Experts of the Committee on the Rights of the Child Welcome Estonia’s Plans to Ratify the Committee’s Third Optional Protocol, Ask about…

OHCHR

The Committee on the Rights of the Child today concluded its consideration of the fifth to seventh combined periodic report of Estonia, with Committee Experts welcoming the State’s plans to ratify the Committee’s Third Optional Protocol on its communications procedure and raising questions about the rising number of Estonian youth suicides and the placement of minors in solitary confinement.

Mikiko Otani, Committee Expert and Coordinator of the Country Taskforce for Estonia, welcomed the State party’s plan to ratify the Third Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child. How could children in Estonia seek justice and remedies if their rights were violated? Could they bring cases to courts themselves? Did they have free access to lawyers and legal aid?

Another Committee Expert said the number of child suicides had increased. How was the State party discouraging suicides? Reportedly, girls were at an alarmingly high risk of mental health disorders. Around 67 mental health specialists had reported that they had not been trained to support suicidal persons. What efforts had been made to strengthen training for these professionals?

Ann Marie Skelton, Committee Chair, and other Committee Experts expressed concern about the placement of minors in solitary confinement. One Expert asked if the Chancellor of Justice contacted children who were deprived of liberty.

Introducing the report, Hanna Vseviov, Vice Chancellor of Social Affairs, Ministry of Social Affairs and head of the delegation, said this year, Estonia was starting the process of ratifying the Third Optional Protocol on a communications procedure. The State party hoped to finalise the ratification process by the end of the year to provide another mechanism to better protect children’s rights in Estonia.

Responding to questions, the delegation said that children could turn to the child helpline, a 24-hour service for children and adults, to discuss issues they were facing. They could also make complaints through their schools or local municipalities, the Ombudsman and civil and administrative courts. Usually, smaller children needed a representative to participate in court proceedings. Free State legal aid was accessible to children and their representatives.

Suicide was one of the main causes of death for young children, the delegation said. The State party was conducting home visits and working to develop parenting skills and children’s social management skills to prevent suicides. It was also discouraging children from using alternative medicines, such as Miracle Mineral Supplement, for treating common colds, as well as drugs and alcohol.

On solitary confinement of children, the delegation said that under the Imprisonment Act, a young prisoner could be committed to solitary confinement for up to 24 hours at a time, extendable to up to 72 hours. In recent years, solitary confinement had not been used on juveniles. One juvenile had been placed in solitary confinement for eight days in 2013, but this was an exceptional case, in which solitary confinement was used to guarantee the well-being of the child. The Chancellor of Justice regularly visited persons deprived of liberty and assessed their conditions, including in solitary confinement.

In closing remarks, Ms. Otani said the Committee had learned much from the dialogue, obtaining relevant information regarding the State’s policies for children and the reasons behind their implementation.

In her concluding remarks, Ms. Vseviov said that the questions that the Committee raised demonstrated its deep knowledge of the situation in Estonia. The State party was committed to creating a family-friendly environment in Estonia where the rights of children were respected. She thanked all the members of the Committee for their contributions to enhancing the rights of the child in Estonia.

The delegation of Estonia consisted of representatives from the Ministry of Social Affairs; Ministry of Education and Research; Ministry of Justice; Ministry of the Interior; Defence Resources Agency; and the Permanent Mission of Estonia to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

The Committee will issue the concluding observations on the report of Estonia at the end of its ninety-sixth session on 24 May. Those, and other documents relating to the Committee’s work, including reports submitted by States parties, will be available on the session’s webpage. Summaries of the public meetings of the Committee can be found here, while webcasts of the public meetings can be found here.

The Committee will next meet in public this afternoon at 3 p.m. to consider the combined fourth to sixth periodic report of Paraguay (CRC/C/PRY/4-6).

Report

The Committee has before it the fifth to seventh combined periodic report of Estonia (CRC/C/EST/5-7).

Presentation of Report

HANNA VSEVIOV, Vice Chancellor of Social Affairs, Ministry of Social Affairs and head of the delegation, said Estonia had made significant progress in multiple areas concerning the rights of children, during the last reporting period. The national strategies Estonia 2035 and the Welfare Strategy for 2023-2030, as well as the working plan of the Government, included actions and goals to support the welfare and rights of the child. The Welfare Strategy focused on prevention and targeted interventions to create a supportive environment for children and families. The working programmes of the Strategy were connected to the State budget and were updated every year. The 2017 administrative reform helped local municipalities provide quality child welfare and protection services to residents. The State party was planning to update the casework model, monitoring system and quality assurance of child protection services. The first legislative changes would take effect in 2025. The State party was developing digital platforms to facilitate easy and efficient access to services and benefits for parents.

