Either responsibility or there will be new cases like Tamara
Children are increasingly encouraged to report violations of their rights but do not believe in their fair solution. So I am afraid that Tamara’s case and similar to it will be repeated, says Dragi Zmijanac, director and founder of the First Children’s Embassy
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Mr. Zmijanac, welcome to the Inbox7 interview. What is your stance on the death of Tamara Dimovska?
Zmijanac: Death of little Tamara Dimovska, whose life ended with negligence of institutions and could have been saved, is really too much. We have recorded cases of neglect, carelessness and inefficiency, inappropriate treatment by the institutions where they took an oath in the best interests of children by signing the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Optional Protocols to act. Unfortunately we have turned into a state that records conditions, sad figures and it does not make any adjustments in terms of improving the situation. Without taking responsibility and grading the level of responsibility, believe me these cases will be repeated. There is a lot of work for the Public Prosecutor, the Ombudsman. Ministers also need to dig things in their departments, seek responsibility and thus demonstrate to the public if they have conscience and awareness and personal responsibility that they are responsible and that they will make everything all these cases not to be repeated and to appropriately and strictly punish the culprits as a warning that the system will mobilize when it comes to the health of the child, for proper growth and development, his/her future. That this country is serious and responsible and will act in the best interest of children.
Regarding the case of nine year old Tamara we heard different even controversial statements of the responsible ones, the Fund, the doctors and the Minister yesterday. Why do you think it is so?
Zmijanac: When the public demands accountability, when here we specifically request it as this child’s life could have been saved and that responsibility should be sought for this case, the prosecution should not wait for a response from the public or the civil society nor the parent to search with petition for help to investigate the case. Neither the Ombudsman. They have to, ex officio, when they detect dysfunction, weakness, inertia of the system where instead of speeding up and solving the problem, because it was about days to save this life and not a circumvention whether that operation would be performed in Macedonia or abroad, someone has to take responsibility. The minister should seek accountability from those who interfered with the timely intervention and the surgery for little Tamara.
Can you, apart from this party fighting, locate responsibility in this case and certainly in all other cases?
Zmijanac: When we speak, we speak with the mandate and legitimacy that citizens have entrusted us. When we seek accountability, resignations, we are directed to the institutions that did not act appropriately. And very often we call for responsibility. What concerns me is that there is no mechanism of sanctions. Although we supply a report on the situation to the Committee on the Rights of the Child and there they detect problems. Recommendations come for the state that improperly treats these recommendations and we have to make additional efforts the state to comply with them in order to gain more credibility and rating worldwide that Macedonia has taken an oath of respecting children’s rights. Here we have a simple violation of the child’s rights, a child’s life has been lost. The public demands responsibility, accountability and the state is obliged to respond what happened not only with Tamara but all children’s deaths over the years.
Not only deaths but also abuse, in the specific case of a minor in Correctional Center Tetovo, in the department in Veles.
Zmijanac: We get that information. We alert institutions. On the SOS phone we have registered over 20,000 cases where children and citizens have been encouraged to act. What worries us is that they have no confidence in the institutions that will act promptly, quickly, fairly, properly and legally. That children are in their focus and that they will protect them against violence and abuse. It lasted long with Veles. The Ombudsman had the insight that there was something going on, but believe me, the most difficult job in Macedonia is to trigger criminal liability against someone, to complete it fully and get a response by court judgment. Believe me that these events will be repeated until it happens and people who work and are responsible in the state do not bear responsibility.
You as a children’s embassy that protects children’s rights remind about a series of other children similar to Tamara who need help?
Zmijanac: Yes, we do. It is not enough to just encourage citizens of solidarity and they to do it including the value added tax (VAT) they give. Here are the mobile operators that service all this. We demand accountability regarding updating these problems, their timely resolution excluding all party abuses and calculations about the children’s fate. I would ask them all to set it aside. They should focus on the fact that children need them, they are vulnerable and that not every parent has the ability, capacity and power to act accordingly. Both from educational and economic character. The state, when parents are not in a position to help their child, is a guardian who needs to take care of them.
Besides health care, you have repeatedly warned about children’s rights in education, children’s rights especially those with difficulties in development. Where are we providing child protection?
Zmijanac: When we say that Macedonia has at least 1500 children “phantoms” and they can easily be abused cross the borders, organ trafficking, child prostitution, begging, state institutions calculate with us about detecting the exact numbers. Whether it is 300, 1500 or 4500, though it is not the same we already have a problem when we say that we have invisible children. So State Statistical Office with the Ministry of Labor and Social Policy and help of civil society organizations and centers for social policy has an opportunity to research and give these children a birth certificate. Because these children suffer the greatest discrimination. They cannot achieve any fundamental right. Right to health protection, right to education, the right to care, and so on. Secondly, there are children who are not involved in preschool education. Imagine, if children do not go to school on time for education and care, there children do not only eat and drink but are also educated. It is the first step towards compulsory primary education. Then if primary education is obligatory there is a lot of discrimination, especially for the Roma population. Dirty, untidy, do not have adequate services, requirements for school attendance.
So children and parents get depressed. A child at school, a child less on the street. The next step is compulsory secondary education. And when you do not solve that problem you have a circle of illiteracy, abuse, poverty. This produces child abuse.
Does Macedonia take care of its children?
Zmijanac: It oscillates. There is a step forward thanks to the awareness of citizens and the media. However, I will say again, when people are given functions and elected by structures that do not guarantee quality in the exercise of their governance and management, we have problems. If the most difficult problem occurs which should be sanctioned, no steps are taken to claim responsibility towards those who have delegated them or appointed to managerial positions.
What measures should be taken to get healthy offspring?
Zmijanac: Honestly, His Majesty the tutor has a very important role where parents are increasingly busy and do not have enough time to communicate and talk with the child. He should not only be the corrector of media violence they perceive, incorrect reporting and indoctrination of their small heads where parents who do not know enough to educate their children, but also a key factor. But he should be rewarded and motivated. Scope of children should be at least 50 percent in predominantly rural areas instead of 14 or 20 percent, as in urban areas parents have the capacity to pay private kindergartens. Here we advocate mandatory kindergarten from the third year onwards. It can be the first step to rescue the children from possible abuse. The second point is that now we will conspire to accept the Third optional protocol and if a child is the victim of negligence on the system and there is no just solution in his best interest to allow the lawyer who represents him directly to appeal to the Committee on the Rights of the Child. There to seek justice and legal redress.
You announce a gathering of all NGOs. What is it about?
Zmijanac: Citizens’ associations that have vulnerable categories of children who are suffering from rare diseases, autism, who are waiting for help and support from the state, which have difficulties in exercising the rights. Let us come together to see what further. Whether to go with a petition, with protests, with a march, with discussions with institutions to improve the situation. To know that we follow them, we record everything and we will ask them for greater efficiency and mobility. This will go a little deeper. With the realization of the right to health care, attention, care, personal assistant, inclusion of children in primary school, grading their level of disability. How inclusion is performed, how school teachers are educated to work with these children. Whether every school has a special education teacher, speech therapist, social worker. Whether social workers have insight into families at risk and dysfunctional families so that the child does not have any grave consequences, rape, violence, incest, for that system to function on a daily basis.