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Committee on the Rights of the Child considers report of Estonia

GENEVA (18 January 2017) - The Committee on the Rights of the Child this morning completed its consideration of the combined second to fourth periodic report of Estonia on its efforts to implement the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the initial report of Estonia under the Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict.
Presenting the reports, Rait Kuuse, Deputy Secretary General for Social Policy at the Ministry of Social Affairs of Estonia, stressed that being a country with only 233,000 children, the well-being of every child in Estonia was of the utmost importance.  The State expenditures on family- and child-related social, health and education benefits had been rising yearly, and now made up around 10 per cent of the overall State budget.  The institution of Child Ombudsman had been created in the Office of the Chancellor of Justice in 2011, setting a strong foundation for the further advancement of children’s rights.  The new child protection act, adopted in 2014, had led to the establishment of the well-functioning State child protection service from January 2016.  Legal and policy changes had been prepared to guarantee that children in conflict with the law did not receive excessive punitive reactions, but that restorative measures were used, with the emphasis on offering assistance and necessary treatment to the child. 
In the ensuing discussion, Committee Experts asked for more details on the substance and the implementation of the child protection act, as well as about different bodies and agencies involved in the protection and promotion of children’s rights.  Questions were asked about the institution of the Child Ombudsman, its independence and its adherence to the Paris Principles.  Experts also wanted to know about the right of children under 10 to be heard in courts, protection of the best interests of the child, actions taken to combat bullying, functioning of school councils, and the treatment of minor asylum seekers.  A series of questions were asked about “non-citizen” children and procedures in place for them to acquire the Estonian citizenship.  Access to education in one’s mother tongue was also discussed, as was the system of juvenile justice and the protection of child witnesses.  Other questions included the status of the Estonian Defence League and the possible sale of weapons to countries which used child soldiers. 
Mr. Kuuse, in concluding remarks, appreciated the constructive feedback received during the dialogue and expressed readiness to provide further information as needed.  Estonia truly believed that the steps it was making allowed it to be in compliance with the Convention.
The delegation of Estonia included representatives of the Ministry of Social Affairs, the Ministry of Defence, the Ministry of Justice, and the Permanent Mission of Estonia to the United Nations Office at Geneva. 
The Committee will next meet at 3 p.m. on Wednesday, 18 January, for the consideration of the combined third to fifth periodic report of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (CRC/C/COD/3-5).
The combined second to fourth periodic report of Estonia is available here: CRC/C/EST/2-4.  The initial report of Estonia under the Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict is available here: CRC/C/OPAC/EST/1.
Presentation of the Report
RAIT KUUSE, Deputy Secretary General for Social Policy at the Ministry of Social Affairs of Estonia, explained that the report covered the state of affairs up to 2011, and partly to 2013, and that the oral presentation would also cover more recent developments.  Being a country with only 233,000 children, the well-being of every child was of the utmost importance.  The State expenditures on the family and child related to social, health and education benefits had been rising yearly, and now made up around 10 per cent of the overall State budget.
The institution of Child Ombudsman had been created in the Office of the Chancellor of Justice in 2011, setting a strong foundation for the further advancement of children’s rights.  The new child protection act, adopted in 2014, had led to the establishment of the well-functioning State Child Protection Service from January 2016.  The act emphasized Estonia’s commitment to prevention, early intervention and cross-sectoral cooperation.  The best interest of the child was taken as a primary consideration in all decisions affecting children.  Every person who knew of a child in need of assistance had an explicit obligation to notify the local government or the helpline service 116 111.  Corporal punishment of children was banned in all settings, and significant steps had been taken to raise children without violence.  The Government had put in place an evidence-based parenting programme and created a widespread public campaign.  The central professional for a child in need of assistance was the child protection worker in the local government.
