Committee on Rights of Child examines report of Estonia on Sale of children, Child prostitution and Child pornography

Committee on Rights of Child examines report of Estonia on Sale of children, Child prostitution and Child pornography

The Committee on the Rights of the Child this afternoon reviewed the initial report of Estonia on how that country is implementing the provisions of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography.

Introducing the report, Marten Kokk, Secretary-General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Estonia, underscored that combating sexual offences against children was the main criminal policy priority in Estonia, as outlined in the Declaration adopted by the Minister of Justice and the Minister of the Interior in 2005. Several steps had been taken in recent years in that respect: the punishments for sexual offences against children had been made more severe; the draft law criminalizing "grooming" (i.e. preparing children for prostitution) had been prepared and presented to the Parliament; and active discussions concerning the possibilities to enhance protection of children from sexual abuse had taken place widely, including on the issue of raising the age limit of sexual self-determination and on the necessity of registry of sexual offenders and their medical treatment. As of 2010, there were special child protection services in every police prefecture in Estonia and proceedings of criminal cases concerning child victims would be conducted by specially trained officials who were qualified in the treatment of child victims.

Matters related to Internet crime, including those harmful to children, were another main priority of the Police in 2010, Mr. Kokk said. There were special units tackling the matter and the police were searching for leads concerning the abuse of children on the Internet, and Internet channels popular among children were supervised and public Internet comment sites and sites involved in mediation of prostitution were also monitored. In order to facilitate reporting of children in danger and in need of help, the Ministry for Social Affairs had opened a national helpline, which also provided information and counselling to both children and adults.

Committee Expert Hatem Kotrane, who served as Rapporteur for the report of Estonia, in preliminary concluding observations, said that today's debate had revealed Estonia's genuine determination to implement the Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography. Among issues that would be the subject of recommendations would be prevention programmes; the adaptation of Estonian legislation to ensure that it was fully in compliance with the provisions of the Optional Protocol and that all acts and offences were covered; and activities to reintegrate and rehabilitate child victims.

During the discussion other Committee Experts also asked questions and raised concerns on a number of topics, including measures to protect institutionalized children from sexual exploitation; what funding existed for prevention policies and for launching justice mechanisms in this area; and the phenomenon of child sex tourism and efforts to combat it.

The Committee will release its formal, written concluding observations and recommendations on the report of Estonia towards the end of its three-week session, which will conclude on 29 January.

Also representing the delegation of Estonia was Juri Seilenthal, the Permanent Representative of Estonia to the United Nations Office at Geneva, as well as representatives from the Ministry of Social Affairs; the Police and Border Guard; and the Chancellor of Justice (Ombudsman).

As one of the States parties to the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, Estonia is obliged to report to the Committee on its efforts to comply with the provisions of the Protocol. The delegation was on hand to present the report and to answer questions raised by Committee Experts.

When the Committee reconvenes at 10 a.m. on Thursday, 14 January, it will take up the second periodic report of Cameroon (CRC/C/CMR/2) in Chamber A. The consideration of reports by Sierra Leone under the two Optional Protocols in Chamber B has been postponed.

Report of Estonia

The initial report of Estonia under the Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography (CRC/C/OPSC/EST/1) says different specialists and officials have been regularly trained to provide information about the rights of the child, human trafficking, sexual abuse, and other topics related to violence and child protection workers, social welfare workers, psychologists, medical workers, teachers, and workers in welfare institutions have been trained to deal with sexually abused or trafficked children. Considerable attention has also been paid in recent years to training police officers, prosecutors, and judges. Since 2003, police officers have regularly participated in seminars and training events organized by higher educational establishments, government agencies, and non-profit associations. In the framework of the PHARE project “Improving investigation involving digital evidence”, launched in summer 2004, training was provided to police officers, and police were trained to find child pornography on the Internet. In addition, the police and prosecutors’ offices include people specially trained to interview children and conduct criminal proceedings involving minors. Special rooms with a child-friendly appearance and the necessary technical means have been equipped for interviewing children.

