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In Dialogue with Poland, Committee on the Rights of the Child Asks about Adoption, Foster Care and Institutionalisation

14 September 2021

The Committee on the Rights of the Child today concluded its consideration of the combined fifth and sixth periodic reports of Poland under the Convention on the Rights of the Child, with Committee Experts asking about adoption, foster care, the situation of children with disabilities and institutionalisation.

Committee experts asked the delegation about a number of issues, including the situation of children in the legal system, and which rights pertained to them in the different roles they could find themselves in, as victims or as perpetrators. The matter of corporal punishment was one issue dealt with under that rubric. Experts also asked for details about support available to children with disabilities, both in the family and in the educational system.

Institutionalization, adoption and foster care were other matters Committee experts asked the delegation to delineate, asking for details on the system and procedure for institutionalizing a child in Poland, how Poland intended to improve its adoption procedures, and how the country intended to regulate the situation of children in foster care.

The delegation provided details of many initiatives and programmes aiming at improving the situation for children in Poland, stretching from an anti-domestic violence procedure identifying children at risk, to listing the ways children could access comprehensive health care. Much support to children went by way of initiatives targeting families with assistance, such as a new program called the "Polish Deal", under which numerous social and economic benefits would directly benefit children and families with children, said Barbara Socha, Undersecretary of State at the Ministry of Family, Labour and Social Policy, and head of the delegation.

The delegation of Poland consisted of representatives of the Ministry of Family, Labour and Social Policy; the Ministry of Justice; the Ministry of Interior and Administration; the Ministry of Education and Science; the Ministry of Health; the National Commission for the investigation of cases of activities against sexual liberty and decency against minors under the age of 15, and the Permanent Mission of Poland to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

The Committee will next meet in public at 10:00 a.m. on Wednesday, September 15 to begin its dialogue with Eswatini.

Report

The Committee had before it the combined fifth and sixth periodic report of Poland (CRC/C/POL/5-6).

Presentation of the Report

BARBARA SOCHA, Undersecretary of State at the Ministry, Head of the Polish Delegation, said that since the submission of its previous report, Poland had taken numerous measures leading to a significant improvement in the living conditions, development and upbringing of children. A policy of responsible development aimed at strengthening the family, as did financial support to families raising children. The latter was through a framework called the "Family 500+" programme. As a consequence of those interventions, child poverty in Poland has been reduced to a lower percentage than the European Union average.

Ms. Socha further noted that Poland began educational system reform in 2017. Among other measures, the reform extended general and vocational education in secondary schools by one year, made organizational and programme changes to vocational education, and provided for free textbooks. With respect to measures ensuring the provision of education during the COVID-19 pandemic, she stated that distance learning periods were limited as much as possible, and schools organised remedial classes to support children when they returned.

The Polish government had also introduced a number of new measures to curb all forms of violence against children, including a 2016 law introducing new measures of protection against sexual crimes. On the health front, Poland in 2019 had adopted a law on pupil health care which guaranteed equal access to comprehensive and systematic health care at school, including preventive health care, health promotion, and dental care. The same law also increased benefits for disabled children through the implementation of a Family Support Programme which provided assistance in meeting particular needs, including the housing needs of families with a disabled child. Poland's 2021-2030 Strategy for People with Disabilities would develop solutions to ensure accessibility and improve the quality of inclusive education, support disabled children in their development, and popularize bilingual education for deaf children. Moreover, Poland informed the Committee about a new program called the "Polish Deal", under which numerous social and economic benefits would directly benefit children and families with children.

Questions by Committee Experts

VELINA TODOROVA, Committee Vice-Chairperson and Coordinator of the Task Force for Poland, raised a question about Poland's interpretative declarations to articles 12 to 16 and 24 of the Convention. She recalled that Poland had indicated that the necessary conditions for a change of its position on those declarations had still not been met. She invited the delegation to provide more information, noting that Poland's interpretive declarations were incompatible with the objectives and purposes of the Convention. Poland had signed the Optional Protocol on Individual Communications, but ratification was still pending. Were there discrepancies between the implementation of the Optional Protocol and Polish Law or State policy?

Committee experts also expressed their concern about the absence of a formal procedure to identify the status of stateless persons in Poland, which might cause protection gaps related to children. Could the delegation provide information about recent contradictory court decisions which affected the right of children with same-sex parents from obtaining birth certificates.

A Committee member recalled that in February 2018, Poland had established a Group to combat hate based on nationality, ethnicity, race, or religion. Could Poland provide information on the implementation of the 2018-2019 action plan of that Group and its impact on protection for children against all forms of discrimination?