Throughout the years, one difficulty in guaranteeing children’s rights had been the unequal capacity of local governments.  The number of children per one child protection worker had gradually decreased from 1,726 to 1,091.  A specialized Unit of Child Protection had started work under the Social Insurance Board, and focused on coaching, supervising and providing direct assistance to local governments in resolving complicated cases.  One uniform electronic case management and data gathering system was used State-wide to support child protection workers in local government.  Universal children benefits for families with children had increased; concurrently, the rate of child poverty rates had gone down. When a parent did not fulfill his or her maintenance obligations towards the child, the support was provided by the State and later claimed back from the debtor parent. 
Legal and policy changes had been prepared to guarantee that children in conflict with the law did not receive excessive punitive reactions, but that restorative measures were used, with the emphasis on offering assistance and necessary treatment to the child.  Children from 16 to 18 years of age had been given the right to vote in local government elections, the right they would exercise for the first time in 2017.  The share of children rating their health as very good had steadily increased to 33 per cent, while the infant death rate had decreased to 2.7 per 1,000 live births.  All children in Estonia were fully covered with health insurance, which gave them a very wide scale of primary health care and all special health services.  All children in Estonia also had a right to free basic and secondary education.
Questions by Experts
PETER GURAN, Committee Member and Co-Rapporteur for Estonia, noted that Estonia had one of the fastest growing economies in the European Union, and the country traditionally belonged to the tradition of the protection and promotion of human rights. 
A question was asked about the implementation of the child protection act.  Had relevant bylaws and regulations been prepared to effectively implement the act?  Were cash transfers to local authorities sufficient for the proper implementation of the act, and were local staff adequately trained?
Mr. Guran asked a question on the understanding of the best interest of the child.  How was that principle applied in the cases of divorce, and how were extra-judicial methods applied to help resolve family disputes?
Regarding coordination and strategy, the delegation was asked to explain how it was ensured that a child-friendly approach would be maintained in all aspects.  The Ministry of Social Affairs was a main coordinating body, the Expert noted and asked about the mandate of the Child Protection Council.
Was the Child Ombudsman, part of the Chancellor of Justice, compliant with the Paris Principles?  A very low number of complaints were submitted to the Office, which could mean that its visibility was also low.  What kind of complaints were submitted?
The Expert asked for information on training of professional groups in Estonia working on children’s rights.
Judges were often reported not to hear out children under the age of 10.  According to the Committee’s General Comment 12, all children had the specific right to be heard and express themselves.
Estonia had a system of school council unions, but it was not clear if such councils were established in all individual schools or if they depended on the good will of their principals.  Was it possible to create councils in schools with minority (Russian) children? Civic education needed to be connected with the lowering of the voting age. 
BENYAM DAWIT MEZMUR, Committee Chairperson and Co-Rapporteur for Estonia, raised the issue of the age of marriage.  A question was asked about the reasons for children falling pregnant.  Were pregnant girls who got married less stigmatized?  Were the numbers related to child marriage stagnant or evolving?
How was it ensured that children did not access sexual content online, asked the Expert?
The issue of statelessness was brought up and a recent amendment which had come into effect in 2016 was acknowledged.  The amendment did not apply to 15-18 year olds, or children whose parents did not meet the five-year residency requirement.  Was there a procedure to establish the status of stateless people, and a plan to comprehensively survey people experiencing statelessness?
It was commendable that the legislation proscribed corporal punishment, but it was also necessary to ensure that appropriate initiatives followed suit.  Effective supervision of the activities undertaken against bullying was lacking.  What was the Government doing to establish the root causes of bullying?
Another Expert raised the issue of minor asylum seekers.
Given that there were many consultation mechanisms for children, how was it ensured that what children said would actually be taken into consideration?  How had the decision on giving the right to vote to 16-18 year olds been reached?
Replies by the Delegation 
The delegation said that the child protection act was a significant step and a principal change for the understanding of child rights for all stakeholders.  The process of the preparation of the act had been very wide and inclusive, and had lasted a number of years.  All opinions had been considered very seriously.  The act had not changed the division of responsibilities at the State level.  The act tried to clarify the roles and responsibilities rather than impose new obligations on local municipalities.  Local municipalities had their own budgets.  Employing specialists who would deal only with child protection and development was part of the act, especially for new and big municipalities.  At the local level, the staffing and budgeting issues had improved, but remained under the focus of the State. 