In terms of services for victims, the national victim support system was launched on 1 January 2005 on the basis of the Victim Support Act. Thirty-five regional victim support workers in 16 victim support centres throughout Estonia were hired. The police cooperate with victim support workers, forwarding information about victims to support workers in order to enable minors to access the necessary support. Under the Victim Support Act, every person subjected to suffering or damage can have access to victim support. Regarding cases of violence against children notified to the victim support centre, in 2005 there were 278 cases; in 2006, 283 cases; and in 2007, 240 cases. Currently, no information is available about the exact reasons behind each case, but there are plans to start collecting and registering information about types of cases in the future. Also under the Victim Support Act victims of violence are entitled to psychological counselling.

Presentation of Report

MARTEN KOKK, Secretary-General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Estonia, introducing the report, emphasized the importance of a comprehensive and coherent national approach towards the protection of children from all forms of violence and abuse, including in the fields outlined in the Optional Protocol. In that regard, Estonia had over the years established several development plans covering different areas related to the protection of children. The Strategy for Guaranteeing the Rights of the Child, 2004-2008, coordinated the field of children's rights and also entailed provisions related to prevention of the abuse of children and other areas covered by the Protocol. Activities related to the prevention of trafficking in children had been included in the Development Plan for Combating Trafficking in Human Beings, 2006-2009. Currently, in 2010, Estonia had initiated the Children's and Family Policy Development Plan, which also included matters related to children's rights and family welfare.

Mr. Kokk also noted that a Development Plan for Tackling Violence had been initiated in 2009 to intensify the combat against violence and it concentrated on decreasing offences committed against and by children, as well as domestic violence and human trafficking. The elaboration of the latter plan was coordinated by the Ministry of Justice, which had involved also various government agencies, non-governmental organizations and citizens' forums in the process.

Combating sexual offences against children was the main criminal policy priority in Estonia, Mr. Kokk said, as outlined in the Laulasmaa Declaration adopted by the Minister of Justice and the Minister of the Interior in 2005. Several steps had been taken in recent years in that respect: the punishments for sexual offences against children had been made more severe; the draft law criminalizing "grooming" (i.e. preparing children for prostitution) had been prepared and presented to the Parliament; and active discussions concerning the possibilities to enhance protection of children from sexual abuse had taken place widely, including on the issue of raising the age limit of sexual self-determination and on the necessity of registry of sexual offenders and their medical treatment. In 2009, as a result of the discussions, the Ministry of Justice had found that a system of medical treatment should be developed to decrease the recidivism of sexual offenders.

In terms of protections for child victims and witnesses, proceedings related to offences regarding minors were conducted speedily and were as minimally traumatising to the child as possible. As of 2010, there were special child protection services in every police prefecture in Estonia. Moreover, proceedings of criminal cases concerning child victims would be conducted by specially trained officials who were qualified in the treatment of child victims and the Police were carrying out activities regarding reintegration of minor offenders into society.

Mr. Kokk also emphasized that matters related to Internet crime, including those harmful to children, were another main priority of the Police in 2010. There were special units tackling the matter and the Police were searching for leads concerning the abuse of children on the Internet. Internet channels popular among children were supervised and public Internet comment sites and sites involved in mediation of prostitution were also monitored. Moreover, in 2009, the Estonian Union for Child Welfare had filed a project application to join the European Union programme "Safer Internet Plus", to receive support for opening a hotline for reporting inappropriate Internet contents and a helpline to provide counselling on the matter.

Promoting the idea of positive parenting had become a very important priority in preventive work in the area of child protection, Mr. Kokk noted. In 2009, a roundtable on parental education had been initiated at the Ministry of Social Affairs, with several non-governmental organizations engaged in supporting parenting, and the matter had been set as a priority in the Ministry's development plan.

Mr. Kokk also observed that during the past few years many social campaigns had also been organized. Regarding the prevention of risk behaviour, in 2008, a sexual health campaign "conscious choice" had been carried out.

In order to facilitate reporting of children in danger and in need of help, the Ministry for Social Affairs had opened a national helpline. In addition to the possibility of reporting children in need of help, the helpline provided information and counselling to both children and adults. Several campaigns had been carried out in 2009 to promote that helpline, especially among children.

To coordinate the policies related to the welfare of children and families more effectively, a separate department for child and family policies was being created within the Ministry of Social Affairs in 2010, Mr. Kokk said. The main tasks of the department for the next year would be to elaborate a Children's and Family Policy Development Plan, improve the Child Protection Act, promote parental education and prevent violence against children. One of the first tasks in 2010 was to enact the prohibition of corporal punishment of children in the Child Protection Act.

