The year 2020 will probably be indelibly imprinted in the memory of hundreds of thousands children in Croatia. Their schools and kindergartens closed that year, first for two weeks and then for two months. Their homes overnight turned into classrooms and their parents’ offices. Many children also lost their homes owing to the earthquakes that hit Zagreb and its surroundings in March and the Banovina region at the end of the year. This was the year when children, irrespective of their age and developmental needs, had to become responsible overnight. Two months may not seem too long in an adult’s life, but it seems like an eternity for a seven-year-old child or a young adolescent.
The Report on the Work of the Ombudsman for Children for 2020, which is submitted to the Croatian Parliament pursuant to the Law on the Ombudsman for Children, is therefore almost in its entirety marked by the emergencies that changed the lives of children in Croatia: the COVID-19 pandemic, containment measures and earthquakes.
In 2020, the Office of the Ombudsman for Children received 1,923 new complaints, inquiries and requests related to individual violations of children’s rights, which is an increase of 10% annually. The Office processed 574 cases that were transferred, as pending cases, from the previous years, primarily because they have to be monitored over several years due to their specific and complex subject matter.
In spite of the aggravated working conditions due to the pandemic and significant damage to the Office building caused by the Zagreb earthquake, this year again the Office staff made their best efforts to be accessible to children, parents and guardians, as well as institutions, seeking advice, help and support by telephone and electronic mail.
The Office issued 72 general recommendations, warnings and press releases, with the aim of fostering a more efficient protection of children’s rights. Approximately 40% of the recommendations concerned the impact of the COVID-19 and measures to contain it on the various areas of realisation of children’ rights. However, it raises concern that only every second recommendation was accepted and every sixth fully implemented by the end of the year.
In 2020, complaints related to children’s personal rights continued to account for the largest share of total complaints. However, given all the difficulties in the education system, it is not surprising that there were over 100 new complaints related to the area of education compared with 2019. The largest annual increase (42%) was recorded in the number of complaints about rights in judicial proceedings, which mainly concerned the conduct of police officers, social workers and special guardians as well as the actions of courts and the State Attorney Office. These complaints point to the need to raise awareness of the official personnel about children’s rights and needs.
“I hope that this Report will also serve as guidance for what needs to be done for children to help them recover from distressing experiences from 2020 and to give priority to their needs – now and in all future emergencies”, said the Ombudsperson for Children Helenca Pirnat Dragičević in her Annual Report for 2020.