The most common violation of children’s rights in Macedonia is the right to feel warmth in the home- MA Dragi Zmijanac executive director and founder of the First Children’s Embassy in the World Megjashi
1. According to your long term experience and the information you have from the First Children’s Embassy in the World ,,Megjashi” which children’s rights are most jeopardized in Macedonia?
The violation of children’s rights happens continuously and in different forms.
At times for example, when we are preoccupied with cases of pedophilia, it seems as if up to now other crimes have not been done to children. Five percent from the total number of children do not go to school, while violence in families and schools has increased. However, one should keep in mind that in the past children’s rights was little talked about. Now the media constantly reports on such cases. The civil sector is also involved; therefore adults (rarely the children themselves) are encouraged to register the violence. That is why it appears as if today there is more violation of children’s rights than before.
The most common violations of children’s rights in Macedonia are: the right to healthy and dignified life, right to education, right to health care and a home
Most of the children on the streets are victims of prostitution, the use of children for material gain, child trafficking, distribution and usage of drugs and sexual harassment.
2. Last week we received two statements for sexual harassment on two minors, from which one of the cases was in a monastery which is even more bizarre. How does the state, deal with the pedophiles and what happens with children that have been sexually abused?
Children should report the violence. Not to be silent. The state must open new centres for acceptance of children victims of sexual abuse and pedophilia. Unfortunately there are no such shelters in Macedonia. It is especially important that treatment of children victims of pedophilia should receive treatment immediately after the incident
We appeal to the institutions of the state to be considerate towards the children victims of sexual abuse. If entering the proceedings with the institutions in charge is inappropriate and unprofessionally done or if for example the child confronts the rapist again – this indicates repetition of the violence, only in this case in addition to the experienced sexual abuse, the child undergoes psychological abuse from the institution itself that is from individual professional persons involved in the act.
To be a witness or a victim of crime and then to participate in court trial is a very difficult experience for an adult and even more difficult for a child. The child does not understand the legal procedures that take place and is frightened of new situations and unfamiliar persons. It is ashamed to speak about what happened. Sometimes the child feels guilty, lost, afraid and abandoned, it is afraid of not fulfilling the expectations of the adults.
The first Children’s Embassy in the World Megjashi continuously alerts that the reported cases of pedophilia have increased and that the parents and state institutions in charge, should conduct activates for greater responsibility in protection of the children and their best interest especially in cases of sexual abused and pedophilia.
3. What are the results from the SOS- line 0800 1 2222 in the Embassy Megjashi? Are the children encouraged to ask for help and what kinds of problems most commonly occur?
Up till now our work has been raising public awareness and encouragement of children and adults not to be silent about the violence and to report to the closest police stations or to SOS telephone for children and young 0800 1 2222 at the First Children’s Embassy in the World Megjashi.
Silence and taboos about sexual harassment of children do not exist any more. In the past cases of pedophilia were not revealed in public the reasons being: fear, shame and the stereotypes that children victims, especially the girls should keep quite about the sexual harassment mainly for family reasons. Regular reactions for severe punishments of pedophiles requests for taking away parents rights of parents-violators and a greater responsibility of state institutions, rises the standard of intolerance towards rapists.
The SOS telephone for children and young exists 17 years, and until now 17 784 reports of different kinds of problems that children are facing daily have been registered. During the year 2009, a total of 377 reports were registered. Of the total number calls in 2009 almost 48 goes to the physical, psychological and sexual abuse over children. This is an increase of nine present compared to year 2008.
4. What activates does the Children’s Embassy take when a child has called and reported some kind of violence, abuse or exploitation?
Children should report the violence, abuse and other problems they are faced with in their everyday life on the SOS telephone for children and young 0800 1 2222. This telephone is of public interest and between the citizens it is recognized as means which allows psycho- social assistance and support for the problems they face. The call is free for domestic “T-home” telephones. The operators which respond to the calls are volunteers; enthusiasts form different professions (psychologists, social workers, teachers, lawyers, family consultants) who unselfishly invest in their experience and knowledge in creating a better world for the children.