In 2022, many amendments to the Penal Code entered into force. The age of sexual self-determination was raised to 16 years, with a Romeo and Juliet clause added. In addition, the legal age of marriage was raised to 18. The new Victim Support Act of April 2023 improved the availability of assistance to victims of violence, crime or crises. In 2023, the domestic violence action plan for 2024-2027 was launched; its actions focused on prevention and there was a special focus on children affected by domestic violence.

In 2022, the national family mediation service was launched. The service was free of charge and parents could request it voluntarily or have it assigned by the court. During the reporting period, the State party developed a home visiting programme where midwives visited families after childbirth. In addition, the accessibility of the parental programme “Incredible Years” was expanded. In 2023, the State party increased the amount of several family benefits, including benefits for single parents and families with multiple children, the latter now being one of the highest in Europe. In addition, the maintenance allowance for families with children had been doubled, and additional payments were planned for families that had lost a primary income earner.

The State party had established a cross-sectoral ministerial working group to address the factors affecting children’s mental health. The Education and Youth Board was adapting the Youth Aware of Mental Health programme for use in Estonian schools. The Ministry of Social Affairs was also supporting local municipalities with the provision of mental health support services and the hiring of psychologists.

The State party was restructuring early childhood education to enhance accessibility of early childhood education services. A transition to Estonian language education would start in September 2024 and last until 2030. The main goal of the reform was to reduce inequalities between children with different native languages. In addition, a reform on compulsory school attendance was planned, which aimed to reduce dropout from vocational or upper secondary schools. Estonia made one of the highest per capita contributions to school meals in the world, both from the State budget and from local governments, to ensure free school lunches for all pupils. In addition, several measures were planned to ensure healthy food, including providing fruit, vegetables, organic food and school milk.

Due to Russia’s war in Ukraine, Estonia had welcomed more than 52,000 war refugees, making up four per cent of the population, including 9,000 children and 40 unaccompanied minors. The State had provided alternative care services for all child refugees from Ukraine under the same conditions applied to Estonians. The State party supported the return of the children to their families in Ukraine as soon as it was possible. This year, there were more than 9,000 Ukrainian students in the educational system. In Tallinn, the State party had opened two schools for students from Ukraine and allocated additional funding to support the education of Ukrainian refugee children. In addition, summer camps were organised for Ukrainian refugee children to help them integrate into Estonian society.

Estonia was a party to the Convention on the Rights of the Child since 1991 and had already ratified the first two Optional Protocols. This year, it was starting the process of ratifying the Third Optional Protocol on a communications procedure. The Ministry of Social Affairs was currently preparing the necessary analysis and materials to initiate the ratification procedure in the Parliament. The State party hoped to finalise the ratification process by the end of the year to provide another mechanism to better protect children’s rights in Estonia.

Questions by Committee Experts

MIKIKO OTANI, Committee Expert and Coordinator of the Country Taskforce for Estonia, said that the Child Protection Act of 2016 addressed many issues involving children. Ms. Otani congratulated Estonia on the many reforms involving child justice and protection. How were these reforms linked to the Child Protection Act? The 2022 amendment to the Act established the Social Insurance Board and provided support to child victims of sexual violence at home. Had the State party evaluated implementation of this Act? Had a further revision occurred in 2023? Had the State party discussed introducing legislation on child rights impact assessments? What were the impacts of the administrative reform in 2017 that led to a decrease in administrative units? The capacities of local governments to provide support and protection services to children had been increased. What laws did the Central Government have to support the functions of local governments? What were the functions of the Social Insurance Board? Did children participate in developing budgets and policies on their rights? How did the State party share the data it collected on children with relevant ministries and municipalities? How was this data used to develop policies?

Ms. Otani welcomed the State party’s plan to ratify the Third Optional Protocol. How could children in Estonia seek justice and remedies if their rights were violated? Could they bring cases to courts themselves? Did they have free access to lawyers and legal aid? Was child-friendly information on legal aid provided? What complaints mechanisms were available in schools?

The Committee was pleased to learn about websites and other measures set up to raise awareness about the rights of the child. What was the age qualification for the Children’s Advisory Committee, and how were its members selected? How had training for public officials working with children been strengthened? What measures were in place to support capacity building for smaller non-governmental organizations? Did the Government plan to increase the percentage of gross national income allocated to children’s rights?

What measures were in place to address issues such as child labour? There was a relatively high mortality rate among younger children. What measures were in place to combat this issue? What measures would the State party take to strengthen child participation at a local level? There was a lack of procedures to identify stateless persons. Did the State party plan to develop these? What was the situation of freedom of expression and assembly of children in the State?

