. The Czech Children Rights Committee together with other ministries worked on creating "identification cards" to allow teachers, social workers and different professionals working with children to better identify signs of sexual abuse in children. In cases where abuse was not proven, the authorities still monitored the children and their families. Ministries were involved in training programmes to create host centres, where children victims could be cared for rather than being "moved through the system".

Follow-up Questions by Committee Experts

A Committee expert noted that some questions had not been answered – regarding specifically the freedom of assembly, sanctions of media and Internet providers, disinformation, fake news, and "baby boxes".

Another Committee expert asked if the Ministry for Labour and Social Affairs was still mandated to coordinate the new strategy, and the policy of the Czech Republic regarding the implementation of the Convention.

The delegation said that there was training for children on how to prevent corporal punishment. How could children protect themselves against corporal punishment at home? It was important to highlight that a legal ban on corporal punishment was also a tool to change public opinion.

Experts welcomed the fact that the Czech Republic was considering creating specialised environments to interview child victims of sexual abuse rather than continuing the practice of doing so in police stations. Did children have to appear again in court after delivering their statements?

Replies by the Delegation

The right to freedom of assembly was not subject to authorisation, but a declaration. It was true that the declaration had to be done by a person above 18 years old. However, the law also allowed for undeclared assemblies, and if they did not break the law they could continue – thus encouraging assemblies organised by children. In practice, this system worked.

Children were not expected to protect themselves against violent parents – the campaigns mentioned earlier were about helping children identify incorrect behaviour of parents so that children were aware that corporal punishment and violence was not normal behaviour.

An amendment to the Social Protection Law that was going through an approval procedure right now created an age limit on children being placed in institutions, and the delegation expressed hope that it would succeed.

Second Round of Questions by Committee Experts

What concrete steps had the Czech Republic taken to end the institutionalisation of children? Was there a National Plan on de-institutionalisation? New legislation meant that infant care centres would cease to exist and that children under the age of three would no longer be institutionalised. A committee expert congratulated the Czech Republic on this new law and asked for clarification on how fast it would be implemented, and whether it would also apply to Roma children. Disability and poverty could not be a reason for institutional placement. Did the Czech Republic have a strategy to ensure effective gatekeeping for out-of-home placement? How was it promoting the return of children to their families?

In the report, a Committee expert noted that a lot of stress was put on social services that parents with children with disabilities had to be aware of and pay for. What happened when parents did not have economic resources to pay for those services? Did such services cover children in rural areas? What efforts were being made to ensure that parents were aware of these services? As far as the Committee expert understood, children with disabilities were placed in institutions for "early childhood medical care", but what type of care did those children receive?

Roma children represented a significant proportion of children living in institutions, and a Committee expert asked the delegation to comment on this fact. Many problems faced by the Roma children were linked to discrimination – what measures were being adopted to counteract this? It seemed a lot of this was linked to the difficulty of obtaining housing as Roma children lived in specialised hotels, which entailed a greater risk of eviction. More clarity on this was requested, specifically in relation to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

What approach had the Czech Republic adopted in relation to sex education? Another Committee expert noted that the National Plan of Action for inclusive education had been adopted in 2010, yet she was concerned that parental and teacher resistance to the strategy limited its progress. What was being done in terms of public education to inform them about the desirability of inclusion? It seemed that children with disabilities and Roma children still experienced significant discrimination in schools. Proper disaggregated data on this issue should be collected. COVID-19 created serious problems in education in terms of the digital divide – were all children adequately taught?

Child asylum seekers were subjected to long periods of detention to check whether they were the age that they declared – however, this was in conflict with Czech legislation. One of the Czech laws could lead to statelessness – at least one of the parents of a child born in the country had to have at least a three-month permit to stay in the country to be provided with nationality. It seemed that the best interests of children were not being met in cases when they were detained with their parents – other measures could be taken.

The age of criminal responsibility was set at 15, yet at the same time there were trials of children under this age. How could this happen if those children were not criminally responsible?

Was child labour a known issue in the country? Could the State party provide some information on this issue, and on the employment of children under 15? Were there any cases of Czech child soldiers, for instance operating in Syria?

Regarding the Third Optional Protocol, were efforts being undertaken to raise awareness about its implementation and use in the country, asked an Expert?

Replies by the Delegation

All offences under the Second Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography were covered under the Czech Criminal Code. There was no involvement of children in armed conflict – no cases had been investigated. Prevention and training in the field of trafficking in children was undertaken by a non-governmental organization. Professionals such as police officers and other officials also participated in joint training on trafficking, sharing best practices, with a more than a decade-long tradition of judicial training organising educational events for judges and public prosecutors. Overall, this issue was not a problem in the Czech Republic.

