Ombudswoman say COVID-19 pandemic has had multiple effects on children

ZAGREB, 23 May (Hina) – Children’s Ombudswoman Helenca Pirnat Dragičević warned on Thursday that the COVID-19 pandemic has had a multiple effect on children, contrary to their claims that they no longer experience difficulties related to COVID.

“Research has revealed mental health problems, an increase in violence against children, a weaker work ethic and weaker motivation for learning,” she said while presenting to the parliament a report on her office’s activities in 2022, which was marked by the end of the pandemic and a return to normal living.

Citing research findings, Pirnat Dragičević pointed to a growing concern among children about war, climate change and economic uncertainty, as well as growing pessimism and a feeling of loneliness among children and young people.

She enumerated problems children are faced with and called for adopting an integral law to secure protection for children, enable the establishment of safe houses for them, and the education of teachers and other professional staff for the prevention of violence and action in cases of violence.

She also called on the competent ministry to become more involved in efforts to deal with peer violence.

The ombudswoman warned that there is no adequate support for victims of sexual violence, that the judiciary is still not adapted to children, that children still have problems accessing health services and that the rights of children with developmental problems are violated.

Pirnat Dragičević called for urgently introducing media literacy as a compulsory curriculum at all levels of education, starting from the pre-school level, and warned that extracurricular activities are paid for in most parts of the country, which is why they are available only to children whose parents can afford it.

She stressed that towns should invest more effort to make those activities available to children who live at risk of poverty, noting that in 2022, 14,000 children were recipients of the minimum guaranteed allowance, living in long-term and deep poverty.

The ombudswoman also called for adopting regulations to help monitor conditions in playrooms and for keeping protection of children in traffic a national priority. According to police data, in 2022, 1,376 children were involved in traffic accidents, including 12 fatalities.

In 2022, the Office of the Children’s Ombudswoman acted on 3,799 cases, of which 1,932 were new cases. The Office issued 68 recommendations and warnings to various institutions, of which 36% were fully complied with while in 22% of the cases there was no response from the institutions concerned.

This raises the question of whether the institute of children’s ombudswoman enjoys the support of the parliamentary majority or is there some other reason why too few recommendations were complied with, said independent MP Marija Selak Raspudić, recalling that Homeland Movement MP Stephen Nikola Bartulica, who is now a member of the parliamentary majority, less than a year ago collected signatures to have Pirnat Dragičević replaced, maintaining that she was not doing her job well.