Last night’s broadcast of the show ’’Otvoreno”  on Croatian Radiotelevision was devoted to protecting children from domestic violence, unfortunately on the occasion of the case from Pag, which shocked the public when the father threw four of his children from the first floor. The guests of the show were Director of the Center Prof. Sc.D. Gordana Buljan Flander, Head of Juvenile Delinquency and Youth and Family Crime Department of the Directorate of Police Anita Matijević, Judge for youth juveniles of the Zagreb County Court Lana Petö Kujundžić, Ph.D, Children Ombudsperson Helenca Pirnat Dragičević, Assistant Minister for Demography, Family, Youth and Social Policy Maja Vučinić Knežević, Ph.D. and sociologist Prof. Sc.D. Renato Matić.

The Director: “Both as a society and as experts we have too much tolerance for bad behavior of parents towards children”

On the question of the show host and editor Branko Nađvinski, what does she think is a trigger for such serious crime, the director Gordana Buljan Flander, prof. Ph.D said:

-Of course, there are various causes and reasons, from opiates to psychiatric disorders. However, what I would like to say from the position of a court expert who often works with cases of domestic violence, after 35 years of experience in working with children and families, I consider that no matter what happens in the psyche and brain of such people, we as a society and as a profession have too much tolerance for bad behavior of parents towards children. Often when I decided on abolition of parenting rights, every time I thought where were we before”, said the director, and added:

It happens that year after year, we take away parent’s right to live with their child for a year, and after a year it is prolonged, and after a year it is prolonged, and we constantly give parents a chance to be better parents. More chances we give to parents, the more we take from a child to have a normal and healthy life. And I really think we have too much tolerance for bad behavior of parents towards children and for all those states in the brains of mothers and fathers who behave badly towards children and that we should begin to think about the rights of children to peaceful life, to life without violence, not so much parents’ rights to have their children.

“Is the existing system more inclined to protect the rights of victims or to protect the rights of the offender? How many times do the bullies manage to slip underneath the arm of the system and then become recidivists? “, The next question was intended for the Director:

– From the position of practitioner and the position of clinical psychologist and expert witness I can say that very often parents who are violent, and here I am talking about emotional violence, get away with it and that ends up at the expense of the child – said Gordana Buljan Flander.

– I would not want us to point only at Social Welfare Centers… Where are the people in kindergartens who should see violence against children, who need to report to the Center so the Center can react? Where are the people in school? When we ask in the second grade of high school why is this child violent: because perhaps in the first, second, third grade of primary school they had problems, but everyone was playing Pontius Pilate, no one wanted to see or report to the Social Welfare Center so the Center can enter the family and see what’s happening. I truly think that in all parts of the system people very often pretend they cannot see the child’s suffering, turning their heads away from child suffering, then we ask who is guilty? Everybody in the system who did not react and who did not see and who did not want to see.

The Director: “We need to stop cutting costs on children”

In the closing part of the show, the host also opened the topic of working with children victims, but also perpetrators. The director addressed the subject with following words:

– We really have to stop cutting costs on children. Now we are talking about who will work with the victims, when at our Center there is a three-month waiting list for the appointment. We are saving on children. We should preserve the family at all costs, we will not take away parental rights until the child is 10,12, 14 years old, when no one wants to adopt it. So, let’s stop. These things we talked about this evening, we talked about five to ten years ago, and we are still saving on children. The profession has spoken, I think it’s time for politics to take matters into their hands and stop saving children, to start investing in children and professionals working with children.

Judge Lana Petö Kujundžić: “Children do not know about their rights and to whom they can turn to for protection”

Judge Lana Petö Kujundžić spoke about the relationship of the courts to domestic violence:

– Twenty years ago, the focus of criminal justice was on the perpetrator, and sometime around ten to fifteen years ago, we started talking about the victim and their rights. Unfortunately, the criminal law hadn’t been putting the same weight on the victim and the perpetrator, but today I would say that we are trying to equalize their rights. But we are not here yet, we are somehow still on the side. Criminal law looks at how we convict the perpetrator, the victim is just a witness, they go through the process. In fact, we let them fight alone for their rights, not giving them the start in the property-legal sense, or compensation for them to start some additional proceedings. Criminal law is something that is the cut at the end. We get the case when we already have a victim who has been a victim 20 times, and for the first time they are discussing their rights in court proceedings. And there is a problem.