Another Committee Expert congratulated Estonia for the achievements made over the reporting period. The State party was implementing child protection infrastructure at the local level. What problems was it facing in this regard? There was a concerning lack of social workers in the child protection field. How was the State party supporting children to report violence and neglect? What had the State party done to strengthen reporting mechanisms for children?

How did the police collaborate with child protection agencies? Did child protection agents join the police in interventions in family crises? Children who witnessed domestic violence did not have the same rights as victims themselves. Would the State party amend legislation to address this? The State party was doing excellently in implementing the Barnahus system. The system was currently confined to victims of sexual violence; were there plans to expand its scope? The Barnahus system in Estonia took on child offenders as well as victims, unlike in other countries. What safeguarding measures were in place regarding young offenders? The European Court of Human Rights had criticised Estonia for applying strict rules regarding the assessment of children’s testimonies. Why were statements from children taken in courts, rather than Barnahus?

Estonia had a higher-than-average percentage of children who had experienced bullying compared with other European Union States. The State party had implemented several programmes to address bullying; had it evaluated their impact? Had the State party developed technology to address online grooming? Had it criminalised grooming and online sexual extortion? Were there laws requiring internet service providers to remove harmful content involving children?

Corporal punishment was seen as acceptable by many adults and children. Were there plans to do more to address corporal punishment? There were several positive measures promoting family mediation. Had the State party taken measures to strengthen the role of fathers in the upbringing of children? Were there plans to increase affordable childcare options?

The State party had been developing its deinstitutionalisation process. However, the number of children in children’s homes was still high, at around 700, and had not decreased in recent years. A high number of children under three years old were residing in these homes. Why was this? It was also disappointing that the number of foster parents had not increased. What was the State party doing to address this situation? The support provided to guardianship families needed to be strengthened. Was the State party working on this? The average length of stay in safe houses was long; this was concerning. How was the State party working to reunite children in safe houses with their families? The Ombudsman had called for the development of child-friendly facilities in prisons, to prevent the separation of children from their incarcerated parents. Was the State party working on this? There was a lack of services for children in rural areas. How was the Social Insurance Board involved in providing these services? Had the State party undertaken awareness raising campaigns to combat the stigmatisation of children with disabilities and promote a more positive image of disability?

Responses by the Delegation

The delegation said the administrative reform in 2017 set the minimum size of local government districts at 5,000 residents, reducing the number of municipalities from around 240 to around 75. Municipalities now had the same obligations to provide support for children. The new Child Protection Act gave additional responsibilities to the Social Insurance Board, which paid family benefits and pensions and acted as a child protection agency. Most protection services for children were provided at the municipal level, but with State agencies monitoring the activities of municipalities and providing them advice. Financing municipalities was now dealt with by the Ministry for Municipalities. An online dashboard had been set up to compare the performance of municipalities in various fields. The State party was supporting cooperation between child protection workers, municipalities and the various protection systems.

It was obligatory to involve children in the development and reform of legislation that affected them. Indicators had been developed for assessing the implementation of the Child Protection Act; these were evaluated each year, based on which State programmes and legislation were revised. A draft reform of the Child Protection Act was currently being assessed in Parliament. The State party hoped that it would come into force this year. An additional reform was planned for next year. The reforms aimed to revise the responsibilities of different State agencies regarding children, particularly the Social Insurance Board. The Board counselled and supervised local governments and assisted them in child protection cases.

Children could turn to the child helpline, a 24-hour service for children and adults, to discuss issues they were facing. The hotline provided counselling to children and referred them to the relevant State agencies. Children could also make complaints through their schools or local municipalities, who would connect them to child protection workers. All schools and children’s homes needed to provide children with information on complaints mechanisms. The Ombudsman also accepted and addressed complaints from children. Further, children could submit complaints to civil and administrative courts. Usually, smaller children needed a representative to participate in court proceedings. Free State legal aid was accessible to children and their representatives, and information on legal aid was provided in Estonian, Russian and English as needed.

The State provided free, continuous training to all child protection workers on how to support child victims of violence and assess children’s best interests. It had started redesigning the training system for child protection workers with the Swiss Government, to give them the necessary tools and means to carry out their difficult work.

The Government aimed to merge the Gender Equality Act and the Equal Treatment Act, to strengthen protections against discrimination. A draft law merging the two would be presented to the Parliament this summer. The Child Protection Act promoted the best interests of the child, requiring all professionals working with children to take children’s wishes into account. The child-friendly justice system was being developed to ensure that children were treated according to their age and maturity. A new set of guidelines had been adopted for doctors, on considering the opinions of children in medical procedures.

Almost all families in Estonia had access to the internet. The Government was collaborating with multiple civil society organizations and businesses on projects, to help children and parents to navigate the online world and strengthen protections for children online.

