Cablegate: Croatia: Update On Child Labor

Published: Fri 27 Aug 2004 03:05 PM
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
E.O. 12958: N/A
REF: STATE 163453
1. This cable responds to reftel questions on Croatia's
efforts to prevent the worst forms of child labor.
2. Croatia has taken solid steps to counter the worst forms
of child labor, enacting legislation proscribing the problem
and ensuring the implementation and enforcement of existing
legislation. Recent changes to the criminal code have
criminalized trafficking in children for purposes of sexual
exploitation and labor. A national Ombudsman for Children
coordinates GoC efforts to prevent the exploitation of
children and to assist in removing children from exploitative
situations. We find plans to introduce trafficking awareness
education an encouraging and necessary step towards
preventing child trafficking from or through Croatian
3. Does Croatia have adequate laws and regulations
proscribing the worst forms of child labor?
The Croatian Parliament adopted ILO Convention 182 on the
worst forms of child labor on July 17, 2001. The Convention
entered into force on July 17, 2002.
While Croatia has no single law on child labor, a number of
labor and social protection laws have been promulgated. The
Labor Law establishes a minimum age for legal employment of
15. Children between the ages of 15 and 18 may work only with
written permission from a legal guardian. An Occupational
Safety Act prohibits children under the age of 18 from
working overtime, at night, or in dangerous work conditions
or with dangerous substances. The Family Act establishes
social protection procedures to assist exploited or
vulnerable children while a criminal investigation against
their abuser is pending. The Law on the Ombudsman for
Children establishes a state office to promote and protect
the interests of children throughout the country. The Defense
Act prohibits children under 18 from serving in the armed
forces. The Elementary Education Act mandates eight years of
primary education for all school children (ages 7-15). The
minimum working age of 15 is consistent with these education
Croatia currently has no law expressly defining the term "the
worst forms of child labor," though the Croatian criminal
code effectively fulfills this requirement. The code
specifically mentions kidnapping, use of children in
narcotics trafficking, slavery, international prostitution,
procurement of children for sexual abuse, use of children in
pornographic production, and abuse or neglect related to
labor. Changes to the criminal code in May 2004 add a Cyber
Convention, criminalizing the act of allowing children access
to pornographic material on computer networks. The
Occupational Safety Act limits workers between 15 and 18 from
working in dangerous or harmful work conditions or with
chemical or radioactive materials.
4. Does Croatia have adequate laws and regulations for the
implementation and enforcement of proscriptions against the
worst forms of child labor? Have there been any recent
governmental or judicial initiatives to strengthen or enforce
child labor legislation and regulation?
Six state bodies share authority for implementing and
enforcing child labor laws in Croatia.
(a) The Ministry of Justice is responsible for maintaining
the criminal code and bringing criminal charges defined by
the legislation above. (In 2003, the Ministry of Justice
recorded 0 criminal charges for international prostitution, 6
for procurement or pimping of children, 37 for exploitation
of children for use in pornography, and 19 for allowing
children access to pornography.)
(b) The Ministry of the Family, Veterans, and
Intergenerational Solidarity oversees Centers for Social Work
and coordinates social services available to a child while a
criminal investigation into abuse is pending.
(c) The Ministry of Health and Social Welfare assists the
Ministry of the Family and Center for Social Work in
providing protective services (including protective custody
arrangements) during an abuse investigation.
(d) The Ministry of Economy, Labor, and Entrepreneurship is
responsible for investigating abuses of Croatian labor laws
and monitoring work environment safety.
(e) The State Inspectorate is responsible for tracking legal
violations of employment statutes independently of criminal
(f) The Ombudsman for Children is responsible for
coordinating GoC efforts to protect and promote the rights of
children. The Ombudsman receives and responds to abuse
allegations from both victims and the general public. While
the Ombudsman has no legal authority to impose penalties, the
Ombudsman works closely with police and the district
attorney's office to follow-up on abuse allegations.