State-funded, very practical training sessions were provided for specialists so that they could properly and fully implement the child protection act.  Preparation was critical for ensuring its proper implementation.  Very specific guidelines, for example, were in place on how to separate a child who was at danger from its family.  Workers in municipalities could decide on which module of training to put more emphasis, but all modules needed to be covered.  Individual supervision was quite an expensive service, for which an electronic database of personalized social services was very important.  Tools were being prepared to better assess municipalities, informed a delegate.
It was a normal practice in Estonia that a thorough evaluation was made of all new acts after several years.  The same would be done for the child protection act in 2019.  More and more municipalities nowadays consulted on difficult cases, and the database was already comprehensive. 
Regarding the question on divorces, the delegation acknowledged that their number was very high, as in other European countries.  Attention had to be paid to parenting during the dissolution of a marriage.  Courts had referred cases to family mediation services.  Counseling and family mediation were now mandatory measures before court procedures.  Mediation was still not as widespread as it should be, and efforts were being made to use it in all cases when children were involved.  There was a need to further train the judiciary on children’s rights.
The child and family development plan was one of the three development plans for the Ministry of Social Affairs.  Ministries were asked to provide an input on their activities on children in the plan.  The overall coordination was made by the Ministry of Social Affairs.   The Child Protection Council, which consisted of various stakeholders, had a say in the setting up of governmental child protection policies.  The most important ministries incorporating child issues in their work were those of justice, education, science and the interior, informed the delegation. 
The Ombudsman Office provided for independent monitoring of children’s rights, which did not comply with the Paris Principles.  Estonia was committed to having at least one national institution which would be in line with the Principles.  The issue of children’s rights was not such a new competency for the Ombudsman.  The visibility of the Office was high and it was among the most trusted institutions in Estonia.  The Ombudsman had a very good system of working with children, through regular visits to schools and special youth councils under his Office.
Almost all legislative acts connected to the Convention had been translated, and one last piece was currently being translated. 
Follow-up Questions
An Expert asked for clarification on whether the Chancellor of Justice contained the Ombudsman Office, which, in turn, included the Ombudsman for Children.  Estonia’s Ombudsman Office was the only one in Europe not to be part of the Europe-wide network.
Why was there an age limit in place for hearing out children in courts?
Replies by the Delegation
The delegation confirmed that the Ombudsman was part of the Chancellor of Justice and explained that the prioritization of policy choices in Estonia ought to be taken into consideration.  Estonia wanted to ensure that its institutions were able to comply with the Paris Principles.
Children had the right to be heard and express their opinions in the courtroom.  The child protection law, as an umbrella law, had to be followed by other acts.  The child needed to be heard in a manner which took into consideration its age and development, explained a delegate.  Everyone working with children professionally had to follow the rules.  A document was needed to prove that the child had indeed been heard; opinions of children in divorce cases were collected.  A child’s consent was needed in cases of adoption. 
The age limit had been in place for a long time, said the delegation, but the child protection act insisted that the opinion of the child be sought in any case, in the court or by a child protection worker.  The delegation assured the Committee that every judge was extremely sensitive to children’s interests in both civil and penal cases.
The Estonian School Council reflected the name of the country, not the Estonian language, clarified the delegation.  Children were involved in decision-making on how schools were managed and problems solved.  Every school needed to have a supervisory council, while the participation in such councils was voluntary.  Councils were in place regardless of the language used in schools.
Turning to the issue of the age of marriage, a delegate stated that persons of at least 15 years of age could get married after getting permission from a court.  However, this was a rare procedure in Estonia: in 2014 and 2015, there had been only five marriages per year where one of the partners had been underage.   In 2015, there had been two 17-year olds, two 16-year olds and one 15-year old who had gotten married.  It was estimated that removing the possibility of getting married would not be beneficial for underage persons.  The issue was not major from the policy perspective, stressed a delegate, but counseling programmes were nonetheless available.
