Okaju's annual report

“With covid, children’s rights have taken a step backwards”

“We would like the government to consult youth representatives more regularly,” says Charel Schmit. (Photo: Maison Moderne)

“We would like the government to consult youth representatives more regularly,” says Charel Schmit. (Photo: Maison Moderne)

The 2021 report of Charel Schmit, Ombudsman for children and youths (Okaju), was presented on Tuesday. It deals with the consequences of the pandemic on the well-being of children. The results are far from pleasant. 

Schmit presented his annual report to the President of the Chamber of Deputies, Fernand Etgen (DP), on Tuesday morning. This report is strongly dedicated to the covid-19 issue and more specifically to the repercussions the pandemic has had on children's rights in 2021.

The report is in fact an investigation carried out through interviews, consultation of studies and surveys, activity reports, statistics. It has highlights notably the lack of data, whether qualitative or quantitative, related to the situation of children and young people in Luxembourg. “Some are unavailable, others are incomplete. We have big gaps in this area... Luxembourg needs a tool to monitor the well-being of children and young people,” explained Schmit to Paperjam--Delano’s sister publication--before answering more questions.

What impact has the pandemic had on the situation of children and adolescents in Luxembourg?

Charel Schmit - Covid-19 has caused a step backwards in terms of children's rights, compared to the progress we had experienced in the years before in terms of participation, inclusion and integration. Now we have to try to set the record straight in the coming months and years. To try and make up for the backlog that has now built up. There are many moments when young people have not been able to live out their freedom, to satisfy their needs at that level. They have not been able to commit themselves as they would have liked to in their community, in their school, in society.

It is incomprehensible that not all the costs of psychotherapy are covered.
Charel Schmit

Charel SchmitOmbudsman fir Kanner a Jugendlecher (Okaju)

In addition, the pandemic has directly affected a large proportion of them. More than 14,000 children (14,147 as of 19 September) have been directly infected. It is true that they are part of a generation that is not the most vulnerable from a medical and health point of view, but in terms of the impact on their lives, their evolution and the development of their personality, it is enormous! Social contacts have been more difficult. With parents too, sometimes with visiting rights or accommodation that did not always work. All this can have a great impact on the child's reality.

An impact that is more psychological than physical?

Of the more than 14,000 children infected, about a hundred have been hospitalised. So the impact on the physical level is there. But it is clear that what has been predominant is the mental impact. Even before the start of the pandemic, it had been argued that there was an urgent need to develop and guarantee direct access to psychiatric and psychotherapeutic health care. The health crisis has only highlighted the existing structural deficits even more clearly. I call on all politicians to move forward. It is incomprehensible that the full costs of psychotherapy are still not covered.

We would also like the government to consult more regularly with youth representatives. For example, before taking new measures.

It is clear that during this health crisis, priority was not given to young people.
Charel Schmit

Charel SchmitOmbudsman fir Kanner a Jugendlecher (Okaju)

Do you think that young people have not been given enough priority since the beginning of the health crisis?

Absolutely! It is clear that priority has been given to other areas. Maintaining the health system, maintaining economic activities. The question has often been: how can we keep the workforce working? The impact that the measures could have on young people was sometimes mentioned. But I don't feel that it was given as much attention as one might have hoped.

You tabled your report in the Chamber of Deputies on Tuesday. Do you feel that there is a real political interest in the various recommendations contained in it?

Whereas the ORK (Ombuds-Committee for the Rights of Children) was somehow attached to the Ministries of Family and National Education, Okaju, its successor, is attached to the Chamber of Deputies. In the exercise of its functions, it does not receive instructions from any authority. The independence of our institution is thus guaranteed. And we also have additional means and resources.

This position gives us the possibility to be in a more regular exchange with the members of Parliament. And, in the nine months since I succeeded René Schlechter as Ombudsman, I have been able to observe a real interest from the political world regarding the opinion and recommendations of Okaju.

Afterwards, we know that political priorities are sometimes elsewhere. But we are here to put a little pressure on them.

To do what we would call lobbying in other areas.

In a way, yes.

We know that political priorities are sometimes elsewhere. But we are here to put a little pressure on them.
Charel Schmit

Charel SchmitOmbudsman fir Kanner a Jugendlecher (Okaju)

When we look at the number of cases you have opened in recent months, the calls you have received, we can see that your figures are not necessarily increasing. But the situation is worrying, as you said. How do you explain this?

Okaju has to make itself known. We are mainly approached by parents or professionals in the educational sector. Not by the children and adolescents themselves. They don't know who we are. This has to change. We need to put in place a communication strategy next year.

In your report, you talk about the reform of the Constitution in terms of what's to come in 2022.

Children's rights are going to be included in the chapter of the Constitution that talks about fundamental rights. One of the four to be reformed. This is obviously very important for us. It will have positive effects on all future laws and on society in general. For the time being, there are just a few wording issues to be resolved.

A report on the juvenile security unit in Dreiborn, namely Unisec, is also being prepared.

Yes, it is being prepared in cooperation with the Ombudsman, Claudia Monti, as external controller of places of detention. It will be an assessment of the last four years, i.e. a hundred or so cases that have passed through Unisec. It will be presented shortly. It will include alternatives to prison placements. I do not want to reveal the content of this report before it is published, but I must say that, from the point of view of children's rights, deprivation of liberty can only be a decision taken as a last resort and for the shortest possible time. However, placements sometimes last longer than the law allows. And we can sometimes wonder, for some young people, whether this prison placement is the best response to provide in terms of education and socialisation.

This story was first published in French on Paperjam. It has been translated and edited for Delano.