"In Estonia there are 1200 stateless children – all children should be granted citizenship automatically at birth even when their parents are stateless" urged Nils Muižnieks, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, after concluding his three-day visit to Estonia. "It is in the best interests of the child to hold citizenship from birth as this is key to enjoying fully all human rights."
The Commissioner welcomed the on-going reform of the Child Protection Act and stressed that qualified staff for child protection should be made available in every municipality. "Children should be heard when decisions are made about their placement in alternative care. There is a specific need to develop psychological and psychiatric support services for children" said he Commissioner after meeting with children and staff at the Maarjamäe Centre of the Tallinn Children's Home.
Commissioner Muižnieks called on the Estonian Government to prohibit corporal punishment of children explicitly in all settings. "The legal prohibition of corporal punishment sends a clear signal that any kind of violence against children is unacceptable, also at home."
Estonia experienced a major economic crisis in 2008-10 which resulted in high unemployment and severe austerity measures. The absolute poverty rate among children reached 18% in 2010. Although the economy has recovered, the Commissioner remains concerned about the risk of social exclusion and long-term unemployment. "Absolute poverty among children and persistent unemployment of young people have to be addressed as a priority. Reinforced protection floors for the general population and specific measures for vulnerable groups are essential for preventing the transmission of the effects of the crisis to future generations".
The situation of people with disabilities should also be looked into. "The economic recovery provides a good opportunity for implementing the International Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities which Estonia ratified in 2012" pointed out the Commissioner. "An independent mechanism to monitor the implementation of the Convention needs to be set up with the active participation of persons with disabilities themselves. Inclusion in working life should be one of the main objectives."
Systematic efforts to promote equality in Estonia should be improved. The Commissioner urges the Estonian authorities to strengthen the Commissioner for Gender Equality and Equal Treatment so that the institution can reach out effectively to minorities and vulnerable groups throughout the country. "There is a pressing need to improve awareness of ethnic discrimination and complaints mechanisms among employers and employees. The Equal Treatment Commissioner and the Chancellor of Justice can play a major role in combatting discrimination and monitoring the effects of the economic crisis on the enjoyment of human rights."
Commissioner Muižnieks welcomed Estonian efforts to improve access to justice by cutting excessive court fees and providing remedies for lengthy court proceedings. "The adoption of the new State Liability Act should be speeded up to ensure compensation for those court cases which drag on for years. There is a need to develop supported decision-making alternatives to ensure that people with disabilities can access courts without discrimination."
The Commissioner's report on his visit to Estonia is forthcoming.