The Czech Republic fought racism and discrimination under three Action Plans on Racism and Hate Crime, Roma Integration and Migrant Integration. The prosecution and prevention of hate crimes as well as the integration of migrant and Roma communities were priority areas in these plans

Follow-up Question by a Committee Expert

A Committee expert intervened to seek clarification on the issue of the Second Optional Protocol. Trafficking was about violations around sale, prostitution, and pornography – these violations may happen outside of the context of trafficking. The expert noted that the Committee previously recommended changes to the Czech Legal Code two years ago, calling upon the State to fully revise the Criminal Code by criminalising the sale of children for the purposes of sexual exploitation, transfer of organs, prostitution inter alia.

Replies by the Delegation

HELENA VÁLKOVÁ, Governmental Commissioner for Human Rights, Office of the Government of the Czech Republic, noted that there were new legislative changes that dealt with these issues under the Second Optional Protocol. The question was unclear, however, as the Czech penal legislation was in accordance with the Protocol; more detailed information would be provided in writing.

Regarding the role of the media, the Czech Republic had several strategies, such as a National Cybersecurity Strategy seeking to prevent cybercrime, including a focus on children in cyberspace. The Czech Republic was also actively involved in the European Strategy on children's rights in the digital space. Awareness, prevention, digital literacy and soft skills, online safety, and creating safe environments for children were all priorities in Czech action on digital spaces at national and regional levels, all geared at making the Internet more child friendly. Fake news and disinformation represented a great obstacle in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic. There was an inter-ministerial online working group where information was shared, while weekly monitoring of fake news was conducted. Proactive communication on official government webpages and through national campaigns were key methods of fighting disinformation, as the delegation listed a number of national and ministerial websites that contained information on COVID-19, fake news and vaccinations. The protection of children against potential negative impacts of media fell under the Broadcasting Act, and children and adolescents enjoyed special protections. In cases of violations of provisions such as broadcasting violent scenes, physical and mental suffering, or explicit sexual scenes, inter alia, the Broadcasting Council may impose fines on broadcasters and operators. Some 23 sanctions directly related to children's protection had been imposed on broadcasters since 2009, ranging between 50,000 to 400,000 Czech crowns.

The Czech Republic had made important steps on institutionalisation in recent years. An amendment to the social and legal protection law that changed the age limit of institutionalisation was being discussed in Parliament and should be decided on this week. For the last 10 to 15 years, the Czech Republic had been pursuing a long-term effort to draw a unified Act on Children because the issue of institutionalisation was central to this unification, but so far Governments had not accepted such an Act.

Multiple amendments, however, had been able to significantly lower the number of new children under three sent to institutions: right now, 208 children under three were placed in such institutions, and even if no further legal changes would be made, the delegation noted that by 2025 the number should be at zero. In addition, the number of children with disabilities placed in institutions had decreased by 90 per cent over the last 10 years. Putting children in institutions was not the first choice when intervening in families – the main aim was always in the best interests of the child and removing a child from a family was a decision that was strictly governed by the law. Hosting children with other members of the family, foster parents and other adults was preferred, and when that was not possible, they were placed in foster homes. The Czech Republic was currently pursuing a project within which over 200 institutions where children were placed in the country were being visited and evaluated. Children were able to follow a complaint procedure. The sizes of institutions were limited according to the law – the maximum capacity was lowering in general, and various amendments had pursued this goal of decreasing capacity.

Last year research had been undertaken in every institution that housed children under three years of age – 28 institutions in total - and for the first time providers were asked to declare the percentage of Roma children, which was at 53 per cent on average. This was not in line with the percentage of Roma children in the population. The delegation noted that understanding why this was the case, and what could be done to help families was important. The delegation unfortunately noted that the number of baby boxes had slightly increased, and it was not satisfied with the situation, but the Czech Republic continued to work on ways of dealing with this problem.

Follow-up Question by a Committee Expert

A Committee expert thanked the delegation for the answers and noted the self-critical approach. There was still a number of questions regarding children with disabilities, which the expert hoped the delegation would answer. Were there any policies on intersex children? It appeared that some intersex children were subjected to unnecessary surgeries to change their sex without their consent.

