Children's rights not fully respected, conference claims


The rights of the child aren't violated in the Czech Republic, but neither are they fully respected - that, in a nutshell, is the situation as summarized by the eighth Czech conference on the rights of the child, held in Prague on Monday and Tuesday. Olga Szantova was there.

The conference was organized by the Czech UNICEF committee and the Organization for the Protection of Children's Rights. It dealt with such issues as children's social rights, education, children in problem families and numerous other issues, including, for example the attitude of courts towards children. Many judges, one of the participants told me, will not deal with a child's problems without the mother's being present, which means that a child cannot come for help if he or she is being mistreated by a family member, or if he or she doesn't want the parents to know about the problem.

But the United Nation's Convention on the Rights of the Child stipulates the right of children to be heard on their own. The then Czechoslovakia ratified the Convention way back in February 1991. But ten years later its implementation is still a matter of discussion - and will remain a matter of discussion for years, one of the organizers of the conference, Jiri Haskovec told me.

"In fact, the Convention will never be completely fulfilled. It's a process, an aim we have to work towards. The BASIC rights of the child - such as the right to education, health care, etc. are fully respected in the Czech Republic. The situation is comparable to that in Western Europe and the United States."

Dr. Haskovec does agree, however, that in Czech schools children do not have the same rights as in Western countries, that Czech teachers' traditionally authoritarian approach is very hard to break, and that the schools where the situation has changed are very much an exception. And the Ministry of Education isn't tackling the issue effectively.

"It's a problem. The ministry is actually divided into two parts. We have the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport, but the part that deals with education - i.e. schools, curricula, exams, etc. - is separate from the rest. That only confirms the traditional belief that schools deal with teaching and nothing else. That's only one example of the lack of a complex approach to children's rights in this country."

But complicated as the situation may be, the rights of the child at school are only a minor part of the problems still to be tackled. Some months ago a campaign to protect abused children was launched. It tries to explain that by ignoring a child, not paying enough attention to it, parents are actually mentally torturing it.

And there is the problem of child abuse and prostitution. The Czech Republic has no law prohibiting child labor. The problems dealt with at the UNICEF conference are complex and as Dr Haskovec put it, will never be fully resolved.

Author: Olga Szantová
run audio