The principle of work consists in giving responses to the telephone calls and therby the problem is taken into consideration from all aspects. Definite solutions are not suggested but only alternative solutions to the problem. The solution of the problem comes from the callers themselves. One of the main principles of work of the SOS telephone is avoiding giving advices. Although this rule may sound illogical it has substantial justification and explanation in the psychological theory and experience in working with people seeking help.
In the Children’s Embassy we have family consultants that have conversations with members of the family looking for help through the SOS telephone.
Parallel to the SOS service there is continues work of a free legal service which depending on the type of problem, deals by sending a written letter to the state agencies and the Ombudsman. From the institutions in charge, we are always asked to be informed about the measures and activates that have been undertaken. This is one way to monitor cases. In some of the cases we work in cooperation with other NGO’s for best interest of the children.
Consequences from violence and abuse are very serious in the development of the child’s personality. Fear, insecurity, low self-esteem, lack of trust in the institutional protection and support are often the reasons why children keep silent and suffer the violence and seldom speak of it.
5. Do the institutions in charge have understanding for the suggestions of ,,Megjashi’’ and what kind of cooperation do you have with these institutions?
The Ministry of Justice has mobilized itself to tighten the sanctions against the perpetrators of these hard crimes of incest and pedophilia because it turned out that the penalties are minimal and do not correspond with the European legislation. But that is just one repressive and preventive measure. We insist on more severe punishments, even life imprisonment, because we are convinced that in Macedonia there are no reliable treatments for pedophiles while they are serving their penalty in jail, since after leaving the prison most of them repeat the crime. We are also involved in the implementation of the Action Plan for dealing with pedophilia and sexual abuse that the government proposed in 2008.
However, the first Children’s Embassy in the World Megjashi, for several years has indicated the fact that in the case of over 18500 children in Macedonia have their elementary rights threatened, especially the right to education. Even so, there are no measures taken for all the children to engage in primary education. We have indicated a range of problems in realizing children’s rights, of various types but very rarely are there activates for reconsideration from state institutions followed by taking adequate measures and responsibility which should be a guarantee for realization of children’s rights.
6. Can one say that the institutional (legal, judicial, executive) system in Macedonia is adequately adapted to the needs of defence of children’s rights, and thus does justice catch up with the violators?
Although in the Republic of Macedonia there are a number of legislative reforms and a series of policies for the protection of children’s rights, there are still children who are not included in the obligatory education, children who can not exercise the right to adequate health care, and children who are victims of physical and sexual abuse.
The state is more directed towards amendment of the laws and which legal regulations they provide and less or in some specified parts there is nothing mentioned how these legal provisions are applied in practice. There is no established system of monitoring how laws are implemented nor is there information that an appropriate analysis is made on how many analytical tools are necessary for law enforcement.
Failure to protect children’s rights often arises during the implementation of laws and in some cases that happens because of legislative gaps and inadequate regulation of certain issues. For example there are laws which provide that the child has a certain right but then it is not specified how the child can exercise that right: in which procedure, before which organ and in accordance with which law. These legal solutions are inapplicable in practice and instead of representing a promotion of children’s rights; they serve as an additional obstacle.
It is necessary to supplement and update the existing legal provisions which regulate the rights of children such as: the need for supplementing and amending the Family Law, Law on Social Protection, Law on Protection of Children and others; as well: the formation of the Children’s Ombudsman as a separate institution that is fully committed to protecting the rights of children.
There is a need to work in the field of ratification of all international instruments that provide protection of the rights of children, which should be further used for the formation of the overall legal framework in the country through which there will be designed measures that will not leave legislative gaps or any kind of toleration of violation of children’s rights. Also the institutions in charge should apply in practice these ratified international standards in the process of securing and protecting children’s rights. We must specify that the state authorities during their work seldom call upon or do not use at all the Convention on the Rights of the Child and explain that it cannot be directly applied although in case of collision international conventions are in superior position in relation to international laws.