There was cooperation with the private sector, primarily information and technology companies, to help raise awareness and provide technical and financial support to the online service for children.  The dedicated webpage had been visited by persons from almost 100 countries.   Estonia had identified itself as an e-country, and placed emphasis on teaching safe usage of the Internet from a very young age. 
On citizenship issues, the delegation explained that Estonia had eased naturalization for all legal residents who wished to acquire Estonian citizenship.  Recent amendments had entered into force in 2016, and one of their main foci was on children under 15.  Children under 15 whose parents had resided in Estonia for at least five years and were not citizens of another country were given citizenship.  All minors born in Estonia before January 2016 or those under 15 without a resolved citizenship status were given citizenship if their parents did not have any nationality.  Regarding children aged 16-18, it was explained that they could acquire Estonian citizenship if they applied for it and met the criteria.  The Government had made an effort to decrease the number of persons with undetermined citizenship and would continue to motivate people to do so.  In spite of the headway made, more work remained to be done.  Persons with undetermined citizenship enjoyed almost the same rights as Estonian citizens, except for political rights, which could explain why not all of them had so far filed applications.  In 2015, some 700 persons had acquired Estonian citizenship. 
Was one of the challenges for acquiring the citizenship the difficulty of learning Estonian, asked an Expert?  The delegation responded that it was not certain that the language was a problem; rather, it appeared to be the question of choice of a person applying for a citizenship.  The education system provided for sufficient training in Estonian.  The number of families with undetermined citizenship interested in acquiring Estonian nationality was decreasing. 
School bullying was a good example of how citizen initiatives had been translated into practical policies which were successful.  The Ministry of Education had a target that by 2020, all kindergartens and 90 per cent of schools would be covered by the bullying prevention programme.  The awareness today was much higher, and bullying was not tolerated.  The bullying was not primarily caused by ethnic or linguistic issues, stressed the delegation. 
Questions by Experts
PETER GURAN, Committee Member and Co-Rapporteur for Estonia, asked if most children separated from their biological families were placed in institutions.  What were the prospects to provide real family-based care?  Were there not enough families interested in being foster families?  What was the reason for the current stagnation?  Mr. Guran also wanted to know about the reasons for the very low rate of adoptions.
BENYAM DAWIT MEZMUR, Committee Chairperson and Co-Rapporteur for Estonia, raised the issue of overburdened employees in social services and asked about the ratio between social workers and children.
There was a plan in place to grant access to pre-school to all children by 2020 – how was it coming along?  What were the main reasons for those children currently not accessing pre-school?
The issue of the language policy in higher education was also raised, and the delegation was asked to provide details.
Another Expert brought up the issue of juvenile justice and asked about legal representation of minor asylum seekers.  If a guardian of a child was facing expulsion or was in detention, his/her children were also detained.  Was that really necessary, asked the Expert?  Administrative punishment of minor asylum seekers was also raised.
Was community service an alternative to penalties?  Were there courts with judges specialized for juveniles?
The parents of child witnesses could not forbid their child to be heard in a court – was that correct?  How about very young children who would be traumatized if heard in a court?      Was there a legal representative for a child witness and, if so, from which age?  Which was the body conducting proceedings, the delegation was asked to specify.
The Expert asked for a clarification on the need for children to have a lawyer.
The suicide rate among the teens in 2014 had reportedly doubled as compared to 2013.  Had such an upward trend continued in 2015 and 2016, and what had caused the spike?  Also, why was there an increase in drug abuse, the Expert wanted to know?
If a parent was guilty of domestic violence, could he or she still be given custody, asked another Expert.
Why had the State party not yet submitted reports under the two Optional Protocols it had ratified?  He brought up the issue of extraterritorial jurisdiction and asked about the clarification on “double jeopardy.”
It appeared that Estonia did not have mechanisms in place to speedily identify children who might have been trained by armed groups abroad. What was being done in that regard?  Were children implicated in terrorist acts prosecuted?
