Are Czech children's care homes still using cage beds?

On Tuesday night, the BBC broadcast a report on its 10 O’Clock News programme, showing children in Czech care homes locked-up in caged beds. The use of cage beds in Czech institutions such as children’s homes has provoked international outcry in the past, and at the beginning of 2007, they were banned by Czech law. The report suggests, however, that the majority of Czech children’s care homes are continuing to use them, and violating the law - but the government claims that nothing illegal is shown in the report, and that the beds featured are more like cots than cages.

Cage beds in Czech institutions have created an uproar in the past. In 2004, the novelist JK Rowling wrote to President Václav Klaus, calling for such beds to be outlawed in the country’s hospitals. The government acted, and cage beds were banished from Czech psychiatry wards. In early 2007, a new law was drafted which banned them from the country’s children’s care homes as well.

But on Tuesday, the BBC aired a report which suggested that care homes were breaking the law, and that the practice of locking up children - some well into their teens - in caged beds continued.

In the past, the use of such beds was defended by those who said that a lack of trained staff meant that children might hurt themselves if left to run free, and that tranquilizing patients was an even less humane option. But campaigners say that cage beds are an infringement of human rights, and that a lack of personnel at care homes is ‘no excuse’.

Today, the Ministry of Social Affairs reacted to the BBC report. Štěpán Černoušek is a ministry spokesperson:

“The point is that the beds shown in the BBC report are not cages. These are normal children’s beds with removable side-flaps, which according to Czech law can be used in individual cases, on the basis of a by-law and doctor’s recommendation. The purpose is to protect children from injuring themselves.”

Does the ministry plan to investigate the BBC’s allegations?

“Yes, inspectors from the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs will go to the care homes which were shown in the BBC report to see if any law has been broken. But from the images shown on the BBC, it doesn’t look like any law has been violated.”

The beds shown in the BBC report may not fit the Czech legal definition of a cage bed. But it’s certain that a lot of people have been outraged by the images, and that the Czech Republic is now under intense international pressure to overhaul its network of children’s care homes.