Strategy for Social Cohesion and of the Action Plan for Social Cohesion
Recent developments in the Republic of Croatia
1. Investment in social rights and cohesive society
On 27 March 2014, the Government of the Republic of Croatia adopted the Strategy for Combating Poverty and Social Exclusion in the Republic of Croatia (2014-2020) that represents the basis for a systematic approach of all relevant stakeholders in the process of solving the issue of poverty and social exclusion, and is a part of the reform measures contributing to the achievement of the main goals of Europe 2020 strategy. The Implementation Program of the Strategy for Combating Poverty in the Period 2014-2016 has also been made. The Report on Implementation of Measures for 2014, which is to determine the effectiveness of the Strategy, is in its final phase.
Having signed the Agreement with the World Bank, the Republic of Croatia ensured the Social Protection System Modernisation Project. The main goal of the Project is to develop a Strategy for a more effective social protection system. The reform is carried out with a particular emphasis on five areas: 1) consolidation of social benefits administration and establishing of the One stop shop; 2) unification and synchronization of disability expert evaluation; 3) decrease of the number of errors, abuse and corruption; 4) deinstitutionalisation of children and adults; 5) increase of work activity of social protection beneficiaries.
Active labour market policy measures were changed in 2014 into individual measure packages differing on the basis of the target groups’ specific needs, such as youth, the long-term unemployed, the elderly, persons with disabilities, special groups of unemployed people and workers facing the risk of unemployment. Persons with disabilities may participate in all activities and actions related to employment incentives, with the subsidy amounts for this group being larger than the amounts for other unemployment groups. The amount of 75% of annual gross pay of persons with disabilities is given to their employers.
Debt write- of measure The aim of implementing the new measures of debt write-off and enforcement suspension is to provide for a fresh start to financially excluded citizens. This temporary and one-off measures, which will be in force until 30th June 2015, cover around 75,000 over-indebted citizens and their families, including pensioners, the unemployed, low-income citizens and persons with disabilities. Measure is intended to socially vulnerable citizens whose account was blocked for more than a year until 30th September 2014. Citizens eligible to submit requests are the beneficiaries of guaranteed minimum benefit, subsistence allowances and personal disability allowances (Criterion A) and citizens whose monthly income amounts to less than HRK 2,500 (for a single person) or HRK 1,250 per household member, and who have no property other than the one they live in, have no fixed-term deposits and have not concluded a housing savings contract (Criterion B). According to data of Financial Agency dated on 15th May 2015, in the Register of debt write-off 12.239 requests have been recorded and 7.925 of them have been approved.
2. Building a Europe of common and social responsibilities
Speaking of the examples of good practice in the fight against discrimination and stereotyping, it is important to note coming into effect of the new Anti-discrimination Act and establishment of the central national body for the prevention of discrimination. Since the Act came into force, several public campaigns have been run, focused on the prevention of discrimination, and training sessions organised for numerous target groups.
The Free Legal Aid Act has contributed to a more efficient legal protection of socially and economically to the group of citizens who are most in need. Furthermore, all judicial bodies are required to keep a record of court cases related to discrimination and discrimination bases on which those cases are run, and to submit them to a relevant ministry competent for the judiciary.
In the area of healthcare system, an Ordinance has been adopted on collecting medical documentation and identification of conditions and assumptions related to a change of gender or living with a different gender identity. Additionally, the forms for reporting temporary work incapacity have been modified so that a diagnosis is not entered on the form that is submitted to the employer, with the purpose of protecting the privacy of data about the health and diagnosis of the insured party. Also, the activities within the Croatian National HIV/AIDS Prevention Programme have been continually running since 2011.
3. Strengthening of representation and democratic decision-making and broadening of social dialogue
The role of civil society organisations and social partners, recognised as very efficient and valuable partners and active participants in policy making, is extremely important in the creation of new policies, adoption of new laws and changing and amending the existing ones. The passing of the Code for consultation with the interested public in the procedures of the adoption of laws, other regulations and acts, of the Act on the Regulatory Impact Assessment and the Act on the Right of Access to Information, was an important step in the improvement of the normative framework for public consultation.
Numerous public campaigns aimed at raising public awareness about gender equality have been organised, with the “Let’s get Balanced” campaign standing out and emphasizing under-representation of women in political decision-making, and a campaign within “My Voice Against Violence” project, which raises the public awareness of unacceptability of any form of violence against women. The following have been printed and widely disseminated: Gender Equality Act, National Policy for Gender Equality 2011-2015, Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault Response Protocol and Media Guide for Reporting on Domestic Violence (printed in 2000 copies).
Regardless of the circumstances of the assault, the sexual assault victims always represent a particularly vulnerable social group. Victims affected by this kind of violence during the Croatian Homeland War are in an even more difficult position since very few perpetrators have been prosecuted and those who have, did not receive appropriate punishment. With that in mind, the Act on the Rights of Victims of Sexual Violence in the Homeland War is in the proceedings.
