Interview with Dragi Zmijanac, the first person of the First Children’s Embassy in the World Megjashi
Newspaper VECER 22 MAY 2012 No. 14996 Journalist Stefan Rashkovski and Ognen Cacarevic
Life imprisonment and chemical castration for the paedophiles!
Dragi Zmijanac is the head of the First Children’s Embassy Megjashi for several years and has taken the burden of fighting for the rights and protection of children in Macedonia. With his team and the modest resources and legal tools available they managed to change the public awareness in the country and to convince and educate the children that they have their rights and that there is always someone to protect them.
For 20 years through the First Children’s Embassy in the World, the idea is living that the children have their own country. Are you personally satisfied with the work?
Megjashi is the first children’s country in the world which is located in the triangle between Bosnia, Serbia and Croatia where the Islam meets the Catholicism and the Orthodoxy. Our idea is to fight against the boundaries, no limits, no police, and no customs. To be an Ambassador a person needs to have people and territory, and we believe that the comprised people in the world are the children regardless of religion, nation and social status. The child nation has its own country that is called Megjashi. Although it is just an idea, it lives for 20 years through the First Children’s Embassy in the World Megjashi, which in a specific way, as an international organization represents the best interests of the children and fight for their protection when they violate the rights in the family and the in institutions where the children are placed.
Megjashi celebrated two decades of existence. What is the progress and what positive impact has Megjashi achieved for these years?
If we compare how we started and where we are now, we are still worried about the transition and the uncertainty as well as the potential problems with wars and conflicts that are still present in the Balkans. On a dramatic call from Sarajevo, we cared for refugee children affected by war in Bosnia and Herzegovina. At one time we were actively engaged in organizing their migration to other Western countries in order to make room in Macedonia because at one time there were 60,000 child refugees in Macedonia. As we started to provide care for the refugees we also implemented activities for the children in Macedonia. First we opened the SOS helpline for children and youth, a free legal service and counseling in person, children's workshops, creative activities where the children use their free time, friendship center, center for children allergic to gluten and other developments which at that time were first opened in the country. What concern us now are the latest events that definitely threaten the safety and security of the children. I'm talking about sowing intolerance among young people, lack of common strategy for life and building a future.
Lately, the public is a witness of frequent cases of sexual and physical abuse of children. What is the reason for that?
That is the hardest trauma that could happen to a child. Sometimes the children are silent for years about what happened to them because they are ashamed and scared about what they will say to their closest from which, quite often, they don’t get protection. Our experiences show that mostly the girls are victims, every fourth girl and every seventh boy to 17 years of age, at least once has been sexually abused of molested. We broke the silence of the children and the path that they go through. The children are encouraged to report the violence, but they don’t have enough of parental and institutional care. Namely, what is missing now is a shelter for children victims of pedophilia and incest because both psychiatrists and psychologists have assured us that the first 48 hours are crucial for any child victim of sexual abuse. We also introduced the SOS helpline that operates for 19 years and it is a direct service for assistance and support. So far we have registered 18,500 calls from children and that is our main indicator of the problems and the situations with the children. What concerns us is that there more call from adults regarding the children who have problems than from the children themselves. The SOS helpline needs to be harmonized with the European number 116111, and in this regard the Committee on the Rights of the Children in Geneva gave clear recommendations to the Government with the support of Child Help International to help realize the project of merging the two SOS lines. The merger with the European number would mean 24-hour operation and the children will be able to call from all landline and mobile operators.
The debate about the chemical castration is escalating, especially after the last case of the pedophile in Skopje, what is the Megjashi’s opinion?
We spoke loudly in 2008 that we stand for a life sentence for the simple reason that we have no assurance that the pedophiles, while they serve the sentence, have a reliable treatment. Unfortunately, some cases repeated which confirmed our observation that the recidivism is a major characteristic of pedophiles and that there is no reliable treatment for resettlement. That means either complete isolation - prison, hospital, or life imprisonment. We raise the threshold of intolerance toward the pedophiles and the judges may assign life imprisonment under Article 188 of the penal law if the offense occurred on heinous way, or if the abuse was done by several perpetrators. Unfortunately, in Republic of Macedonia, despite the several cases of incest by a parent who raped his daughters in Veles and an earlier case when a parent with his friend raped two sisters aged 7 and 8 years, the courts didn’t assign life imprisonment. This means that after serving the sentence of 15 years when the perpetrator of this serious crime will go out on liberty the following measures will be provided: chemical castration or medication therapy by which the libido and the instinct of the offender will be controlled and bracelet-locators that will help the police correctly identify the location of the pedophile. An appropriate measure is the limited access to the central register of convicted pedophiles in which the parents and the employers can find information about the perpetrators convicted of this criminal act and act preventively to protect the children.
