Politicians call for changes to law in light of Ondrej abuse case

Photo: Otto Ballon Mierny, MFDnes

The case of the little boy abused by his mother is beginning to have political ramifications, two weeks after the seven-year-old was found bound and naked in a broom cupboard. Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek says he wants new legislation to improve the protection of children, while the education minister is calling for tighter controls over home schooling in the Czech Republic.

The case of little Ondrej, discovered by chance in a broom cupboard on May 7th, shocked many people in this country. But the case has also highlighted a number of shortcomings in how the Czech state protects its children.

The raw facts of the case are disturbing. A seven-year-old boy with a hearing disability is systematically abused by his mother - herself a student of child psychology who was planning to work with disabled children. The case is discovered by chance when footage from a neighbour's digital babyminder shows Ondrej tied up naked in a cupboard under the stairs, being force fed his own vomit by his mother.

Ondrej's mother admits the abuse to police but says it had only taken place for the previous fortnight when she was suffering severe emotional strain. The boy, however, tells detectives he had been locked up "a hundred" times. He says he was also locked up by his mother's sister at the children's home where she worked and that one of her colleagues was also involved. Both women deny the accusations.

Mirek Topolanek, photo: CTK
Prime Minister Topolanek says in an article published in Mlada fronta Dnes on Monday that social workers are no longer under central control, so the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs, for example, cannot order them to investigate suspected abuse cases. Mr Topolanek has proposed the creation of a new National Office for Employment and Social Care to co-ordinate the system of child protection.

But the case has highlighted other problem areas. Ondrej never went to school - his mother chose to teach him at home because of his hearing disability. Education Minister Dana Kuchtova told Czech Television she was concerned at the lack of monitoring of children who are schooled by their parents:

"I think we should consider making more regular check-ups of such children. At the moment the consultation is every six months - I think it should be more often."

Meanwhile each day the case seems to throw up more mysterious leads. Police are searching for a 13-year-old girl named Anna, who was adopted this year by Ondrej's mother. She went missing shortly after being taken into care following the woman's arrest. But Anna has literally disappeared without trace - there is no birth certificate, no medical records - and her history is unknown. Press reports have suggested that the single photo police are using to track her down is actually not of the girl at all, but a 34-year-old woman who worked for Ondrej's aunt at the children's home. She resigned in early May, and has since disappeared.

If that was not enough, Mlada fronta Dnes reports that the family was involved in something called the Grail Movement, variously described as a new religious movement or as a cult. The police, claims the paper, have even indicated that the Czech chapter of this international movement was involved in both Anna's disappearance and Ondrej's abuse. A member of the Grail Movement has confirmed there was contact with the family, but denies involvement in any wrongdoing.