New bill to prevent children from falling into debt

Photo: archive of People in Need

Over six thousand children in the Czech Republic are currently threatened with a distraint order over unpaid debts, while tens of thousands of young people have debts that they have carried over from their childhood. A new amendment to the Civil Code, set to be debated in the lower house on Monday, aims to prevent minors from falling into debt in the future.

Photo: archive of People in Need
Most of the children’s debts are cause by unpaid fines for fare dodging, unpaid telephone bills or library fines. If their parents forget or refuse to pay, the debt is passed on to bailiffs, who impose interest charges and various forms of penalties, causing the initial sum to increase manifold. As a result, thousands of children enter adulthood already pursued by debt collectors.

An amendment to the Civil Code, put forward by a group of deputies from the ANO party, the Social Democrats, the Christian Democrats and the Pirate Party, is hoping to transfer the responsibility from children to their parents or other legal representatives. Deputy Jan Bartošek of the Christian Democratic Party is one of the proposers of the new legislation:

“The existing strict interpretation of the law goes against common sense. Moreover, the amendment we are proposing would also have educational value. Parents would pay the fine for their children and then they would settle the problem at home.”

Patrik Nacher, an MP from the ruling ANO party, outlines the details of the proposal:

“Responsibility for under-age children should be carried by their legal representative. If the children are in somebody else’s care, then this person should bear the responsibility. In case there is no legal representative, it should be the responsibility of the state.”

The amendment to the Civil Code would not concern all types of debts made by children and youth under the age of 18. Premeditated property damage, such as graffiti spraying, for instance, would be considered as the child’s or the youth’s own responsibility.

According to data released by the Czech Chamber of Licensed Bailiffs, 5.934 children under the age of 18 faced distraint orders last year, while over three thousands of them were not even 15 at the time.

Šimon Pánek,  photo: Šárka Ševčíková / Czech Radio
The majority of children facing property seizure, over 1,300, were in the region of Ústí nad Labem, which suffers from one of the highest levels of unemployment.

Šimon Pánek, head of the non-governmental organisation People in Need, which cooperated on drafting the new legislation, has welcomed the move.

“We believe this move should be the first in a series of steps leading to debt elimination in Czech society. At the moment, many of the debts happen under conditions which should be supervised by the state and in conditions which benefit attorneys and debt-collectors.”

Due to broad support from MPs across the political spectrum, the authors of the bill are hoping it will get approved.