Estonia was working to make social workers’ tasks more efficient. It had developed a digital system to assist in this regard. The State was also supporting schools and the justice system to provide child protection support, without needing to involve social workers. This helped to reduce the burden on social workers. The draft revision to the Child Protection Law addressed reporting obligations for social workers; the State party was developing tools to help social workers determine the types of support that children required.

Bullying in schools was a serious problem. The State party had assessed the effectiveness of anti-bullying measures in schools in 2022, finding that programmes were effective, but indicators of bullying had not improved. Several non-governmental organizations were working with the State to create safe learning environments in schools. The State party promoted children’s wellbeing in teacher training modules.

Legislation did not treat witnesses of domestic violence as victims themselves. However, relevant support services were provided to witnesses as required. All relevant authorities were well-trained to address violence against children and to provide children with a safe environment. The judiciary tried to avoid the revictimization of children through multiple court hearings. Hearings of children were conducted by well-trained investigators. Recorded interviews of children could be used in court hearings. Courts were obliged to protect children’s needs in court hearings. Court buildings were designed in a child-friendly manner.

Grooming was penalised in Estonia. The police investigated cases of grooming and worked to protect victims. Education was provided to children in schools, to help them avoid becoming victims of online crimes.

Glass walls were no longer used in meetings between children and their parents in prisons. The State was also working to facilitate online meetings between children and incarcerated parents. Prison workers were trained on communicating with children who were visiting their parents in prison.

Estonia did not have a separate statelessness determination procedure, but citizenship was determined through an ad-hoc procedure. The rights of all persons were equal in Estonia, regardless of their citizenship, including those of children. There were currently 43 children under the age of 15, with undetermined citizenship in Estonia. Upon reaching the age of 15, children with undetermined citizenship could apply for Estonian citizenship.

During the last 30 years, medical developments had led to decreases in perinatal and neonatal mortality. Estonia had some of the lowest rates of infant and neonatal mortality in the world. There had been a slight increase in the mortality of children aged four to 15 in recent years, but it was too early to declare a trend in this regard. Suicide was one of the main causes of death for young children. The State party was conducting home visits and working to develop parenting skills and children’s social management skills to prevent suicides. It was also discouraging children from using alternative medicines, such as Miracle Mineral Supplement, for treating common colds, as well as drugs and alcohol. Poison information consultations were also carried out, which had led to a decrease in the number of child poisoning cases.

The total percentage of family-based care was approximately 70 per cent. The maximum number of children in family homes was six. The number of children under age three who lived in family homes had decreased in recent years, and supporting these children was a Government priority. Children’s average length of stay in shelters had decreased from 46 to 33 days over the reporting period. The State party was seeking to establish a crisis family system to provide care for children in crisis situations in a family setting. Over the last five years, the State had conducted awareness raising campaigns to encourage households to become foster families. Municipalities had a legal obligation to help the State find foster families. The Government decided last year to directly fund support services for foster families.

Over the past five years, police and child protection workers had been collaborating more closely. Child protection workers did not always accompany police when visiting families in crisis situations, but police were always required to notify the workers of such visits and child protection workers could conduct follow-up visits. If children were in grave danger at home, they would be removed from the home by police, who communicated with child protection workers to find the best place to accommodate the children. A unit of the Social Insurance Board helped to provide safe places for children outside of social workers’ work hours.

The new Victims Support Act extended all victims’ support services to victims of domestic violence. Children who witnessed domestic violence were considered as victims and were able to receive State-funded counselling and other services. The State party was working to raise awareness of the vulnerability of witnesses of domestic violence. The expansion of the Barnahus service into the eastern Estonian region had led to an increase in reports of abuse in those regions. A pilot project had been conducted to provide “body cards” identifying victims of violence in hospitals, which helped them to access necessary services. The State party had considered expanding the services of Barnahus to victims of other forms of violence, but was not ready to do so at this stage. It was first aiming to expand the service across the State. It would cooperate with local governments to set up small Barnahus in several municipalities. Children who engaged in harmful sexual behaviour had complex needs and had often been victims in the past. Social workers in the Barnahus system were able to provide these children with specialised support. A regulation for the Barnahus service stipulated that abusers were not to be housed in Barnahus at the same time as victims. The State party might consider setting up a separate institution for abusive children in future.

Questions by Committee Experts

MIKIKO OTANI, Committee Expert and Coordinator of the Country Taskforce for Estonia, asked whether the Prevention Council was still operational. What was its mandate? A 2022 legal amendment allowed for children under the age of 10 to be interviewed in court. What training was provided for members of the judiciary on interviewing children? Did younger children participate in policy-making processes?