An expert raised concerns about corporal punishment in Poland and requested the delegation to state what current measures were being taken to address domestic violence? Could the delegation provide information about the data collection system used by Poland to record domestic violence cases against children? The expert also wanted to know how the complaint mechanism worked for reporting abuse in police emergency centres.

The Committee noted that adoption procedures in Poland remained unsatisfactory, as there was a lack of uniform rules for qualifying candidates and insufficient exchange of information between adoption centres. A Committee expert asked the delegation to provide information on how Poland intended to elaborate procedures which would improve the process of adoption?

An expert congratulated Poland for the positive steps it had taken, yet expressed concern about the cases of corporal punishment in Poland which were documented in the report of the Ombudsman. Could the delegation provide information on how Poland intended to address the issue of corporal punishment?

Replies by the Delegation

On the question of the interpretative declarations, the delegation indicated that national consultations were still ongoing as to how best to reconcile the articles of the Convention in question with Polish law. With respect to adoption, the delegation stated that improvements had already been recorded as it was mandatory that children aged 13 years and above give their express consent to their proposed adoption. For adoptions of children below the age of 13 there was no mandatory requirement for consent, but Polish courts still had to grant such a child the right to be heard before making a decision on their adoption.

The delegation informed the Committee that there were existing solutions to protect children and other persons from domestic violence, including corporal punishment, in the Polish legal order. Subject to particular provisions starting from 2010, a ban was instituted on corporal punishment of children. One of the instruments used to counter corporal punishment was the use of the so-called "Blue Card procedure", which was when a social worker, police officer or doctor identified a suspected or confirmed case of child abuse and involved a psychologist service. Psychological services had also been provided to children who had suffered abuse in the past in order to avoid any further trauma to them. On an annual basis, the government collected statistical data on all forms of violence against children, including physical, psychological, sexual and economic violence. However, the delegation acknowledged that the current Polish regulations might not be sufficient in some areas, and Poland was therefore in the process of amending its laws. That process would lead to the adoption of a new national program of counteracting family violence. The changes would include putting abused children in a special victim category in order to protect them more effectively against violence.

On the question of stateless persons, the delegation said that stateless persons with two-year residence permits in Poland qualified for more favorable conditions than other applicants when applying for citizenship. Among other advantages, they were not required to document any source of income. Stateless persons, like other foreigners, could also apply to the President of the Republic of Poland for Polish citizenship, in which case they were not required to meet any obligatory requirements.

Follow-up questions from Committee experts

A Committee member noted that the delegation had said that Poland had created youth councils. She requested the delegation to provide clarification and give more details about the way those councils operated, who could become a member, how the members were recruited and what the agenda was of those councils?

Committee experts also requested the delegation to provide information on the measures schools had taken to help children who were being bullied at school, including bullying based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The Committee further asked the delegation to explain why there was a delay in the hearing of sexual abuse cases involving children.

A Committee member raised concerns about institutional care, namely foster care in Poland. Currently, there were quite a number of children in foster care, whose legal situation remained undetermined and who despite the passage of years could not be returned to their biological families, or could not be placed with an adoptive family. How did Poland intend to regulate this situation?

Was there a study on the percentage of children in Poland with disabilities? Did the delegation have any data on the percentage of children with disabilities and the national budget allocated to attend to the needs of such children?

The delegation was further asked to state which measures Poland had taken to provide services such as health, education, sports and recreation for children with disabilities.

Over the past few years, Poland had made significant efforts to integrate children with disabilities or special needs into all types of schools, a Committee expert noted. What financial and human support had been provided during the COVID-19 pandemic in regular schools to allow a harmonious integration of children with disabilities?

A Committee expert referenced a 2017 study which indicated that among homeless children in Poland, the majority had been placed in institutions or with host families, with a few hundred children remaining in derelict homes or other unidentified locations. Could the delegation provide information about whether these 320 children benefited from any assistance from the government? Was the government planning to take proper care of them?

Welcoming Poland's 2019 national action plan to combat trafficking in persons, a Committee expert asked whether there was a need, through implementation of that plan, to provide support, including financial resources to civil society organizations assisting child trafficking victims?

Questions by Committee Experts 

VELINA TODOROVA, Committee Vice-Chair and Coordinator for the Taskforce of Poland, asked for more details on the system and procedure for institutionalizing a child in Poland. Especially when it concerned younger children, how long did they stay in an institution? What were the principles of the whole system, was it centralized or decentralized, and who monitored children's placement and the duration of their placement?

JOSE ANGEL RODRIQUEZ REYES, Committee Member and Coordinator for the Taskforce of Poland, asked for more information on the plan that Poland would implement for children with disabilities. What was the model established by the country, its design and criteria? Also, was Poland cooperating with other parties involved in this area?