Replies by the Delegation
Responding to the questions on the Optional Protocols, the delegation informed that Estonia had submitted reports under the Protocols in a timely manner in 2016. 
On domestic violence issues, it was explained that the legal framework had remained the same since Estonia’s report had been considered at the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women in November 2016.  Domestic violence was to be declared as a determining factor when deciding on children custody issues.  When children’s interests were at stake, judges had quite a wide spectrum of decision-making and could consider any important aspect brought before them, including domestic violence.  Domestic violence as such separately did not prevent the parent to take care of his or her child. 
Turning to underage marriages, a delegate clarified that since 2011, the number of cases had never been more than five per year.  Procedures for granting permission for underage marriage licenses were not written.  There was no information on the social background of the minors getting married, but the issue could be analyzed in more depth in the future. 
The delegation said that already for the autumn 2017 elections, a project was underway to inform 16-18 year olds of their right to vote.  It was a project for young people conducted by young people.  Currently, scores of young people from across the country were being recruited to act as official election observers.  In local elections, people with local residence permits, and not only citizens, could vote.  More marginalized groups could thus take part in the election.
Out of 39 child institutions in the country, only three could be defined as “old-fashioned”.  A development plan for children and families was in place, and a green paper existed on how to increase the number of children in alternative (family-based) care.  Estonia provided alternative care up to the age of 25, with the view of providing a chance to young people to receive high education.  European Union funds were being used to renew all the training for foster parents, custody and adopted families.  Estonia was also updating training for substitute homes, making it ever more practical.  In 2016, mentoring programmes, and phone and individual counseling had started to be provided to all foster and adopted families.  Social workers were used to evaluate the functioning of substitute homes.  The maximum number of children in substitute homes currently stood at eight, and would go down to six by 2020. 
The delegation specified that the number of children in foster families currently stood at 205, and was thus very low.  The number of children in kinship families was over 1,200, and the number of children in State institutions was just above 1,000.  The low number of children in foster homes was seen as a problem, and was partly caused because fostering in Estonia was voluntary.  The State paid foster families only 240 euros per child per month; this was part of the reforms planned for the coming years.  It was still safer for children to be placed in substitute homes rather than foster families because the monitoring system was stronger in the former.
On the issue of adoptions, a delegate said that the 2010 family law provided for three different possibilities to separate a child from the family.  Since 2010, the number of domestic adoptions had been quite low, but stable.  International adoptions had been conducted by the Ministry of Social Affairs until 2016, when they were passed on to the Social Insurance Board.  The Board had drafted guidelines.  The number of international adoptions stood at under 10 per year, and in 2016 it was only five.  Since 2017, domestic adoptions were also moved to the Social Insurance Board, informed the delegate.  A register of adoptees was now in place, which also served as a tool for social workers to go through the adoption process with families step by step.
It was explained that a child could not stay in a shelter for more than 72 hours, under the child protection act.  Within those 72 hours, there should be a court order to separate the child from the family.  Shelters were paid for by the municipality budget, while substitute homes were financed from the central State budget.
Deinstitutionalization issues were given high importance in Estonia, stressed the head of the delegation.  Moving to an institution-free structure would be ideal, but there were potential dangers, such as homelessness which it could create if not properly prepared for.  Setting concrete standards on how many professionals should be working with how many children was an important step.
Regarding pre-schools, it was explained that almost 90 per cent of three to six year olds were involved in early education.  For children under 18 months, the percentage was lower because of the generous parental benefits.  Enrolment rates for children after 18 or 24 months were growing, even though there had been issues with the number of kindergarten places, but efforts were underway to address that issue and should be resolved by 2020.  Estonia had received acknowledgments for the quality of the services provided.  The ratio between educators and children was satisfactory, but could be further improved.  Estonia was making efforts to make it less difficult to combine family and work lives. 
