Parliament passes new law on orphans and young offenders
The Lower House of Parliament overrode President Havel's veto to approve a law on Tuesday on living conditions for children in orphanages and correctional institutions. Dita Asiedu asked Dr Jiri Pillar from the Ministry of Youth and Education to explain how the new law will benefit the children concerned:
"The newly passed law will above all enable us to individualize to a greater extent the up-bringing and education of children in the homes. That means that the number of children in each group will be reduced from 15 to eight children. Thus they will get better care and also there will be a greater chance to create a positive relation between the child and the carer."
In order for the law to be passed, President Vaclav Havel's veto had to be overturned by Parliament. Mr Pillar explained what it was that the president objected to:
"The president did not express his disagreement with the whole law, but with only one paragraph, which envisages a new element, something called the 'contracted family' which functions within the institutions. The president felt that this new principle was not backed sufficiently by the legislation. I think that it was a misunderstanding rather than anything more serious."
Marie Vodickova, the Chairwoman of the Fund for Children at Risk, an NGO which has done much to bring these problems to light, sees the legislation and the idea of the contracted family as a big step forward. Under this new law, children who have been put in the state's care are given a chance to spend time with foster families without having to wait for a final decision. Foster families, according to Mr Pillar also help to give children - most of whom have suffered psychological trauma - a more stable and peaceful environment:
"Some children that are placed in children's homes have difficulty functioning in groups, for example, they might be particularly introverted. But with the new system of the "contracted family" it will be possible for the child to join a family on a temporary basis. The family will sign a contract with the institution where the child is assigned, to foster him or her for a specified period. They will have the same rights as parents."
Many who have pushed for the new law to be put into place have also accused institutions of putting children from the age of three into solitary confinement. Although people including Mr Pillar say that this claim is false, the new law addresses the issue and makes it no longer possible for children under the age of 12 years to be placed in solitary confinement.