Another Committee Expert asked whether the assessment procedure on children with disabilities had been harmonised with international standards. It was disappointing that the State party was not planning to lift the age limit in Barnahus to 18. This would force children aged 14 to 18 to be interviewed in courts.

The Expert welcomed the high number of Ukrainian children being hosted by Estonia. The State party had made efforts to support these children’s education and development. How was this managed?

Another Committee Expert said Estonia had done a lot for children. The State had advanced technologies and a robust education system. How was it addressing the threats posed by artificial intelligence and promoting the positive aspects of this technology?

A Committee Expert asked whether funding for decentralisation was sufficient. Municipalities seemed to be overburdened with work. Were they sufficiently capable of identifying foster families?

One Committee Expert welcomed measures to promote children’s access to health care, regular check-ups and the automatic birth registration system. The Committee appreciated the State’s evidence-based approach to policy-making. The last European Commission report on Estonia stated that the State had the highest level of unmet medical needs in the European Union, due to a lack of medical professionals. What measures were taken to address the shortage of medical professionals? Why had the number of graduating doctors and nurses decreased in recent years? Estonian law allowed children to make their own decisions concerning mental health treatment. What practices were used to assess children’s discretion on mental health matters? Vaccination coverage of children had been declining for more than 10 years. The rate of refusal ranged from four to eight per cent. School nurses sometimes vaccinated children without notifying parents. What measures were in place to increase the vaccination rate? Did the State ban unvaccinated children from kindergartens?

The number of child suicides had increased. Reportedly, girls were at an alarmingly high risk of mental health disorders. Could the delegation comment on this? Only 18 psychiatrists in the State party were specialised to treat children’s mental health disorders. Around 67 mental health specialists had reported that they had not been trained to support suicidal persons. What efforts had been made to strengthen training for these professionals? How was the State party discouraging suicides? There was a mental health department in the Social Affairs Ministry; why was this not considered to be an issue for the Ministry of Health? What funding was provided to youth counselling centres? There were reports of barriers to accessing such centres. What support was being provided to intersex children?

The Committee appreciated the increases in family allowances and child support payments, which had helped to reduce child poverty. Poverty risks were high for children with disabilities, Russian-speaking children and children in single parent families. What were the plans to address poverty among these groups? The standard of living of children in Estonia had been affected by recent cost-of-living increases. Had allowances for families with multiple children been reduced? More than 51,000 children reportedly lived in housing without water supplies and more than 70,000 in houses without toilets. Could the State party elaborate on this data?

Estonia had one of the most carbon and energy-intensive economies in the European Union. What measures had the State party taken to cultivate environmental awareness among children in schools? Did the State party have a child rights-based approach to developing climate change policies? Were children’s rights assessed in disaster risk reduction programmes? What adaptation measures did the State party have in the case of climate events? How were children involved in developing climate policies?

ANN MARIE SKELTON, Committee Chairperson, said that in 2022, 39,000 children were in early childhood education. How many children were eligible for such education? There was an obligation to guarantee a place for all children in kindergartens, but this was reportedly not always provided in practice. What were State and local governments’ responsibilities in this regard? Why did primary schooling start from age seven? There was reportedly a lack of speech therapists for young children. What measures were in place to address this?

Most children with disabilities were in mainstream schools, but around one third of these children were in special schools. Was the State party satisfied with this balance? What was driving the decrease in the enrolment in basic education, particularly among boys? Around 133,000 children enrolled in lower secondary education, but only around 29,000 enrolled in upper secondary education. What was the cause of this drop-off? There were reports that some school children could not access hobby groups. Was the State addressing this? How was the State party supporting children who had to travel long distances to school?

How many asylum seeking and refugee children did the State host, including from Ukraine? How had the State party dealt with the sudden influx in asylum seeking children in the State? Did child asylum seekers have access to specialised lawyers?

The number of children in prison had decreased in recent years, and Estonia should be commended for this. Was the State party considering establishing separate detention centres for children? There was a possibility of detained children being subjected to up to 15 days of solitary confinement. Would the State revise regulations on detention to remove this possibility? Had Estonia established a national preventive mechanism? How was it supporting children with serious psychosocial problems in the child justice system? Had the State party made progress in collecting data on children used in armed conflict who arrived in Estonia?

Responses by the Delegation

The delegation said the Prevention Council, previously called the Child Protection Council, was regulated by the amended Child Protection Act. The Council’s tasks included coordinating activities for protection and to implement the Committee’s recommendations. The Council had evaluated 16 preventive activities and was also working on a database of preventative activities. The Preventative Council also helped to manage the Child Committee.

