The Child Abuse Hotline is no longer operational because of lack of funds. Commissioner for Children Carmen Zammit confirms in her annual report for 2008, which has been laid on the table of the House of Representatives, that funds had not been obtained from the European Commission and the authorities have not as yet taken action.
Between September 2006 and May 2008, the hotline had received 363 reports of child abuse, of which 261 were about indecent material involving children, nine were on other types of child abuse and 89 reports were transmitted to the Cyber Crime Unit within the Police Force for investigation.
Ms Zammit said her office had received 123 complaints but an ongoing problem remains that of having children transported to school as early as 90 minutes before school starts. Other complaints dealt with issues of access rights and child maintenance in cases of personal separation, school matters, imprisonment of children and participation in sports.
Complaints received in relation to education included issues of unsupervised school transport, heavy school bags, bullying and absenteeism.
The Commissioner for Children expressed her concern regarding the lack of therapeutic residential set ups to cater for children and young people who are in conflict with the law. Children as young as 13 are being sent to prison due to the lack of suitable alternative rehabilitation facilities, she said.
The closure of the Lourdes Home in Gozo brought about a lack of residential care facilities for children in Gozo. The authorities separated the residents of this home and moved them to Malta, suffering changes to school in the run-up to the exam period. This, despite the Commissioner's proposal that Lourdes Home be temporarily kept in operation by means of state assistance until a more stable long-term alternative was found so as not to cause a sudden and unnecessary disruption in the lives of the children who were living there.
Ms Zammit said significant dangers are still found in recreational spaces for children and young people, quoting as an example the "skating park located within the roundabout of a very busy motorway" (near the university).
Continuing in the footsteps of her predecessor, Ms Zammit supports the introduction of a sex offenders' register to ensure the highest possible child protection from sex-related offences. Her proposal to appoint a panel of persons to study the introduction of such a register has not received the full support and consensus of the authorities. However, the commissioner wishes to initiate discussions with stakeholders to study how such a register could work in Malta.
The Manifesto for Children published by the Commissioner's Office in 2008 was the end product of research and consultations with stakeholders which lead to an identification of the needs of children in Malta and also of areas that need to be improved. The manifesto was also the focus of the Rights4U educational programme that focused on personal development and the promotion of an understanding of the rights of children. Through the Rights4U programme, 51 participants were empowered in the implementation of concepts such as respect, responsibility, inclusion and independence.
The year under review saw the introduction of Ġuġinu l-Iljunċinu (Ġuġinu, the lion cub), the official mascot of the Office of the Commission for Children. This was created by Amy Mizzi, a 14-year old attending Carlo Diacono Girls' Junior Lyceum who describes the character as a 'friendly and cool character', 'courageous and not afraid to fight for his rights and for the rights of his friends, the children'. The mascot participates in a number of activities promoted by her office. The report describes Five06 as "a tele-series unethically conveying negative images of teenage girls in residential care, without giving any regard to subsequent consequences such as reinforcing the stigma of people in residential care". This, together with the portrayal of children in a number of other television programmes, has spurred the commissioner to ask the Broadcasting Authority to review the current legislation.
The official website of the Office of the Commissioner for Children has almost been finalised after 248 children and young people between the ages of 4 and 15 years were consulted on its design, contents and accessibility.
Complaints received by the Commissioner for Children during 2008
Classification - Number
Family - 52 (42.3%)
School - 27 (22%)
Court - 5 (4%)
Sports/Culture - 7 (5.7%)
Abuse - 19 (15.4%)
Miscellaneous - 13 (10.6%)
Total - 123 (100%)