EU notes problems in handling child abuse

26/02/2013

A broad-based study examines the problem and offers suggestions to help deal with it.

By Menekse Tokyay for Southeast European Times in Istanbul -- 26/02/13

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A Turkish girl, wearing a wedding dress and covered with fake bruises, shouts in front of other protesters holding placard reading "end violence" during a demonstration in Ankara in 2011. [AFP]

An EU-funded study of child abuse in Turkey and several Balkan countries uncovered a significant problem and uneven responses by governments, but civil society groups said their push for greater visibility and effective actions will help.

"People who want to intervene -- and children themselves -- feel isolated and do not always know where to go for help, who to refer to, and whether to trust that responsible services will act upon reporting," Séverine Jacomy-Vite, chief of the child protection section of UNICEF in Turkey, told SETimes. "Also, there is still general social acceptance and taboos about child abuse, especially violence in the home and sexual abuse."

Results of the wide-ranging Balkan Epidemiological Study on Child Abuse and Neglect were released January 31st.

The 2.9 million euro project sought to give those involved in the issue a benchmark. Researchers' goal was to measure the extent of child abuse and offer measurement tools to policy makers and agencies working with victims.

Begun in October 2009, the study targeted children 11 to 16 years old. More than 30,000 people were surveyed, including children and parents, about abuse and neglect.

The study was the largest conducted in the Balkan region, the EU said.

"The aim of this study is to raise awareness of the issues and to encourage the relevant institutions to act and to establish a new social service that will provide assistance to children," project manager George Nikolaidis told SETimes.

Officials said the survey indicated a worrisome picture in Turkey, where 7,540 children were interviewed.

Findings include 78.6 percent of the children declared themselves as victim of child abuse, and for more than once. In addition, 70.4 percent reported psychological abuse, 58.1 percent cited physical abuse, and 42.4 percent were victims of neglect.

The survey interviewed 7,540 children in Turkey.

Acknowledging progress being made in the country, the report called for advanced training for police, judges, prosecutors and lawyers.

The report also urged Turkey to make its judicial system more "child friendly" and said the system's slow pace was harmful to young victims. Also, various government agencies should work together to have a greater impact, the report said.

The survey also confirmed many abuse and neglect cases do not reach authorities as people seek to "protect the honour of the family" due to the pre-established cultural codes.

According to a draft law, expected to be passed by the parliament this year, legal proceedings will be initiated regardless of the complaint of the abused children, and those who have committed child abuse will not be allowed to work around children. The years of punishment will also be increased.

"UNICEF research on gaps in responsiveness to identified cases shows that there is increased professional capacity and willingness to react about this situation in Turkey, which is good news," Jacomy-Vite said.

UNICEF-Turkey recommends more research on public perceptions and awareness-raising campaigns, to be combined with more family support and child-friendly reporting and complaint systems, she said.

"In this way taboos will be broken and social behaviours that allow child abuse to happen can change towards stronger prevention and protection of children," Jacomy-Vite said.

Findings on the Balkan countries include:

Serbia -- The survey found 70 percent of children at least once in their life experienced psychological or physical violence, and more than 8 percent experienced sexual violence. And 2 percent said the sexual abuse occurred in the last year. One fourth of the children surveyed said they had been neglected at least once in their life.

Most common forms of physical violence included being slapped in the face or buttock and being pulled by the hair. About 1 percent experienced severe violence in the last year.

"These are the children who should be recognized by the system of health system and system of social and education protection and should intervene," Veronika Ispanovic Radojkovic, neuropsychiatrist for youth and national coordinator of the survey in Serbia, told SETimes.

In the last 15 years, Serbia established a legal basis for child protection in accordance with international and European standards. Experts, however, cite the need of strict regulation, especially on banning physical punishment.

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Romanian girls in bridal gowns carry banners reading "Stop domestic violence" and "I refuse abuse" during a protest against domestic violence in Bucharest. [AFP]

Romania -- In 2012, some 42 percent of children suffered abuse and 11 percent of cases required immediate intervention.

According to the data provided by the General Department for Children Protection, there are registered in Romania approximately 11,000 cases of abuse and tens of thousands of children are victims of parental neglect and emotional abuse.

About 84,000 of the neglect cases have at least one parent who works abroad, the agency said.

To help, Asociatia Telefonul Copilului, as a non-governmental organization, offers the services of the Romanian Child Helpline, the national first aid phone line specialised in child protection issues (116 111). It provides children with an opportunity to express their concerns, talk about issues directly affecting them and contact someone in an emergency situation.

The help line offers professional counseling to children and parents. Romania was the third country in the EU, after Hungary and Czech Republic, to provide this service.

"Ever since 2001, a total of 1,843,961 calls have been registered up-to-date and … we identified 40.269 cases which required the immediate intervention of competent institutions," Catalina Florea, executive director of the NGO, told SETimes.

Macedonia -- results show that 65 percent of children at least once in their life experienced psychological violence, physical violence 51 percent, and about 8 percent experience sexual violence. More than one fourth of the surveyed children (27 percent) felt like being neglected (at least once in their life), and 24 percent during the last year."

Health and social services in Macedonia have, in the last five years, sought to harmonize its legal system according to the Convention of the Rights of Children and other international legislation, as well as finalize a national plan of action on child abuse.

Marija Raleva, child and adolescent neuropsychiatrist and national coordinator of the survey in Macedonia, said progress is being made.

"The awareness against use of violent practices against children is growing and parents could be thought on adopting positive ways of disciplining children," Raleva told SETimes. "So, what we need is paying attention to primary and secondary preventive measures, before violence happens."

Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) -- The survey found 72.48 percent of children encountered psychological violence experience, 67.65 percent physical violence and 48.04 percent neglect.

"What is particularly disturbing is the prevalence of violence within the family," Jelena Brkic-Šmigoc, project coordinator and principal researcher for BiH, told SETimes. "What we call physical punishment and what is in our culture approves, in fact, a violent act."

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Experts said legislative reform on domestic violence law was needed to cover child abuse, as well as an awareness campaign aimed at parents who are often the perpetrators of abuse against their own children.

The nation's child protection system is too fragmented, researchers said.

"There have been some problems during the analysis of such filling cases in the social work centres, because there is no standardized monitoring and recording, which prevented us to have a clearer picture of the whole system," Brkic-Šmigoc said.

Correspondents Linda Karadaku, Gabriel Petrescu, Katica Djurovic, Ana Lovakovic, and Marina Stojanovska contributed to this report.

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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