To identify disability, the Social Insurance Board used data from the medical system. Evaluations of disability took time and previously the data on disability had not reached the municipalities. In 2022, the State party amended legislation to allow municipalities to receive disability data. Requests for disability evaluations were shared with municipalities to assess children’s needs. The most important information about children went to child protection workers’ databases. After receiving this information, the child protection worker was obliged to contact the family within 10 days, to provide necessary help. Based on disability information, the Social Insurance Board informed families of the support services and financial support available to them, and the State planned to introduce further reforms to allow the Social Insurance Board to apply for these services directly. The State party planned to create technological solutions to allow for all relevant health workers to access disability data and monitor children’s development. A new case management model that provided needs-based support was also being developed. The State party was transitioning to the International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health for documenting disability.

Ukrainian refugees were not seen as asylum seekers. Therefore, most Ukrainians who arrived after the war broke out were granted temporary protection, rather than international protection. Estonia had a large Ukrainian community before the war, which had helped the refugees to integrate. Most children came with one parent and other guardians. Estonia was not able to accommodate many children with specific needs, so other States had accepted these children. Refugee students initially had to study in Estonian schools, but schools for Ukrainians had since been established.

As a general practice, asylum seeker and refugee children were not detained in Estonia. There was one case where an unaccompanied minor who had just turned 18 was detained however, and another where a minor was detained with a guardian. Detention periods could be extended for up to four months at a time. All relevant circumstances of the detained person were considered. The State party prioritised alternatives to detention; foster care was the preferred solution for accommodating unaccompanied minors. The police were obliged to trace family members of unaccompanied minors as soon as possible. Appointed legal guardians were responsible for applying for residence permits for the children. There were three counsellors who specialised in supporting asylum seeker children. Since 2021, lawyers could only represent minors if they had undergone training related to children’s psychology and rights.

There was a decentralised social welfare system in Estonia. Municipalities had their own budget to appoint foster care workers and the State also allocated funding to the foster care system. Most of the responsibility for finding foster families lay with the Social Insurance Board, hence municipalities were not overburdened by this task. The Government encouraged collaboration between municipalities to ease their burden.

Less than two per cent of children lived in households that did not have sufficient water supplies or toilets; this was in line with the European Union average. Approximately 4,000 children lived in households without sufficient water supplies, according to Eurostat data. Estonia had a sauna tradition, so some households used separate saunas to clean and wash themselves. The State had a low-income scheme for families with three or more children whose residential properties did not meet modern living standards. Families who wished to purchase a new home or renovate an existing home could also access low interest credit loans.

Estonia had an oil shale industry. The Government aimed to produce all domestically consumed energy using renewable sources by 2030. Every year, the share of oil shale energy in terms of energy consumption decreased. Estonia had very high air quality, being one of only seven countries in the world that met World Health Organization standards on air quality.

Estonia had committed to increasing the volume of official development assistance to reach 0.33 per cent of gross national income by 2030. In 2022, it was 0.53 per cent, influenced by the war on Ukraine. In 2023, it had fallen to 0.28 per cent. The State party planned to advance quality education through development assistance.

More could be done to tackle corporal punishment. A survey into child abuse would be conducted in 2024 and 2025. All forms of child abuse were prohibited and there were national programmes to implement this legislation. The State party was educating parents about positive parenting and preventing physical and psychological punishment. It was also developing information materials for new parents and projects supporting parents of children at different age levels.

The State party encouraged learning institutions to harness the potential of artificial intelligence, to create change. Students and teachers received education on digital skills and artificial intelligence. The State party was cooperating internationally on initiatives to protect children online, and from the dangers of artificial intelligence.

The State party supported the training of teachers and school leavers on topics related to climate change and renewable energy. There was a Youth Environment Council in the Ministry of Climate, which included school and university students, who participated in shaping environmental policy, including the Estonian Climate Act. There was also an Estonian youth climate delegate who participated in United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change meetings.

In 2020, the Ministry of Justice started developing training programmes for members of the judiciary on hearing cases involving children. Training involved theoretical and practical exercises on interviewing children. Fifty-six judges and court personnel had participated in this training so far.

Under the Code of Criminal Procedure, children aged 14 years and over needed to be interviewed in court. The State party sought to strike a balance between seeking justice and protecting the rights of accused persons. The State party understood the vulnerability of victimised children and would consider whether the current criminal procedure was sufficiently protecting the rights of children. In 2018, a new procedure for handling juvenile offenders came into effect, aiming to reduce juvenile delinquency and assist children within the child protection system. Great emphasis was put on prevention and alternatives to detention. Probation measures and other alternatives such as community service and electronic monitoring were used. Offenders were obliged to provide written reflections on the consequences of their actions, among other restorative justice practices.