Replies by the Delegation

Regarding children with disabilities, ambulatory and homecare services were provided for families. Children with disabilities could be clients of any social service, and many were using such services, like personal assistants and home care. Some 399 children with disabilities from the age of 3 to 18 were living in institutions, representing 3.6 per cent of the whole capacity of facilities for persons with disabilities. Placing children in such institutions was done with the cooperation of their families. Families could use certain social benefits to pay for facilities. The number of children with disabilities in institutions had decreased significantly with the expansion of choice in services that could be provided at home. One of the six objectives of the national strategy focused on children with disabilities by aiming at ensuring equal opportunities, informed by the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, seeking specifically to repeal laws and practices that discriminated against persons and children with disabilities. The strategy also obliged the creation of a national awareness campaign.

Follow-up Questions by Committee Experts

A Committee expert noted that it seemed that the new law discussed earlier did not imply a ban on placement of children under three in institutions, based on reports from Czech media and from the delegation's replies, but it was still unclear – could the delegation clarify this situation?

Another Committee expert sought clarification about social services at the market – as far as she understood, families bought services on the free market, such as institutional care, and would decide based on whether they were able to afford it or not. Was this the case? This was an interesting concept, and she thought that this practice was abolished in the region a long time ago. What was the role of the prosecutor in childcare?

There was a complaint procedure in institutions based on the delegation's answers. Were all children, of all ages, aware of this, and were they given the information on this procedure? Regarding baby boxes, the work was not done only upstream – did the Government and its agencies not seek to inform the public about this problem?

FAITH MARSHALL-HARRIS, Committee Vice-Chairperson and Coordinator of the Task Force for the Czech Republic, reiterated her question around children debt due to healthcare. Since healthcare was a right that children had, incurring of such debt was a violation of that right. Was there a clear national budget allocated specifically to children's rights? Were there any regulations in place to ensure that the business sector and the tourism industry was in line with international standards? What was the status of the draft laws on youth participation and forced sterilisation? Were there any cases of sexual exploitation of children by the Catholic Church? Were child and forced marriages explicitly criminalised? What kind of support was available for children leaving care? How were the visitation rights of children of incarcerated parents ensured? What measures had been taken to prevent suicide of children, which was very high? Was there any awareness raising of environmental health and climate change among children?

Another Committee expert asked about the Committee's recommendation presented during the previous review on cooperation with civil society and the measures taken by the Czech Republic to support civil society. A recent law adopted in 2020 published in March 2021 set the age of criminal liability at 15 years. There was a lack of personalised treatment of children in the judicial process. How were children below the age of 15 treated?

Replies by the Delegation

The delegation stated that the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs had sought to create a ban on the placement of children under three in institutions within the amendment, but unfortunately that was not possible. The amendment, however, would lead within the next few years to no new institutionalisations of children under three. Regarding equal parenting, parental leave for two weeks could now be used by fathers, and a more flexible raised parental allowance was available. Raising awareness among parents regarding the baby boxes issue was indeed an important measure that the Government was undertaking.

Regarding children with disabilities, the national plan served as a framework for the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. It emphasised the provision of assistance and support to parents and other persons assisting children with disabilities, discouraging institutionalisation. Equal and inclusive education was a priority, with systemic changes taking place over the last five years. The objective of the new national plan was to ensure equal access to education at all levels, including the aim to educate children with autistic disorders in ordinary schools.

The Strategic Framework for Health up to 2030 and the National Action Plan on Suicide Prevention had been newly introduced. In psychiatric hospitals for children, a new reform was based on de-institutionalisation, de-stigmatisation, and the creation of mental health services, inter alia. Until 2030, at least two multi-disciplinary teams would be created in each region in the country. Cooperation with the Ministry of Education had transformed the system of schools in institutions where there was a high rate of mental health problems in children. The "Care for Yourself" project provided an instrument to prevent and help children with mental health problems. Forced sterilisation was prohibited by law, and it was not possible to sterilise children under 18, at all. There was a very detailed procedure of sterilisation of persons requiring consent of a committee. At the beginning of the COVID crisis due to epidemic measures, the Ministry of Health had reacted quickly with a guidance to emphasise the presence of a legal guardian while children were hospitalised. In August 2021, an amendment had come into effect placing an obligation of public health insurance for children of foreign parents with long-term residence under the age of five, otherwise children were subject to commercial insurance schemes.

There was unfortunately no political consensus on the social housing act, and it was rejected by Parliament. Constitutional responsibility for housing lay with municipalities, thus each city had their own approach. The Government had established financing of social housing plans using European funds and direct investment subsidies to support these programmes. Over 9,000 flats had been built over the last 10 years. However, over the last five years house prices had increased sharply, faster than household incomes, making housing less affordable. Overcrowding rates were high as a result, especially for larger families, making the topic of affordable and social housing a priority. In 2021 the social housing act was transformed and currently was being discussed in Parliament. If accepted, it would create public benefit corporations with a special status to develop social and affordable housing. In April 2021, the housing strategy of the Czech Republic was accepted, with social housing being a priority.

