I am proud that the campaign 'Raise your hand against smacking' organised by the Council of Europe was launched in Croatia. I am also proud that Croatia introduced a ban on corporal punishment of children in its legislation in 1999. It ranked Croatia among the most progressive European countries. I believe that the development of a society may be assessed by how its systems protect children.
Accession of Croatia to the European Union opens opportunities for a better and more intensive cooperation between the Child Protection Center of Zagreb and the Council of Europe and the European Union member states.
The Council of Europe data show that one in five children in Europe has been a victim of some form of sexual abuse: incest, pornography, prostitution, trafficking, seduction via the Internet, sexual exploitation and sexual abuse.
Pan-European campaign – the role of local and regional bodies
Since the consequences of sexual abuse are often extended from childhood to adulthood, especially if the children have to hide their difficult and traumatic experience from their immediate environment, the protection of children from abuse is the Council of Europe priority. That is the reason why on 29 November 2010, the Pan-European campaign “One in Five” was launched in Rome, where I had been invited to present our Center.
The Council of Europe emphasises that local and regional bodies, in contacts with citizens on a daily basis, can fulfil the strategic action plan and accomplish the goals of the campaign. The plan started with the Council of Europe seminar held on 9 February 2012 in Strasbourg. Its aims are: provide information and knowledge about the sexual abuse of children, define activities that can be conducted in the prevention and intervention and present concrete solutions which can help families, professionals and children in order to prevent sexual abuse and avoid secondary victimization of children-victims.
Procedure in the best interest of the child – Center’s experience
One part of the seminar was devoted to the issue of stopping sexual abuse while taking the best interest of the child in the consideration. My lecture was in that part of the seminar, under the title: “Creating child-friendly environment where children-victims feel safe.”
Special emphasis in my lecture has been on the opportunity of hearing children-victims during the criminal pre-trial procedure in the child adapted environment in the Center so that the professional-court witness interviews the child in a room video-linked to another room where the judge, state attorney, the defendant, lawyers and the social worker follow the interview on the screen. The court witness is audio linked with these professionals who do not ask the child directly but direct their questions to the court witness who then conducts the interview of the child appropriated to the child’s emotional state and age, being primarily concerned with the best interest of the child.
This allows the recording of the interview to be used as evidence in the course of trial, without multiple traumatising hearings of the child-victim, which are sometimes more traumatic than the very experience of abuse.
Some judges already make use of this facility. In order that it becomes the permanent court practice in Croatia, we have already started collaborating with the Ministry of Justice with the professional visit of their Committee in December 2011.
What we gained with the accession to the European Union
As we can see, in the prevention of child sexual abuse and in the protection of sexually abused children, Croatia is not behind the European Union. The issues with which the Council of Europe deals with in the child protection, have been recognised in Croatia and have been dealt with. The establishment of the Child Protection Center of Zagreb at the end of 2002 proves that.
Why do we still benefit from the European Union? Accession to the European union provides better sharing of experience and achieved results, opportunities for joint research and projects, programs of prevention and intervention with abused children, as well as education and exchange of professionals which will contribute to a better protection of abused children.