Prisons provided specialised facilities for juveniles. The Imprisonment Act could commit a young prisoner to solitary confinement for up to 24 hours at a time, extendable to up to 72 hours. In recent years, solitary confinement had not been used on juveniles. One juvenile had been placed in solitary confinement for eight days in 2013, in which solitary confinement was used to guarantee the well-being of the child. The independent Chancellor of Justice acted as the national preventive mechanism under the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

If there was evidence that children who arrived in Estonia had participated in armed conflict, they were referred to the child support system, which collaborated closely with border officials.

Sexuality education was part of the health education curriculum; it was provided at every stage of school and based on European standards. All teachers needed to have bachelor’s degrees and directors of early childhood centres needed to have master’s degrees. Babysitters needed to have participated in a one-year study programme. The State party had increased the number of admissions in study programmes, for education support specialists for young children. Schools were obliged to organise support services for children in need. Since 2018, the State had significantly increased financial support for support specialists. As a result, the number of support specialists had increased by 500 over the past five years. There was one speech therapist and psychologist per 600 students. However, many of these specialists worked part-time, affecting the availability of these services.

Indicators regarding inclusive education were gradually improving. In 2023, 72.8 per cent of students with special education needs studied in regular schools. Every parent had the right to send their children to schools close to their place of residence. The State party was implementing measures to ensure that all schools could accommodate children with disabilities. It aimed to further reduce the proportion of students studying in special schools to 10 per cent over the long term.

Questions by Committee Experts

MIKIKO OTANI, Committee Expert and Coordinator of the Country Taskforce for Estonia, asked if children under 18 years were involved in consultation activities regarding climate change policies.

Another Committee Expert asked about measures to prevent violence within sports. There was reportedly a lack of implementation of the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. Could the State party provide more information on this?

A Committee Expert congratulated the State party on efforts to streamline data on disability. What happened to children who did not meet the benefits criteria? Were family issues picked up by social services through this system? Estonia’s nationally determined contributions did not refer to children; were children involved in developing nationally determined contributions programmes?

ANN MARIE SKELTON, Committee Chairperson, asked whether children deprived of their liberty were able to make complaints and appeal restrictive detention conditions. The Estonian Defence League Act prohibited military training for junior members, but there were some elements of military training that involved firearms. What was the State party’s position on the compatibility of this training with the Optional Protocol on the use of children in armed conflict?

Another Committee Expert expressed concern about the placement of minors in solitary confinement. From what age was solitary confinement applied? Did the Chancellor of Justice contact children who were deprived of liberty?

Responses by the Delegation

The delegation said Estonia believed that training children over the age of 12, in shooting skills, was a way of encouraging a healthy lifestyle. The weapons used in training for youth were not military weapons. Young people in the Defence League did not receive military training.

Approximately 80,000 children were eligible for early childhood education. Around 38 per cent of children aged zero to two were enrolled, while around 94 per cent of children aged three to six were enrolled. Estonia had a very generous parental leave scheme that encouraged many parents to stay at home with their children for up to two years. Taking this scheme into account, most kindergartens offered places from 1.5 years of age. There were challenges with providing kindergarten places in new residential areas. The State party had implemented measures to build new kindergartens in these areas. There had been a discussion about incorporating the last year of kindergarten into the mandatory school system. Estonia had one of the lowest fees for kindergartens in the European Union. It would be very costly to make the last year of kindergarten free, so the State party decided to invest more in the first years of early childhood education instead.

The school dropout rate in Estonia was very low. After lower secondary education, many children moved on to vocational education. The State party was planning to raise the minimum age for finishing compulsory education. There had recently been a worrying increase in the dropout rate for girls, and the State party was working to address this. There were only three classes offered in upper secondary schools compared to nine classes in lower secondary; this was why the number of students differed significantly at these levels.

Schools were provided with language learning support, enabling teachers to support children who spoke foreign languages. Primary schools were gradually transitioning to Estonian language education. The State party had earmarked sufficient resources to make this transition. Targeted support was provided to schools, to ensure that suitable study materials were available for all students. Schools that had at least 10 children who spoke a certain language as a mother tongue were supported to provide education in that language. Some children were worried about their workloads at schools. The State party had developed new regulations to prevent fatigue from studies and support students to participate in hobby groups. Health care services at schools were provided for free, by mental health nurses and special education teachers. The law required that it should not take more than 60 minutes for students to travel to school. In areas with declining populations, transport should be ensured to lower secondary schools located in regional centres.

The shortage of healthcare professionals was a serious problem. The percentage of gross domestic product invested in healthcare was lower than the European Union average. The State party had implemented financial and other incentives to encourage more people to take up health care occupations and increase administrative staff in hospitals. The number of graduating nurses and the number of working doctors and nurses had increased over the past five years. Health care professionals determined whether minors were able to consider all circumstances regarding medical procedures, such as vaccinations that they wished to receive. It was rare for children to seek medical procedures without the permission of their parents. Only healthcare workers who had undergone specific training could assess the competence of child patients.

