There is a number of definitions of child abuse and neglect (medical, psychological, social-protective, legal). Defining the meaning of child abuse and neglect, it is important to take into account two assessments: parental/carer behaviours on one, and impact on the child on the other hand. Child abuse includes everything individuals, institutions or processes do or fail to do, which directly or indirectly harms the child or imposes risks for his/her healthy and safe development into adulthood.
- Is the police allowed to interview the child without parent’s presence?
Police is not allowed to interview the child without parent’s presence, unless the parent is the perpetrator. If the parent is not available, the interview can be performed in the presence of a social worker or other professional of the Social care center within whose competence child’s residence is. Regardless of who is present, the parent or a professional, the one who conducts the interview is the police officer, assisted by some other professionals.
- Must the child bear witness in the court of justice?
If summoned to the court of justice, the child must bear witness. Up to 16 years of age, the subpoena is served to parents, guardians or educators if in an institution. If the parent is served with the subpoena, and the child is not able to bear witness for health reasons, i.e. cannot come to the court, the adult is obliged to inform the judge or the court professional in order to get informed about the rights and obligations and to find out what is in child’s best interest.
The judge, who obtains the facts about the child from court professionals, decides about the time and manner of hearing the child
The judge shall relate to the child especially sensitively in order to avoid possible harmful effects on child’s upbringing and development, bearing in mind child’s age, personality characteristics, education and living circumstances.
- Who conducts the hearing of the child in the court of justice?
The judge conducts the hearing of the child in the court of justice. If the child is below 16, a psychologist, educator or some other professional conducts the hearing of the child, without the judge or other parties being present in the same room with the child. The hearing is recorded audio-visually, so that parties can ask questions through the judge, a psychologist, an educator or other person.
When a child older than 16 is being heard as a witness and is not able to give a true statement due to the fear of the accused being present, the judge may decide that the accused be sent out during the hearing.
- Does the parent have to bear witness in the court of justice?
In cases where a child or underage is concerned, if summoned by the court, the parent has to bear witness. Even when the case is that the perpetrator is the spouse or a family member, the parent does not have the benefits of refusing to bear witness, due to the fact that a child or an underage is the victim.
The parent is always obliged to bear witness in the court of justice, to talk about the living circumstances of the child or to give additional information about the child.
- Does the child have to be examined by a gynaecologist?
Medical examination recommended or required by the police or the court is conducted with the parent’s consent. It is important to know that gynaecological examination is often suggested as part of the investigation into suspected sexual abuse, and that it is a way of collecting evidence, which is, among other things, in child’s interest. When there is a sexual abuse suspected, it is important to conduct medical examinations of the child in order to protect child’s health.
- Is the parent/child entitled to see the verdict?
On behalf of the child as a victim, the parent is entitled to see the court file and to receive the valid verdict. If the verdict has not been delivered, the parent is entitled to demand it from the court.
- Why is Social care center involved in cases when the child is sexually abused by a person outside the family?
Everybody is obliged to report children’s rights violation to a Social care center. Then the Center contacts the child and the family.
Center’s activities, within its competences, are directed towards helping the victim. The Center collects family data, informs them about their legal rights, and, if necessary, refers them to the appropriate institution and undertakes measures to protect child’s rights.
- Why should Social care center be informed in cases of inappropriate sexualised activities happening among peers in the kindergarten or in school?
Involving Social care centers is important for collecting the information about the family circumstances of the child where developmentally inappropriate sexualised activities are present and the information about the context of the case. The information are useful for further proceedings directed to protect and help the children who participated in these activities.
- Does the kindergarten/school have to know that the child has experienced a sexual abuse?
It is advisable that some of the professionals working at the kindergarten/school attended by the child knows about the experience the child has had. It is important, above all, in order to ensure the additional support that the child may need. Besides, the professionals of the kindergarten/school can more appropriately react to some of the possible consequences which may become manifest in the kindergarten/school.
However, the parent/child is not obliged to give such information.
- Who to talk with in the kindergarten/school?
If the parent decides to talk with some of the kindergarten/school professionals, it is best to choose the person the parent feels most confidence in. It may be the teacher or some of the professionals, like the educator, psychologist or special teacher. It is not necessary to talk with all of them, one person is sufficient. It is also unnecessary to expose all the details but only the information relevant for child’s functioning at the kindergarten/school.
- Is it advisable to talk to the media about the sexual abuse that has happened?
Retelling the event in the media is often an additional trauma for the child, which is the reason why it is not advisable to give the media information about the event. It is particularly against child’s interest to give information which may reveal child’s identity, including the information not only about the child, but also about child’s family members, school, place of residence and similar.
Although the media engagement has contributed to increased public sensitivity in protecting children’s rights, journalists reporting on cases where the victims are children are obliged to follow the ethical principles of their profession in order to protect children.