Replies by the Delegation

The delegation explained that the procedure of institutionalizing a child was decentralised and supported by local authorities. Poland wanted a fast and efficient system, and to avoid children being taken away from their families. Regarding potential adoptive families, the government was responsible for their selection. The final word belonged to the Family Court, which was an independent institution. Children did not stay in adoption centers; rather, those were places where foster families, for instance, could find information about children. Foreign adoptions were restricted in Poland. However, when it was a matter of joint siblings, or other special circumstances, such restrictions did not conflict with the Convention's provisions.

The number of children in foster care had dropped in Poland, as had the number of children in institutions, which continued to decrease further. Foster care was a tool for families unable to care for their child in a moment of crisis. Its temporary character was essential. Once the child qualified for adoption, he or she would no longer need foster care. Next year, the Ministry of the Family planned a social initiative to promote the role of foster families.

The delegation noted that the Polish government had been particularly attentive to the needs of children with disabilities, for instance, when it came to access to education. The budget to support families with children with disabilities had increased significantly in recent years. There were also centers that helped children, which were not institutions.

Poland's legal system had developed when it came to institutionalisation, said the delegation, noting that there was support available to older people, homeless people, and people with disabilities. Poland had prepared strategy papers on actions to take in the near future, specifically on social development; that paper was under discussion with different political parties and institutions before it came into force. There were still homeless children, but the most recent data identified a decrease in their numbers. Children did not stay on the streets without support; there were various services and activities offered by the social services at a local level to such children.

Delegation members from Poland's Ministry of Justice explained that children were not punished in Poland. According to the Criminal Code, criminal liability was applied only to persons older than 17 years. Below the age of 17, educational treatment or corrective measures were an option. Criminal judges did not deal with children; instead, family courts and other authorities were in charge. Prosecutor's officers, courts, local government and other authorities were obliged to receive complaints from children. The Ombudsman also had strong competencies, including the right to address any court or tribunal which could protect the rights of the child. The Ombudsman for children's rights operated independently, equipped with staff and a budget.

Follow-up Questions by the Committee Experts

Committee experts asked whether Roma children were included when families with children received money or allowances from the authorities.

How did Poland deal with children if they committed serious crimes such as murder? What were the principles that determined where children proceeded through the different types of courts? Also, did children have their own lawyers when appearing in court? What types of training was available for professionals working with children in such cases?

Follow-up Replies by the Delegation

The delegation said that as a rule, children were not criminally liable, and no punishments could be given to children under the age of 17. However, for the crimes of murder, rape or killing the president there were exceptions. According to Article 10 of the Criminal Code, a child could be brought to criminal court at the age of 15 for such crime, if the circumstances required. However, the sentencing should be limited to 2/3 of a regular penalty. The Court needed to have in mind the educational aspect of the penalty, which meant that they had to educate the person before punishing them. Legal defense counsel was also available, and if needed, the Court would appoint one. The police could detain a minor in an emergency youth centre. Parents and guardians were informed immediately upon such a detention, which was a temporary measure. Before any child was placed in such a centre, the Court always asked for a psychological and health check.

All forms of sexual assault were punished in Poland, and law enforcement was obliged to signify the Court immediately. If the victim's age was under 15, their testimony was heard only if it was specifically needed and under other special conditions. The Ministry of Justice was conducting a survey to check whether legal provisions in Poland were in line with its own requirements. Regarding provisions for the participation of children during hearings, that should be further improved; training of judges was also envisaged. A law had been introduced on protecting children from violence, connected to the existing law on counteracting domestic violence.

All children in Poland needed to be treated fairly without any discrimination based on age, race or sex. Educators were in charge of offering psychological assistance to the child, with the goal of enabling children to live safely in the school environment. School principals and school councils could cooperate with local authorities to find the best ways to support pupils and the school environment. Sexual education is a permanent regular subject in school and the scope of such education is defined in the national syllabus.

As for access to health care, a medical fund provided unlimited services to children. Following a law amendment from 2020, any procedure on a person under the age of 18 would be refunded by the state. Remote medical visits were also envisaged. Free natal checks were available for every pregnant woman, as were screening tests for newborns. Dental care was also provided to students. All the services were provided free of charge by the government.

Concluding Remarks

VELINA TODOROVA, Committee Vice-Chair and Coordinator for the Taskforce of Poland, concluded by welcoming the "useful" exchange, regretting that it could not be held in person. In any case, the Committee wished Poland well in the implementation of the Convention, so that all the rights of the child were respected, she concluded.

BARBARA SOCHA, Undersecretary of State at the Ministry, Head of the Polish Delegation, assured that her Government would do everything possible to ensure that all children in Poland enjoyed all their rights. All the remarks of the Committee would be taken into account, she said.