The State party was concerned by the decreasing vaccination rate. The Health Insurance Fund organised regular vaccination campaigns that addressed the benefits and risks of vaccines. The State party was developing a digital tool for obtaining informed consent on vaccination from parents. Nurses asked for written consent from parents before performing vaccinations.

The COVID-19 pandemic had led to increased mental health problems among children. Many activities had been initiated to tackle this issue. The State party had allocated additional resources to develop new mental health services for young people and to train officials who provided mental health support for children. It was strengthening primary health care and municipal support services to alleviate the burden on psychologists. The State party did not have a Ministry of Health. The health and social sectors were both addressed by the Ministry of Social Affairs, which had two ministers working on health and social issues. The combination of these sectors under one ministry allowed for increased collaboration.

Sexual and reproductive health and counselling services were provided for all people up to age 26, free of charge. Counselling services were available in all hospitals. They provided advice in cases of unwanted pregnancies and sexual violence.

No major public debate had been conducted on intersex persons, but the State party funded comprehensive medical services and conducted information campaigns on services for transgender and intersex people, including children.

The State party changed the parental leave system in 2018 to provide leave benefits to parents for up to 1.5 years. The longest benefit period was provided for fathers. These changes increased the number of fathers receiving the benefit and staying home with their children. There was also a parental leave scheme that both parents with children up to 14 years of age, could use to spend time with their children. The State party cooperated with non-governmental organizations to design policies, which encouraged fathers to play a greater role in bringing up their children. Estonia was developing community-based family support centres, some of which had established “fatherhood clubs” which helped to increase fathers’ knowledge of how to parent their children.

Children from the age of 10 or 12 were involved in formal State-sponsored committees and councils. It was not suitable to discuss complex policies with younger children, but small initiatives had been taken to involve younger children in designing community environments. Members of the Youth Council within the Ombudsman were aged between 13 and 16.

There had been many high-profile cases of violence in sports in recent years. The State party had developed measures to prevent child abuse in sports, including placement of child safety officers in sporting organisations and distributing information about the child support helpline.

Every court decision that impacted on rights and freedoms could be appealed. Legal assistance was provided in the appeals process. Minors could perform administrative appeals independently. The 2013 case of extended solitary confinement was an exceptional case, in which solitary confinement was used to guarantee the well-being of the child. The Chancellor of Justice regularly visited persons deprived of liberty and assessed their conditions, including in solitary confinement.

The Ministry of Justice facilitated the exchange of information between authorities in child abduction cases. In 2022, there were 24 requests for the Ministry to conduct investigations into such cases and in 2023, there were 12 requests.

The State party was composing guidelines on identifying children in need. Once child protection workers received information on children in need, they identified the support services applicable to the children. Assessment of children’s needs did not depend on whether the children had disabilities.

Between 2023 and 2024, over 1,100 families had attended mediation services. Parenting plans had been developed by around 280 families. If parenting plans were not established, disputes could continue in court, however the service had prevented many cases from reaching court. Children were given a chance to express their thoughts regarding parental separation. Family mediators were trained to engage with children. The State party planned to evaluate the law regulating the mediation service. No-one was obliged to participate in mediation services in cases of family violence.

In 2023, many family benefits were increased, including benefits for single parents and for first and second children. The large families benefit was also increased in 2023 but lowered slightly in 2024. It remained at a high level.

Concluding Statements

MIKIKO OTANI, Committee Expert and Coordinator of the Country Taskforce for Estonia, thanked the delegation for the dialogue. The Committee had learned much from the dialogue, obtaining relevant information regarding the State’s policies for children and the reasons behind their implementation.

HANNA VSEVIOV, Vice Chancellor of Social Affairs, Ministry of Social Affairs and head of the delegation, expressed sincere gratitude for the Committee’s active consideration of the State party’s report. The questions that the Committee raised demonstrated its deep knowledge of the situation in Estonia. The State party was committed to creating a family-friendly environment in Estonia where the rights of children were respected. The current Minister of Social Affairs understood the importance of promoting children’s rights. Ms. Vseviov thanked all members of the Committee for their contributions to enhancing the rights of the child in Estonia.

ANN MARIE SKELTON, Committee Chair, said that in the dialogue, the delegation had presented the efforts it was making and the innovative policies that it had developed. She welcomed that the delegation had acknowledged that there were areas that still needed improvement and that the State party was working to address those. The delegation had shown that the future of children in Estonia was in safe hands.


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