7. According to the information of the first Children’s Embassy in the World Megjashi, how many children in Macedonia are left without parental care?
We as an organization do not have such information. For the question how many children in Macedonia are left without parental care is best to ask the state institutions in charge.
8. Your activates are targeted at homeless children. What can ,,Megjashi’’ really do for them and on the other hand what can the state do for these children?
The state made a commitment by ratifying the Convention for Prevention of the worst forms of exploitation of child labor and is engaged in fulfillment of the commitments from the convention. But we, as a Children’s Embassy want to point out; that taking children off the street and placing them in the daily care centers is of temporal character. These children, after 4 p.m. are on the streets and on their own again.
In solving this problem the embassy must look for bigger and more serious efforts from the institutions in solving the problem. Namely if for the families that have violated the children employment is not provided for at least one person , shelter and inclusion of these children in compulsory primary education, the children on the streets will still be victims of poverty and illiteracy. We demand that all children on the street should be provided with hot meals, shoes, clothing, textbooks and school accessories. We recommended to the Ministry of Labor and Social Policy to make more serous efforts for the children on the street from an early age to engage in pre-school institutions.
9. Are there enough day care centers in the country that function and what else could help children be collected from the street? Is there another permanent solution to this problem?
Getting children off the streets and their accommodation in the Daily centers is not a solution for the homeless children and beggars. Neither does action with police-arrest give results. The statements that the children beggars are sociological- pathological phenomenon are incorrect and give an ugly picture of Skopje.
When these children have roof over their heads, when the parents will have the minimum means that they earned themselves, when their children are at school instead of on the streets, the problem of child labor abuse may not be eradicated but it will be reduced. If children from the street engage in school they will become part of the educational process and will have other habits and needs. If they are given shelter and at least one person from their family is employed the state will have the mechanisms to remove these benefits from these families if they find the children on the street again. Monthly income and a roof over head is a start for a promising success.
10. What is the situation with child labor exploitation and sexual abuse of minors?
In Macedonia over 2000 children that are daily on the crossroads with stretched arms is a situation that must be overcomed. This violates the children’s fundamental rights. The right to healthy and decent life, right to education, right to health care and a warm home. Many children from the streets are victims of prostitution, seducing for the achievement of material benefit, trafficking children, distributing and using drugs, sexual abuse. We had several cases where parents sexually guided children to adults to achieve material benefits.
11. In comparison with other countries in the region how does Macedonia rank in terms of respect or disrespect of the rights of children and does ,,Megjashi’’ cooperate with a similar institution in the neighboring countries?
It depends on how we see things. If for example we start with the legislation, institutions, changing laws, conventions then it would be logical to conclude that there is a progress in respect of the rights of the child. It is important that in Macedonia 10 years ago the institution deputy Ombudsman for children’s rights was introduced however we strive to establish Ombudsman strictly for the children. In 2001 Macedonia ratified the convention of the International Labor Organization of the worst forms of child labor and recommendation for immediate prevention of abuse of child labor. In 2005 the National Action Plan for children’s rights in the Republic of Macedonia was made for year 2006-2015. Additional supplements and amendments were made to laws relevant to child care, but generally concerning is the fact that more or less they are not yet implemented in practice as scheduled.
As regards to the second part of the question the Children’s Embassy Megjashi cooperates and is a member of several international organizations and networks which provide experience and activates to accomplish for the improvement of children’s rights throughout the world. We are members of the Global Campaign for Education, where for the past ten years we have actively participated in a global campaign for education of children in over 100 countries. Together with members of organization The European Federation for street children we act in order to reduce the number of children on the streets; in the Global March against Child Labor we fight against the worst forms of exploitation of child labor. Through SOS telephone for children and young we are members of the Child Helpline International network which unites SOS phones from countries in the world. Children’s Embassy Megjashi has several more international memberships in EUROCHILD, EURONET, UNITED, Human Rights House. Also we are members and founders of several national coalitions: the Civic Platform of Macedonia Coalition; Coalition “All for fair trial” and Macedonia without discrimination.