As regarded the setting up of a Children's Ombudsman, that subject was currently under active discussion. There had been several roundtables and discussions organized at different levels, where representatives of Parliament, relevant ministries, the Office of the Chancellor of Justice and various non-governmental organizations had participated.

With regard to the international legal framework, the delegation was glad to inform the Committee that the Government had recently approved the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings. In 2008, Estonia had also signed the Council of Europe Convention on the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse and it was currently in the process of ratifying it. Moreover, in October 2008, Estonia had welcomed the visit of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, and her positive encouragement and recommendations for further work had also greatly contributed to the developments referred to.

Questions by Experts

HATEM KOTRANE, the Committee Expert serving as Rapporteur for the report of Estonia, was pleased to note the new commitments Estonia had undertaken with regard to children, notably the European Council Conventions, which would strengthen protections for children. He noted that Estonia had also made great efforts to harmonize its legislation with international instruments and to streamline methods of prevention.

Turning to questions, Mr. Kotrane said it was still not clear which body was responsible for coordinating matters related to the Optional Protocol. Sometimes it appeared to be the Ministry of Justice, at others the Ministry of Social Welfare. There was also no standing body to take complaints from children and families specifically for offences under the Protocol.

Mr. Kotrane further noted that the Committee specifically requested parties to the Optional Protocol to incorporate all the offences it defined in their national legislation. However, he had some questions as to whether all those offences were covered in Estonia. Forced labour and adoption for purposes of remuneration, for example, appeared not to be punishable as offences of sale of children.

Regarding the prohibition on pornography, Mr. Kotrane did not understand in report why there was an age limit of 14 for such offences. That age limit occurred again in the definition of other sexual offences, and some clarification was requested.

Mr. Kotrane was also concerned that Estonia might not have extraterritorial jurisdiction for offences under the Protocol committed outside the country, where there was no specific domestic offence defined in national criminal legislation.

Other Experts also asked a series of questions on a number of topics, including how vulnerable groups of children were identified; what measures were taken to protect institutionalized children from sexual exploitation; what funding existed for prevention policies and for launching justice mechanisms in this area; and whether it was planned to give responsibility for coordination of issues under the Protocol to the new department of Children's and Family Policy, which did not appear to have enough resources or sufficient stature to ensure interagency and interministerial cooperation in this area. Other areas of concern for Experts included the phenomenon of child sex tourism and efforts to combat it; whether Estonia had or would consider adopting an integrated strategy or action plan that would focus on all the areas covered by the Optional Protocol; the need to distinguish between child trafficking and child sale; and the obligation imposed by the Protocol that parties adopt specific legislation criminalizing the sale of children.

Discussion

Responding to Experts' questions, with regard to coordination, the delegation said the new department of Children and Family Policy would be operational in February, with six staff members.

As Estonia was quite small it was easy to coordinate activities. In the past, coordination for the Protocol had been done via the National Strategy on the Rights of the Child, under the Ministry of Social Affairs. From now on, such issues would be coordinated under a new strategy document to combat violence, which would be ready in January. The overall responsibility for that strategy was the Ministry of Justice; however, the subgroup on violence against children was under the Ministry of Social Affairs. So far, there was no problem in cooperation between the two ministries.

With regard to incorporation of the Protocol in domestic legislation, the gap in Estonia's legislation, which did not have specific provisions on trafficking of human beings, was currently being worked on. They were not at the end of the road, but they were somewhere midway in getting that issue resolved. It might be confusing that the offences covered in the Optional Protocol were spread out in different areas of Estonian legislation, but the delegation guaranteed that the sale of children and forced labour of children were now fully covered under the Criminal Code, and trafficking would in future be a separate offence.

With regard to the prohibition of the use of children under 14 years for production of pornographic works, the delegation said that a new draft law would close the gap to cover children between 14 and 18 years of age, and harsher penalties would be applied if the children used were members of vulnerable groups. In addition, a new offence would be added to cover persons knowingly attending or viewing sexual performances by children. Possession of child pornography was also penalized in Estonia.