In July 2004, the Croatian Parliament passed changes to the
criminal code introducing Trafficking in Persons as a
separate criminal act. The law, set to enter into force on
October 1, 2004, contains wording specifically related to
children and foresees a minimum prison sentence of five years
for violations. Under the new code, "whoever, in violation of
the rules of international law, buys, sells, hands over to
another person or mediates in the purchase, sale or handing
over of a child or a minor for the purposes of slavery or a
similar relationship, sexual abuse, prostitution, illicit
transplantation of organs, exploitation of labor by minors,
or for other illicit purposes shall be punished by
imprisonment for not less than five years."
From 2002-3, the Ministry of Justice catalogued 117 cases
involving labor by children under 15. The children, 65%
female, were employed in the hospitality, retail, industrial,
and construction sectors. During the same period, the
Ministry catalogued 5 cases of illegal dangerous work
performed by children between 15 and 18 years old. Four cases
involved children working at night in a bakery while the
fifth involved a child working in forestry involving
dangerous work conditions.
The June 2003 Law on the Ombudsman for Children established a
national office responsible for coordinating, promoting, and
protecting the rights of children in line with legal demands
found in the Croatian Constitution, the UN Convention of
Rights of the Child, and other international obligations.
Conceived to ensure that children have access to effective
protection mechanisms in case of a violation of their rights,
the independent Ombudsman's office coordinates and responds
to all children's rights violations -- including child labor
complaints under ILO Convention 182.
The Ombudsman's office has legal competence to monitor the
coordination of all laws concerned with the protection and
interests of children, Croatian compliance with international
obligations concerning children's rights, and implementation
of all protective mechanisms. Moreover, the office tracks
violations and informs the public about children's rights
violations. The law compels state, regional, and local
governments to cooperate with the Ombudsman's office and
respond to any warnings, proposals, or recommendations within
15 days.
The Ombudsman has authority to enter premises for the purpose
of evaluating care of children in temporary or foster care.
Upon discovery of abuse, sexual mistreatment, or
exploitation, the Ombudsman reports the incident to the
General Attorney Office for investigation and prosecution.
Ombudsman for Children Ljubica Matijevic-Vrsaljko informed us
that since the office began functioning 9 months ago, it has
received two complaints. In response to a letter alleging
that clothing company United Colors of Benetton d.o.o. had
produced an advertisement featuring a 14-year old girl, the
Deputy Ombudsman traveled to the site of the advertisement,
photographed the billboard for documentation purposes, and
formally requested the company provide information about the
girl featured in the ad. (The Ombudsman has broad powers to
compel companies to comply with requests for information.)
Benetton responded that the ad was not produced within
Croatia but imported from Italy. The Ombudsman submitted a
request for information to Benetton headquarters in Milan in
July and is currently awaiting a reply. Should the Ombudsman
receive confirmation that the child is under-age, the law
compels the Ombudsman to inform the police and district
attorney for a full investigation. (According to Ms.
Matijevic-Vrsaljko, her role is "not judge but truth-teller.")
The second case involves a 17-year old boy who claims a man
stopped him on the street in Zagreb, complimented his
appearance, and offered him substantial sums of money to
appear in films. The Ombudsman has referred this case to the
Zagreb police, who have since interviewed the boy and are
currently investigating.
With regard to funding, the Office of the Ombudsman for
Children employs a full-time Ombudsman and two deputies all
appointed to eight-year renewable terms. The Ombudsman has an
annual operating budget of 3 million kuna ($500,000) and
plans to hire 12 support staff this fall. According to State
Secretary for Labor Vera Babic, the State Inspectorate has
responsibility for inspecting worksites and enforcing labor
protection legislation. The Inspectorate employs 84
inspectors for investigating labor relations issues and 90
for investigators labor safety and protection issues. Though
these inspectors are not specifically tasked with child labor
investigations, they help to establish national priorities
for worker protection. The Ministry of Economy, Labor, and
Entrepreneurship was unable to provide data on specific child
labor inspections.
The Ministry of the Interior provides training to government
officials on legislation criminalizing various forms of child
abuse -- including child trafficking, sexual abuse, and labor
exploitation. The police academy offers a seminar for new
recruits addressing domestic violence involving children,
educating police officers about the possibility of child
abuse within a family and instructing them on how to respond
to domestic violence calls.
5. Have social programs been implemented to prevent the
engagement of children in the worst forms of child labor and
to assist in removing children engaged in the worst forms of
child labor?
