"There are still 1200 stateless children in Estonia, a situation which prevents them from taking part in society as full members. This situation must be remedied urgently" said Nils Muižnieks while releasing today a report on his visit to Estonia carried out in March 2013.
Although parents can use a simple and accessible procedure to acquire Estonian nationality for their stateless children, the authorities also bear responsibility for preventing statelessness among children. "Instead of requiring parents to apply for citizenship on the behalf of children, Estonia should grant citizenship automatically at birth to children who would otherwise be stateless. The Citizenship Act should be reformed with a view to reflect the best interests of the child."
Welcoming the current reform of the Child Protection Act, Commissioner Muižnieks stresses that "sufficient staff and expertise for child protection should be made available in every municipality - particular emphasis should be placed on the development of psychiatric and psychological care for children."
Corporal punishment, sexual abuse, violence and bullying in schools continue to be serious problems for children in Estonia. "A systematic and firm response is necessary to address all violence and abuse against children. Corporal punishment should be prohibited in all settings through explicit legal provisions so as to send a clear signal that any kind of violence against children is unacceptable. Public education and awareness-raising campaigns are needed to foster positive parenting and education without violence and more information should be provided to children about their right to be protected from violence."
Although the Estonian economy is recovering and the incidence of absolute poverty is decreasing, the Commissioner remains concerned about the long-term effects of the economic crisis in terms of poverty and social exclusion. "I am particularly concerned about absolute poverty among children and unemployment of young people. Economic recovery should be accompanied by reinforced protection floors for the general population and targeted positive measures for vulnerable groups of people. The social benefits system should be reviewed to ensure that those in need receive adequate support."
There is also a need to improve equality legislation and working opportunities for persons with disabilities. Disability and incapacity benefits should be adjusted to meet social protection needs and requirements for long-term sustainability.
Another problem is the increased socio-economic gap between ethnic minorities and the majority population which is perpetuated among young people. "The Estonian authorities should take effective measures to curb long-term unemployment and social exclusion of ethnic minorities in the country. The Integration and Social Cohesion Strategy 2020 can be instrumental for this purpose. The labour inclusion of minority youth should be among the priorities."
The Commissioner welcomes the recent measures to improve access to justice, in particular the reduction of court fees, the establishment of remedies for excessively lengthy proceedings and the reform of the system of legal aid. "A further step required is the adoption of the new State Liability Act to ensure compensation for those court cases which are delayed for years without a valid reason."
Finally, stressing the importance of independent national human rights structures, the Commissioner urges the Estonian authorities to strengthen the Gender Equality and Equal Treatment Commissioner's Office so that it can perform its wide-ranging functions effectively. He also recommends that the authorities consult the Chancellor of Justice and the Equal Treatment Commissioner when measures and laws affecting the enjoyment of human rights are considered, and involve them in monitoring the long-term effects of the economic crisis.