Representatives of CRONSEE – Children’s Rights Ombudspersons’ Network in South and Eastern Europe formally signed a Memorandum of Collaboration in Dubrovnik on 20 May 2009, which defines the principles of their mutual collaboration. The Children’s Rights Ombudspersons’ Network in South and Eastern Europe, as an informal network of independent institutions for the protection of the rights of the child on a national, regional and local level, was founded in 2006 on the initiative of the ombudsperson of the Autonomous Province of Vojvodina. Its goal is co-operation and empowering of the work of ombudsperson offices in countries in South and Eastern Europe, and the promotion and exchange of good practice between them. Reliable support for this project from the very outset has been given by the organisation Save the Children Norway, with its seat in Sarajevo. Croatia joined the network in 2007, and today its membership has grown many times. The membership network now includes representatives of the ombudspersons from Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Republic of Srpska, Bulgaria, Montenegro, Cyprus, Greece, Croatia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Romania, Slovenia, Serbia and AP Vojvodina.
They all signed the Memorandum of Collaboration during the CRONSEE Annual Conference on the subject “Children and Disputed Divorces – Access for Children to National, International and European Justice”. This act was then welcomed by Bjorn Hagen from Save the Children Norway, SEE and the president of the European Network of Ombudspersons for Children, ENOC, Emily Logan, who emphasised that in their work the ombudspersons for children often feel isolated in their own environment and so the co-operation and support of similar institutions from other regions and countries mean a great deal.
“I am happy that this Memorandum was signed precisely in Croatia,” the ombudsperson Mila Jelavić pointed out, thanking all the ombudspersons’ offices and individuals who helped in founding and strengthening CRONSEE.
The ENOC advisor, Peter Newell and the chairperson of the Committee on the Rights of the Child, Yanghee Lee invited the members of CRONSEE to join the initiative to adopt a new Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which will enable children to file complaints to the Committee on the Rights of the Child, if their national systems do not allow them the appropriate protection of their rights. They pointed out that this is a mechanism which enables and affirms access by children to international justice, and in this way the position of children will be strengthened in relation to their access to national justice in many countries. The participants of the Conference supported this idea as one more contribution to empowering children as subjects and holders of rights.
The European Network of Ombudspersons for Children (ENOC) has already supported this initiative, and in Dubrovnik on 20 May 2009 they were joined by the members of CRONSEE.
In the closing part of the CRONSEE Conference, the members presented the experience of their countries relating to the fundamental difficulties which trouble children whose parents are getting divorced and who do not succeed in resolving their conflict, nor reach an agreement on future joint care of the children. The problems are similar in all countries, and particular emphasis was placed on the lack of readiness of the courts to check whether proposals by the centres for social welfare about which parent the child would live with after the divorce, are in the best interests of the child. The need was stressed to find more effective mechanisms to ensure that the child expresses his or her opinion about this without pressure and fear, where it is suggested that the child have his or her own counsel or a special guardian, who may, but does not have to be an attorney.
It was emphasised that it would be very useful to bring together the practice from individual countries and make it available to all members of the Network so better solutions may be found together in the protection of the rights and interests of children.
The next thematic meeting of the Children’s Rights Ombudspersons’ Network in South and Eastern Europe will take place this autumn in Zagreb.