The dropout rate in elementary schools stood at 0.7 per cent, among the lowest in the world.  In secondary education, it stood at 1.1 per cent.  Considerations were underway to increase compulsory education beyond the current nine years.  If schools were too small and did not have support specialists, a network was in place to ensure that appropriate services would be provided to the children who needed them.  Attention was also paid to what children did after leaving school.
The minimal age of penal responsibility stood at 14.  Children could be sent to juvenile committees, which did not issue penalties as such, but if a child committed an offence again, further steps were taken.  Courts took into consideration what juvenile committees said previously, and in that case previous non-compliance was an important factor.  Estonia was currently putting into place legal and policy changes, in order to guarantee that bodies looking into children’s offences were specifically tasked to do so, and that focus was placed on assisting children more than punishing them.  The system of restorative warnings and mediation should decrease the frequency of contacts of children with the judicial system. 
Special schools were closed institutions, explained the delegation. Sending children there was the last resort as children’s liberties there were restricted.  They were continuously under review and children were progressively released as their behavior improved. 
Follow-up Questions
PETER GURAN, Committee Member and Co-Rapporteur for Estonia, asked about curricula for special schools and whether they were the same as in regular schools.  How long could children be placed in such schools, he inquired. 
Another Expert raised the issue of the specialization of judges to work on child-related issues.
BENYAM DAWIT MEZMUR, Committee Chairperson and Co-Rapporteur for Estonia, voiced concern that there was a problem with the integration of students from special schools and Russian-speaking students in higher education.  Was there an ongoing dialogue or a plan on how to use additional resources to support learning of the Estonian language?
Replies by the Delegation
The curricula in special schools was the same as in regular schools, confirmed a delegate. Being in special schools did not mean children there were receiving any lesser quality education.  Children could stay in special schools for a maximum of one year; judges considered the situation of these children on a case-by-case basis. 
There was no official specialization of judges, but rather continuous education and training of judges who dealt with children.  The main specialization in practice was either on civil or criminal cases.  In civil matters, there were more judges with experience in child issues.
The intention to reform the system of special schools had been there for a while, said the delegation.  Steps had also been made to link the special needs of children to regular school curricula.  All children were individually evaluated so that any special needs could be established. 
The situation of Russian-speaking students was under the very close observation of the Ministry of Education.  Attention was given to ensure that all students received not only linguistic, but also other skills.  Estonia had historically had quite a high level of educated people. 
Responding to the question on juvenile prisons, the delegation said that the developments in the area were encouraging and Estonia was on the right track.  Currently, there were 23 underage people in prison; there was a special unit for minors in one of the prisons.  The number of minor prisoners had been decreasing over the years.   There were a clinical psychologist and a nurse working with young prisoners.  Individual counseling, support groups and regular education activities were all provided to minor prisoners.  The number of juvenile prisoners had been decreasing over the years, and the target remained that no juveniles should be in prison.    
Turning to the issue of the protection of child victims and witnesses, the delegation stressed that children always needed to be protected in proceedings, regardless of whether parents asked for it or not.  The police and the prosecution had the capabilities to conduct interviews in a child-friendly manner, including help by child specialists and psychologists.  Children under 14 or those who were victims of domestic violence were normally not questioned in courts, but in special rooms and their testimonies were recorded.  Child victims themselves were most usually child witnesses.  Children could be assigned special representatives in courts.  All children had to be treated in a child-friendly manner, said the delegation.  On whether the law required that the judge had to justify his decision to take the interest of the child in mind, the delegation responded that in practice children’s interests were taken into account.  Parenting skills of each parent needed to be evaluated and a report on it submitted to the judge in custody cases. 
There were only around 200 judges in Estonia, and they did not have a possibility to specialize in all various subjects.  Continuous training was provided for 10 to 20 days a year, but not all issues could be fit into that quite short time period.