Concerning the Chancellor of Justice (Ombudsman Institution) and the right of children to file complaints, the delegation said that while children could complain directly to the Chancellor of Justice there had not been many brought. There had not been any complaints brought regarding the offences under the Protocol, as those areas were not in the competence of the Chancellor of Justice but were generally dealt with by the Prosecutor's Office or the Police. Regarding establishment of a separate ombudsman for children, the delegation said that that possibility was under discussion, but warned that Estonia was both under heavy pressure to reduce costs in government, and also reminded the Committee of Estonia's small size.

An Expert was concerned about a lack of prosecutions on cases of sex tourism, although it was known that there was sex tourism in Estonia. Moreover, what measures existed to help prevent involvement of children in sex tourism and to prevent perpetrators from coming to the country.

The delegation responded that some non-governmental organizations had actively started discussions and trainings on the issue of sex tourism. There was also a code of ethics in the field of tourism which contained sections on sex tourism, and the new action plan for children included a recommendation that tourist agencies adopt that code.

The helpline had started last year. It had 24-hour service, and provided help in three languages. It was possible to receive counselling over the phone, as well as to report cases. People could report cases anonymously. All cases were referred to the police, and the helpline also was responsible for following up with the local authorities to see what had been done.

On Internet questions, the delegation noted that Estonia was a high-risk country for Internet crime affecting children. In 2008, they had started a network of different actors, under the Ministry of Social Affairs, including child right non-governmental organizations and representatives of the private sector, including Microsoft. The network provided a Web page, with virtual training for parents on safer Internet use, and seminars were undertaken with children and young people on safe Internet use. The issues had also been covered in the school curriculum, and a number of schools with information technology courses included information on this issue.

In 2006, daily Internet monitoring had been launched at one police prefecture, and they followed all traffic that might be connected with child pornography. As of 2008, this Internet monitoring had been carried out countrywide. Systematic reporting on the monitoring was also carried out. Both Estonian and Russian-language Web sites were monitored. Since the Internet monitoring had been launched nationally, 10 to 15 criminal cases had been initiated. Not all of them had reached the courts, however, the delegation added.

Asked what was being done to ensure that child victims of crimes under the Protocol reported those crimes, the delegation noted that public trust in police authorities was recorded as about 80 per cent, as of 2007. Signs indicated that reporting of crimes had risen with an increase in public trust in law enforcement. There were some 4,000 police officers, and with the combination of the border police with the regular force this year, there were now 6,000. There were 110 regular police officers specialized in juvenile areas, and 14 fully specialized police investigators in the public prosecutors officers that specialized in serious crime against children. In addition, there were approximately 50 semi-specialized police investigators, who had had all the necessary training to deal with children, working in regional units.

Regarding victims' support, in the Police and the Prosecutor's Office there were specific guidelines for dealing with minors, including minor victims, the delegation said. For example, the Police were obligated to inform child protection officials when children were victims of crime or when they were in vulnerable situations at home or at school. In conjunction to its Victims Support System, since 2007, family mediation services were offered, as well as rehabilitation services for victims and offenders.

Finally, with regard to international cooperation, the delegation said there was good cooperation at the Baltic Sea level with regard to children at risk issues. All the Baltic Sea States, except for Latvia, participated in a group that worked to tackle sexual exploitation and abuse of children, including via the Internet. In November 2009, that group had held a conference on the issue in Russia, which was an important achievement as a lot of child pornography was coming out of that country. There was also a special group to tackle human trafficking, and they worked in close cooperation at the Interpol and Europol level in that area.

HATEM KOTRANE, the Committee Expert serving as Rapporteur for the report of Estonia, in preliminary concluding observations, said that today there had been a very fruitful and constructive debate with Estonia, which had revealed Estonia's genuine determination to implement the Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography.

Estonia was undergoing major changes, and it was clear that the political authorities wanted to give human rights pride of place in the new political set up. In that connection, the Committee would make recommendations that it was hoped would assist the State in its determination to tackle issues under the Protocol. Among issues that would be the subject of recommendations would be programmes for prevention; the adaptation of Estonian legislation to ensure that it was fully in compliance with the provisions of the Optional Protocol and all acts and offences were covered; regarding international cooperation in these areas; and in terms of activities to reintegrate and rehabilitate child victims.

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