In Times of Emergency Restrictions, Special Attention Should be Paid to the Efficient Functioning of the Child Protection Signaling System

According to the Commissioner for Fundamental Rights, both Hungarian and international experience shows that one of the severe consequences of pandemic-related restrictions is that the number of cases of violence and abuse against vulnerable persons, especially children, is on the rise. The Ombudsman highly appreciates the professional work and measures taken to date by the state and civil society organizations, and he is also asking the Government to further strengthen the crisis-time operation of the signaling system.

The forced lockdown that lasts for several months can in itself cause severe stress. An increase is anticipated in the already existing number and intensity of conflicts in many families.  Being locked up more often leads to increasing violence and abuse against vulnerable groups, such as children and women, while it is also much more difficult to seek help. Moreover, the traditional key actors of the child protection signaling system, i.e. the schools, the health visitors and the pediatricians cannot detect such cases either, in lack of personal contact. In many cases, online or phone calls for help are not an option because the affected persons are under constant control and it is difficult for them to receive any external assistance or support.

The Ombudsman would like to grab this opportunity to thank for the work of all civil society organizations and volunteers who have helped protect children from violence. The Commissioner welcomes that the Family Law Working Group of the Ministry of Justice, which monitors the child welfare measures that are taken in emergency situations, operates actively even in an emergency. It is also important that the responsible ministry and the police have issued several guidelines on tackling the emerging difficulties for the child protection service providers and the teachers. The members of the signaling system should still forward the alerts in an electronic form, or on the phone. On the other hand, the teachers, even if their capacity is limited, can indicate any problems that they have come across through digital education. According to the Commissioner for Fundamental Rights, it is of particular importance that it should be continuously communicated that every case of violence against a child is a serious issue and these will be investigate into, while the victims should feel free to turn to the authorities.

Hungary bears international legal and constitutional responsibilities to protect children from any form of violence in all cases. One of the oldest principles of children’s rights is that in trouble, it is always the children who should be helped first. The protection of children cannot stop during epidemics and emergencies either. It is important to further strengthen the activities of those institutions which are involved in the prevention of abuse, and in action against such incidents. Particularly strong attention should be paid to families in which abuse and violence have occurred earlier as well. Also, those who work in child protection services should be provided additional support. The Ombudsman believes that awareness-raising messages and the involvement of additional resources can ensure that the child protection signaling system properly carries out its duties even in the current situation.