“I welcome the commitment expressed by the authorities to move away from the practice of placing children without parental care and people with disabilities in institutions. However, many persons continue to live in an institutional environment. The authorities should intensify their efforts to prevent child neglect, provide support to families who experience difficulties in caring for their children, and establish an effective framework of community-based services for such families and for persons with disabilities. I also urge the authorities to ensure effective protection and justice for victims of domestic violence, the overwhelming majority of whom are women and children”, said Nils Muižnieks, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, at the end of his five-day visit to Lithuania.
The Commissioner visited a home for children with developmental delays in Vilnius which provides care for such children, as well as for others who are taken from their families due to parental neglect, usually related to alcohol or drug abuse. “There should be a clear roadmap to ensure the development of an effectively functioning system of foster and alternative care. Without such a system in place, it will not be possible to cease resort to institutionalisation of children who lack adequate parental care”.
The Commissioner also paid a visit to the Vėliučionys socialisation centre for juvenile delinquents in the vicinity of Vilnius. “Isolating children in institutions such as this one will only lead to their further social exclusion and is contrary to their best interests. Instead, the authorities should address the root causes of their behavioural and emotional problems and ensure their rehabilitation in a family-like environment.”
The Commissioner noted with satisfaction that Lithuania has embarked on a comprehensive reform of legislation relating to legal capacity. However, pending the review of more than 6700 cases of people who have been fully deprived of their legal capacity on the basis of the old legislation, further decisive steps should be taken to promote reforms in the mental health care system.
Access to mainstream education should be improved for children with disabilities, including through infrastructural changes allowing children with reduced mobility unimpeded access to school buildings and other educational institutions.
“Domestic violence is a violation of human rights and has long-term detrimental effects on the development of society as a whole. It is rooted in entrenched inequalities between women and men and can be prevented by changing the social norms and practices that reproduce and perpetuate it”, noted the Commissioner.
In 2016, the police received 45000 calls related to domestic violence, and appear to be, on the whole, effective in responding to them. However, a unified and systematic approach to preventing violence and responding to appeals for help should be promoted throughout the whole law enforcement system. Moreover, judges should be made aware of the special role they play in protecting victims of violence from repeated cases of abuse.
“I was informed that in the domestic violence cases registered in Lithuania, more than 80% of victims are women, and in more than 90% of cases men are those who inflict violence,“ underlined the Commissioner. “The 2011 Law on Protection Against Domestic Violence provides a good framework for addressing this problem. However, steps should be taken to ensure that its provisions are harmonised with other key laws, such as the Criminal Code and the Code of Criminal Procedure, in order to achieve better protection of victims. Judicial and law enforcement authorities should receive continuous training on the application of the law and best international practices and standards in this area. The ratification of the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (Istanbul Convention) would send an important and strong signal of the authorities’ commitment to eradicate this phenomenon.”
The Commissioner noted with interest the official campaign “For a safe Lithuania” aimed at raising public awareness of various social problems, including the root causes and consequences of domestic violence, as well as the situation of children in institutional care. “I am heartened to see that the authorities are taking steps to transmit positive messages about the need for tolerance to a wide audience. I hope that this campaign will be part of a larger and more systematic strategy to foster equality and social solidarity and overcome stereotypes.”
The report on the Commissioner’s visit is forthcoming.