When asked how much are the children aware of their rights and who they can turn to for help, Judge Lana Peto Kujundžić said they were not aware:

– One research from 2018 showed that the children know nothing about their rights, they do not know when they become criminally responsible, they do not know what the court is, they have no idea what the state attorney is, they do not know that the policeman is the person whom they can approach … They should learn that in kindergarten, school and in various playrooms so that preschool children, children up to 8 years know at least a minimum of their rights and who they can turn to for protection.

Assistant Minister of the Family: “We need to ask ourselves where is the limit of parent’s power”

Maja Vučinić Knežević, Ph.D., Assistant Minister of Demography, Family, Youth and Social Policy, responded to the host’s statement that there were signs the children were exposed to domestic violence and that no one, even the Social Welfare Center responded:

– The Center has taken measures, and what seems to us in the ministry, that we sometimes lack a little bit of positive aggression. Sometimes we work purely following the protocols, and I think that in some situations, we should skip just a few steps when we, as experts, see the way the curve is… I agree that we all have to ask the question where is the limit of the power of parents, so these kinds of things wouldn’t happen again.

The aide announced that a new social welfare law was being drafted, with which Family Centers would be separated from Social Welfare Centers, and would have more space to work on the prevention of domestic violence.

Police: “In 2018 there were 16 thousand minor offenses and criminal children from the family-legal protection of children and youth”

Head of Juvenile Delinquency and Youth and Family Crime Department of the Directorate of Police Anita Matijević, emphasized that the police frequently act in child protection:

– Last year we had 16,000 misdemeanors and criminal felonies from the domain of family-legal protection of children and youth. It is a fairly large number. We have established a line of police officers for the youth who are specially trained to work with the worst forms of child abuse, to recognize certain risks, and that is something we will keep on working. We also invest enormous efforts in education. We also change access to victims to encourage them to come talk to us.

She pointed out how important it is to report suspected child abuse to the police in order to respond timely:

-What we definitely have the space to do is to have some extra courage to file a criminal report, not to be afraid of a later judicial epilogue. Very often neither the police nor the social welfare centers receive full information. Citizens are afraid to give their information to the police. In that sense, we have opened the on-line Red Button report mechanism so the citizens who are afraid or for some reason do not want to report that a child is abused in the neighborhood, or they hear crying from the next-door apartment, can do so anonymously. Last year there were 100 of these kinds of reports. It is better to report suspicion that is unfounded than not to report suspicion and to save one’s life.

The Ministry of the Internal Affairs has just created a new Rulebook on Protective Measures of Family Violence.

As Anita Matijević said, it was made after analyzing the measures taken to protect from family violence. Only in 2018 the police carried out 1600 protective measures related to domestic violence:

– We realized that the burden of carrying out the measure should be directed on the offender, instead on the victim. We have changed our approach in a way that we do not think about the perpetrator’s right to privacy and unhindered life, and that now the focus of implementation of the measure is directed on implementation of measure through contacts and verification of the offender’s conduct so the victim can live a normal life without reminding them of the violence they have experienced.

Ombudsperson for Children: “Violators are too mildly sanctioned”

Ombudsperson for Children, Helenca Pirnat Dragičević, emphasized that the violators are too mildly sanctioned through the judicial process:

– I think often there are no security measures, when it would be best if they were sanctioned. Punishment alone is not enough, it is important to continue working with such offenders. I would love it if today all the viewers hear that we should not be silent about violence, that we should speak out, that we should not turn our heads away from violence, that we should not make peace with violence, and therefore I invite all – neighbors, educators, teachers, professors… to confront with this and to report violence even if there is only a suspicion.

Sociologist Matić: “If something happens within the system and could be prevented – we as a system have failed”

Sociologist Renato Matić stated that protocols and laws should be adapted to the situation on the field in order to prevent such tragedies:

– In one of the researches I have conducted, on corruption, I have talked with experts in the ministries of social welfare, the judiciary and the police and politicians who have the leverage of decision-making. And that was in countries for which we would always say are our models: Denmark, Sweden, Norway. Experiences of experts say this: If there are any indications and if the protocol is not sufficient then the expert service in the field will contact a higher level, and as an expert suggests the changes that they must then adopt. Politics only blesses the decision. If the protocol is not based on law, then without any doubts the politics react and things change. So, the precedent is immediately taken into account and preventive measures for the future are introduced. There people say that if something goes wrong inside the system and it could be prevented, we feel that it is our own failure. And we, as a system have failed… – said Renato Matić, Ph.D. and warned:

We as a society have lived through the biggest possible crisis within the last 30 years. It did not take much intelligence of social strategists, political elites who took the power in their hands to make political decisions that we all ought to adhere to, it did not need much wisdom to realize that the weakest link for the next few decades would be family relationships.

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