Moving to the cluster of questions on health issues, the delegation stated that the percentage of children who committed suicide had increased in 2013 and 2014, and remained the same in 2015.  The absolute numbers were quite small, and stood at between 10 and 20 per year, but the issue was monitored carefully as suicide remained the first external cause of death of children.  In 2013, an intersectoral task force had been established at the level of the State Chancellery, with the task to focus on prevention and analyze the causes of suicide.  Its recommendations were included in ministerial action plans and had to be implemented by 2020.  The system of regular check-ups of children by primary care physicians, including their mental health, was being currently revised.  Emergency help lines were open to children nationwide.  More and more resources were being dedicated to the mental health of children in Estonia, stressed a delegate. 
The number of children between 11 and 15 who had smoked cannabis during their life was showing a slight increase, and it currently stood at about 10 per cent.  There were no specific studies on the reasons for drug use among children and adolescents, but children’s difficult relations with their parents could be a possible cause.  Information on the prevention of drug abuse had been prepared and distributed in both the Estonian and Russian languages.  A website on positive parenthood received significant attention.  Several children’s hospitals provided institutional, outpatient and rehabilitation services.
Follow-up Questions by Experts
PETER GURAN, Committee Member and Co-Rapporteur for Estonia, asked about special measures for families with children with disabilities. 
In special schools, were children with disabilities mixed with children with behavioural problems?
Were rehabilitation institutions run by the State or private providers, asked another Expert?
BENYAM DAWIT MEZMUR, Committee Chairperson and Co-Rapporteur for Estonia, asked whether an allowance was paid to children with disabilities.
Was Estonia not selling and exporting weapons to countries which used child soldiers?
Replies by the Delegation
There were two special centres in which rehabilitation services were provided; they were funded by State and municipal authorities. 
The number of children with disabilities was growing, informed the delegation.  In 2016, there had been some 12,500 children with disabilities, about 700 of them had severe disabilities.  With the support of European funds, services were provided for children with disabilities.  Partners were available in different parts of Estonia, who helped with the provision of services.
There were still 42 children with severe disabilities left in substitute homes.  A special school existed for children with disabilities; dormitories were part of the school, and the children went home for weekends and holidays.  Help was provided to families on how to educate children at home; each child’s and family’s needs were first assessed.  There were two special schools for students with severe hearing problems; those with milder hearing difficulties went to regular schools. 
The delegation confirmed that financial support was provided to children with disabilities, and it was continued when they became adults, to assist them in accessing the labour market.
There were various kinds of special schools – some of them for children with physical disabilities, and others – that were closed – for children with behavioural problems. Children with intellectual disabilities were not placed together with children with behavioural problems. 
Very few families had spent time in family expulsion centres awaiting deportation.  The average period spent there was two months, which could be extended by a court to four months.  Juveniles who were on their own would be placed in substitute homes.
Estonia was practically still not concerned by terrorist threats at home, or children who had been trained by foreign military groups.  Preparedness needed to be further developed and elaborated.
The Estonian Defence League was a voluntary, semi-State organization with 25,000 members, out of whom 7,000 were junior members, between the age of 7 and 18, with their own youth organization within the League.  The youth wing could be compared to scout organizations in other countries.  The defence league act specifically prohibited military training of minor members, who could also not handle firearms.  The exception was made for very basic firearms training for those over 12 who volunteered for it and had a written consent from their parents. 
Over the last 25 years, there had been almost no issues related to the respect of the international humanitarian or human rights law by Estonia’s servicemen.
Estonia did not have a defence industry and the Government was not involved in the sale of weapons.  Estonia followed international rules and norms in that regard.  A domestic strategic goods act was in place.   
Concluding Remarks
PETER GURAN, Committee Member and Co-Rapporteur for Estonia, said that important issues had been discussed, and expressed conviction that Estonia was on the right track.
RAIT KUUSE, Deputy Secretary General on Social Policy at the Ministry of Social Affairs of Estonia, appreciated the constructive feedback received during the dialogue and expressed readiness to provide further information as needed.  Estonia truly believed that the steps it was making allowed it to be in compliance with the Convention.  The process of improvement of the environment of children was continuous.  Mr. Kuuse thanked the Committee for highlighting the main areas of concern.


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