Has this topic been discussed with the relevant state institutions? Are they willing to introduce chemical castration in Macedonia? What is their opinion regarding this issue?
Our views have always been transparent in this context, but I will repeat that increasing the penalties and the Central Registry and chemical castration will not solve the problem of recidivism until all institutions are mobilized, including the parents in a greater prevention, educating the children in self protection in terms of avoiding risky behavior of risk groups in terms of greater trust to the children victims in order to not be further traumatized in the process of proving the guilt of the offender.
What is the official opinion of Megjashi regarding the chemical castration and the problem of pedophiles?
Besides the increase of the penalties of 10-15 years minimum upwards, the pedophilia is still growing, we offer additional measures which are: to have limited access to central registry of pedophiles, chemical castration and wearing electronic bracelets-locators so that the Centre for Social Work and the police will have constant strict supervision of the pedophiles so they do not repeat the offense. Pedophiles are always repeating the crime which suggests that the pedophile simply can not control the urge.
How do you rate the work of the social workers, do they cooperate with you and what is their mobility and activity in the field?
The cooperation exists, but the effectiveness has slowdown. We commonly repeat one situation several times, and meanwhile the child is a victim is not helped time. If we notice the absence of functional protection of the institutions we turn to the ombudsman, the public prosecutor, the police or some line ministries depending on the problem. We find it essential the quick intervention for the child to be placed in a secure environment and that means that the state must raise the capacity of its institutions, especially the centers for social work. Generally, although not all centers of social work, they are not present in the field are not sufficiently mobile and the general excuse is that they are waiting for a call, if there is a problem in the centers for social work. The centers for social work should not only provide social assistance but should consider the families at risk, to prevent the violence on time, take away the parental right before the mother beats the son or the father rapes his daughter.
What is Megjashi’s opinion and what specific actions are undertaken for the children who are abused in political campaigns, for political purposes, inmates in organized political protests and rallies?
We have reacted many times that the political parties and their political offspring should not recruit young people less than 18 years of age in order to achieve any benefits to the political parties, the campaigns and their interests. We have reacted several times about the political abuse of children. Unfortunately we failed to fully fight, even though the Ombudsman supported us when a civic organization held a rally with a group of children "Macedonia in NATO, we, the children their gold." Each year when local parliamentary and presidential elections occur, we remind the political parties that they should bear responsibility if in the campaigns they include children, in the billboards, in their videos or be present at their meetings. We talk, especially from a security perspective, and then in terms of impact on their right of opinion and choice.
The street has children beggars. The action of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, "Beggars" was intended to gather the children, take them to the daycare centers until 5 pm, and afterwards they are left on the street again. What do you think about this?
In 2008, we clearly stated that by arresting and removing the children of the street will not solve the problem of beggars. We provided clear recommendations to the Government and for 11 years we are campaigning for the inclusion of children in education. We clearly stated that with the inclusion of a child in education, we have one child less on the street. By removing the street children off the street and their involvement in the day care centers which do not have that role to be schools is not entirely solution of the problem. To acquire certain habits in the day care center, hygiene and health and there is some process of literacy, but after 5 p.m. they are left again on the street and often their parents use them for their social causes. Work needs to be done with both the parents and the children.
There is a possibility of a fine, penalty, and sanction for the parents who have not enrolled their children in school, yet the courts returned these items to the educational inspectors. Our data shows that 5% or 6% of the total population is not involved in education, which means 18 500 children and over 200,000 children from previous generations have not completed the primary education. Every day on the streets in Macedonia there is some type of child labor abuse and over 2000 children are exposed to begging, selling food products, heavy physical work etc. A problem in the country is the invisible group of children in the birth register. This means that from 500 to 1,500 children are not recorded in the Republic of Macedonia, and these children are often victims of child trafficking, trafficking with child organs, sexual abuse and child prostitution.