In line with its involvement in the UN Convention of the
Rights of the Child and European trends towards establishing
an Ombudsman for Children, Croatia established an Ombudsman
for Children in 2003. The Ombudsman and two deputies have
authority to advocate on behalf of children involved in
exploitative employment situations and on behalf of children
victims of trafficking independent of any political office or
party. The 2003 law empowers the Ombudsman office to propose
legislation to the national, county, and municipal
governments to strengthen victim assistance on behalf of
The Ombudsman expressed grave concern about newspaper ads
that seek to recruit teenage girls for escort services or
modeling agencies, noting that Croatian girls were uneducated
about this "open invitation to trafficking." The Ombudsman is
working with the Ministry of Science and Education to
introduce mandatory education and awareness-raising about the
possibility of child trafficking -- she expects all Croatian
school children will be required to watch the educational
film "Lilya Forever" (about a child trafficking victim).
Recognizing that criminal investigations often overlook the
needs of the child, a Center for Social Welfare (CSW) within
the Ministry of the Family is responsible for insuring a
child's protection while police investigate an abuse
violation and the district attorney's office prosecutes the
abuser. A network of 112 CSWs throughout Croatia -- include 1
central office and 13 branch offices for Zagreb -- have broad
powers to inspect foster or temporary care facilities and
even to terminate parental rights during an abuse case if the
parents are a threat to the child's welfare. New legal
procedures to enter into force on January 1, 2006 will give
parents the power to appeal CSW decisions through normal
legal channels. While she lauded the CSW's focus on the
child, Matijevic-Vrsaljko expressed concern that the Centers
for Social Welfare do not institutionally coordinate their
activities with either the police or the district attorney.
In July 2003, the former Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare
through its National Committee on Children established a safe
shelter in a GoC-owned facility. The shelter, upgraded with
the help of International Organization for Migration funding,
will provide temporary safe haven to exploitation victims as
of August 2004.
Croatians enjoy ready and widespread access to primary
education. Under Croatian law children must complete eight
years of compulsory education after the age of six. In
practice, this means compulsory education is generally
completed by the age of 15, though the overwhelming majority
of Croatian students remain in school until age 18.
The Croatian Constitution, the 2002 Constitutional Law on the
Rights of National Minorities, and the 2003 Law on Education
in the Languages of National Minorities work to extend access
to primary schooling to Croatia's minority communities. The
2003 National Program for Roma (NPR) specifically addresses
the issue of primary schooling for Roma children in Croatia
(the GoC estimates 1500 Roma children attended primary school
in 2002). The NPR notes that the primary obstacles to Roma
access to primary schooling is weak command of the Croatian
language; accordingly, the NPR commits the GoC financially to
provide additional teachers and pre-school instruction in
Croatian language for Roma children valued at approximately
$65/child per year.
6. Does Croatia have a comprehensive policy aimed at the
elimination of the worst forms of child labor?
Croatia introduced a National Program of Action for Children
in 1999, including programs to promote economic development,
health, nutrition, access to safe drinking water, poverty
relief, education support, and assistance for children
victims of war. The Program establishes education targets of
60% of Croatian children in pre-elementary education and 100%
in compulsory elementary education. According to State
Secretary for Labor Vera Babic (who sat on the drafting
commission), this target has been met.
In June 2004, Croatia established a working group on child
trafficking, chaired by a representative of the National
Human Rights Office and consisting of the Ombudsman for
Children and representatives of the Ministries of Interior,
Family, Science and Education, Health and Social Welfare, and
the District Attorney's Office. In coordination with UNICEF,
this working group is in the process of drafting a national
plan for combating child trafficking but has no immediate
plans to release any public documents.
A National Program of Action for Youth passed in November
2002 aims at establishing a long-term strategy for the social
integration and empowerment of young people between the ages
of 15 and 29; the National Program concerns youth job
creation but does not address the labor exploitation of
children younger than 15 years.
Croatia has not, however, issued a public statement on
eliminating the worst forms of child labor.
7. For more information, the point of contact for this
report, Economic Officer Joshua Harris, can be reached either
by telephone at 011-385-1-661-2378 or email at
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