4. Building a safe future for all
In relation to the area of protection and promotion of children’s rights and bearing in mind child’s best interest, a National Strategy for the Rights of Children in the Republic of Croatia for the period 2014-2020 was adopted in September 2014. Based on the Council of Europe Strategy for the Rights of the Child and EU Agenda for the Rights of the Child, it focuses on four strategic areas:
Furthermore, in relation to family life and with the purpose of passing a national strategic document in the area of family policy, an Analytical Framework for Defining Family Policy in the Republic of Croatia has been drafted during 2014. A working group has been established that is currently making a Draft for the national document in the area of family policy.
The Family Act passed in 2014 has been suspended by the Constitutional court because some of its provision were insufficiently clear. Considering that every person has the right to live in a community and that every child has the right to family life, a New Family Act is being drafted. The proposed new Act defines essentially the same legal mechanisms as the Family Act dating from 2014.
The possibility of ratifying the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence is being considered. Aiming to ratify and fully implement the Convention, the Republic of Croatia is planning to undertake activities that would ensure administrative and financial resources the states need when they accept the responsibilities inherent in the ratification. At the end of 2013, an Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on a Complaints Procedure was signed, confirming the readiness for its ratification. The responsibilities implied by its ratification are currently being considered by all competent bodies, since the implementation of the Protocol would require modification of the existing legislation.
Improving young people’s circumstances The Republic of Croatia passed a new Act on Youth Advisory Boards in March 2014, with the aim to include young people in decision-making processes concerning public affairs of interest to young people, actively include them in public life and youth counselling in local government. The new National Youth Programme was adopted in October 2014 for the period 2014-2017 with the aim to expand the activities of state administration bodies and public institutions contributing to fulfilling the requirements of young people, raising their standard of living and helping their social integration.
With the purpose of raising awareness of children and young people and the general public about the importance of respecting human rights and upon the invitation by the Council of Europe, the Republic of Croatia successfully implemented the campaign No Hate Speech Movement, which started in January 2014 and continues in 2015. Intensive campaign activities included the setting up of a web-page, a Facebook profile and an official video spot, as well as various promotional materials (T-shirts, badges and posters), which were sent to elementary and secondary schools and associations dedicated to the safety of children and young people on the internet. A call for proposals for financing projects of associations in the area of prevention of violence against and among children and young people was announced in February 2014, containing a section “Prevention of violence against children and young people” and a subsection “Prevention of hate speech on the Internet”.
People with disabilities
Unique expert opinion body started working on 1 January 2015. The introduction of the new expert opinion system, which includes the identification of a physical, intellectual, sensory or mental impairment, disability, functional ability, level of support and work capacity, enabled the synchronization of criteria of expert opinion procedures and helped the beneficiaries to achieve their disability status related rights more easily. One diagnosis and opinion related to achieving one’s rights may be used in almost all systems. Individual costs of providing expert opinion have thus been reduced, simultaneously increasing the number of satisfied beneficiaries.
It should also be noted that it has been arranged, in cooperation with the Office of the Ombudsman for Persons with Disabilities and civil society organisations, that the Act on Voter Registry from 2012 should allow persons deprived of legal capacity to be registered and have the right to vote, since previously they could not have exercised that right, and are now able to participate in political life.
With the new Act on Professional Rehabilitation and Employment of Persons with Disability, which came fully into force as of 1 January 2015, a unified framework has been introduced for a systematic implementation of professional rehabilitation according to a model that ensures equal standards, measures and methodology of carrying out professional rehabilitation. The quota system for employing people with disabilities has been extended, as the most recent novelty in the area of work and employment. All employers who have at least 20 employees must also employ a certain number of persons with disabilities.
In order to be able to speak of employment, it is necessary to point out that the Republic of Croatia has been continuously supporting the removal of constructional barriers. We can thus freely presume that in Croatia it is no longer possible to construct (reconstruct) a building and issue a usage permit unless it is accessible to persons with disabilities to a required extent. Transport infrastructure has also been continually adjusted to the needs of persons with disabilities, although the improvement of transport accessibility in rural areas still needs to be ensured.
The process of adopting Social plans in the counties serves as the basis for identification of needs in local communities, as well as a roadmap for the institutions undergoing transformation. By the end of 2016 the deinstitutionalisation is planned for 1,043 beneficiaries living in social welfare homes.
This year will see the making of a new national strategy for persons with disabilities that will be based on the results produced by the current strategy and on the Analysis of Gaps in the Implementation of the United Nations Convention in Croatia. It is expected that the new national strategy will contain measurable indicators that would offer a more realistic view of the way given measures have been implemented.
A great number of activities still need to be undertaken in order to ensure equal opportunities for all people by empowering all stakeholders and improving vertical and horizontal coordination on all levels.