In October 2020, the Government had approved a new Strategy for Education until 2030+ with two strategic goals: one, to focus education more on acquiring competencies for an active civic, personal and professional life, and two, to reduce inequalities in access to quality education and enable the maximum development of the potential of children. Regarding the inclusive education plan, the resistance against it by teachers and parents did exist, although it was decreasing. There was no official research on why this resistance continued. In the opinion of the delegation, the inclusive education reform in 2016 was introduced from above, leading to a great deal of distrust. Despite this, most of the teachers would apply the reform positively if it only dealt with children disadvantaged by health problems, but children with "behaviour problems" were also part of the reform, which was the main problem as teachers struggled with them. In 2020, the number of foreign children in kindergartens was 12,000, or 3.3 per cent of the total amount. In primary and secondary schools, this number was at 26,500. Many Roma persons claimed their nationality as Czech, so it was not possible to know the exact number, but it was approximated to be up to 8,000, or 2.1 per cent, in the 2018/2019 school year, and at almost 4,500 Roma children, or 3.57 per cent, in the last school year.

The age of full criminal liability was 18 years, juveniles were only conditionally liable. According to the juvenile justice act, the unlawful conduct of children under the age of 15 was heard only in civil proceedings. Participants in civil proceedings were the child, social and legal protection authority, legal guardians, persons interested in the child's upbringings, and other relevant actors. An amendment was in the works taking into account mandatory legal representation of the child in pre-trial proceedings. Only an attorney at law would be able to provide such legal representation, and the child would have to be legally represented until the end of the matter. Youth courts could decide to refrain from court proceedings. Convicted persons had the right to visitations of close family of three hours per month, including children, unless otherwise stated by internal prison rules. COVID-19 had led to lockdowns in prisons and the situation was not back to normal.

Follow-up Question by a Committee Expert

A Committee expert took the floor to recall that the European committee of social rights had noted that civil jurisdiction did not preclude the fact that all rights, including procedural, must also be respected. What guarantees were offered to children under 15 placed in closed centres?

Replies by the Delegation

HELENA VÁLKOVÁ, Governmental Commissioner for Human Rights, Office of the Government of the Czech Republic, stated that proceedings were conducted in accordance with European measures and standards. Most cases of children under 15 in closed institutions dealt with children who had committed serious violations such as murder and rape, and thus were mostly transferred to mental health facilities.

Regarding intersex children, the delegation stated that this was a new topic for the Czech Republic. A new analysis carried out by academia in cooperation with the Public Defender of Rights was recently conducted and would be studied by the Government and appropriate steps would be taken.

Sterilisation was never an issue for children – it was only an issue for women in certain circumstances, specifically Roma women, and was a long-standing human rights issue that was being dealt with by setting up compensation, but there were no cases of sterilisation of children in the Czech Republic.

Regarding legal provisions regarding the prohibition of detention of asylum-seeking children, it was necessary to underline that there were two legal instruments – the Asylum Act, which disallowed the detention of asylum-seeking children, and another Act that allowed it when there were serious doubts about age. An age assessment would then be carried out. Medical methods to determine age were a last resort, and the aim for the future, next month, was to have in place new non-medical methods for age assessment. A new tailor-made and feasible in practice model of age assessment was being sought.

Concluding Remarks

FAITH MARSHALL-HARRIS, Committee Vice-Chairperson and Coordinator of the Task Force for the Czech Republic, noted that the Czech Republic had attempted a variety of solutions, but hoped the delegation would pay closer attention to discrimination of Roma children, children with disabilities, and migrant children, inter alia.

HELENA VÁLKOVÁ, Governmental Commissioner for Human Rights, Office of the Government of the Czech Republic, thanked the Committee for the dialogue, for the attention and analysis they afforded to the situation in the country. Many improvements had been achieved in the last 10 years, yet weaknesses persisted, and the Czech Republic would continue to work on these challenges.

MIKIKO OTANI, Committee Chairperson, expressed hope that this dialogue would help the more effective implementation of the Convention in the Czech Republic, noting that recommendations would be provided in due course.

Link: https://www.ungeneva.org/en/news-media/meeting-summary/2021/09/le-comite-des-droits-de-lenfant-pointe-la-fragmentation-du

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