Children in Croatia have legal capacity (capacity to have rights and obligations) and judicial capacity (capacity to be the plaintiff or the defendant). Children may acquire capacity to act (capacity of contracting and producing legal effects usually acquired with age of 18 years old) and judicial capacity to act before the age of 18 only if they get married, become parents - emancipate children (16 years of age), or enter into employment contracts (15 years of age).
The relevant stakeholders involved in criminal proceedings with the participation of children are as it follows:
The participation of the child or minor (up to the age of 23) in court proceedings, in cases when the child is the perpetrator of the criminal offence, has been regulated by the Juvenile Courts Act.
Civil law cases have been conducted by the courts and there are no special courts adjudicating only civil law cases involving children. Municipal courts are competent at first instance for adjudicating cases of maintenance, the existence or non-existence of marriage, annulment of marriage and divorce, establishing or disputing paternity or maternity, as well as child custody and parental care.
The Centres for Social Care are public bodies operating with the aims of protecting and supporting children and they have the possibility to influence court decisions. Centres for Social Care have the legal status of a party and they can also participate as the courts’ auxiliary authorities or interveners sui generis. Since they play a significant role in the protection of children in judicial proceedings, these centres have different opportunities to advocate for the children’s best interests.
The Ombudsman for Children is an independent authority responsible solely to the Parliament which has been established with the exclusive objective of protection, monitoring and promotion of rights and interests of children. There are no special courts or institutions in Croatia dealing with children/minors in administrative judicial proceedings. The administrative courts are courts with general competence established to settle administrative disputes, including those concerning children/minors. In addition to the general governmental authorities that hold the overall responsibility for the protection of the rights of children (Ministry of Social Policy and Youth, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Labour and Pension System, Ministry of Justice), there are specialised competent authorities such as the Ombudsman for Children.
All competent authorities involved in potential criminal proceedings involving children or minors need to act urgently to finalise their activities as soon as possible. According to the Juvenile Courts Act commencement of proceedings and relevant decisions brought by courts should take place without undue delay in criminal proceedings against juveniles, young adults and for crimes committed against children.
Namely, court proceedings against juvenile offenders, and pre-trial proceedings such as police and public prosecutors investigations and proceedings are of urgent nature. Delays in enforcement of sanctions against juveniles are minimised also by duty of the court to commence such proceedings without undue delay after court decision has become final and there are no legal impediments for its execution.
The procedures in which the personal rights of the child shall be decided are urgent and the first hearing shall be held within fifteen days from the day of the initiation of the procedure. The decision in the procedures on provisional measures and enforcement, to exercise parental care and personal relationship with the child, as well as to hand over the child, shall be rendered and delivered within thirty days from the day of initiation of the procedure. The second-instance court shall render and delivered the decision within thirty days from the day of receipt of the appeal.
In accordance with the Criminal Procedure Act, an alleged child/minor victim has the right to be heard, to testify and to participate in criminal proceedings. They have the right to inform appropriate authorities on relevant facts and propose evidence with respect to the crime and the criminal proceedings, as well as to exercise their right to legal remedies. In this respect they have the right to ask questions to suspects, witnesses and to expert witnesses during court sessions and submit their comments and explanations regarding their testimony.
In practice, the assessment of the best interests of the child is considered as a judgement of specialists involved in the procedures for child protection and they can propose to the court a measure of protection for the child. The assessment of the best interests of the child is based on the principles and methods of work of professional experts (social workers, psychologists and others). To comply with the European Convention on Children’s Rights, the court may appoint a special representative to the child in a case where the holder of parental responsibility is excluded from the representation of the child as a result of his/her conflict of interest with the child. Such a representative is usually a lawyer with a significant track record in proceedings involving children. Special representatives may be appointed in certain judicial proceedings concerning family rights, such as custody over the children in divorce cases and adoptions, as well as cases that concern the protection of children’s personal rights and interests.
Protecting the best interests of the child is one of principle enshrined in the Constitution, where has been stated, among the others, that parents bear responsibility for the upbringing, welfare and education of their children and are responsible for ensuring the right of their children to a full and harmonious personal development. The state must devote special care to orphans and minors neglected by their parents and everyone has a duty to protect children and the right to inform the relevant authorities about potential harm caused to children. Young people, mothers and disabled persons are entitled to receive special protection at work. Everyone should have access to education under equal conditions. Compulsory education is free, in conformity with law.
Croatia adopted the Act on the Execution of Sanctions Imposed on Juveniles Convicted of Crimes and Offences. The purpose of the above mentioned Act is to regulate the following:
Representatives of the competent centre for social care play a significant role in ensuring the proper treatment of child offenders. The centre for social care is also responsible for summoning and instructing the child on the execution of any correctional measure and it provides all necessary input and support. Correctional measures have the purpose to provide protection, care, help general or specific education to convicted children. They should have a positive impact on offenders' education, development, and personality in order to strengthen them and enable him/her to refrain from committing new offences.
The types of correctional measures are:
• court reprimand;
• special obligations such as: apologising to the injured party, compensation or remedy of the damage inflicted by the criminal offence to the extent possible for the child, regular schooling, training and work qualification, accepting a job and persisting in it, supervised usage of child offender's income, involvement in the work of humanitarian organisations or activities of municipal or ecological significance, refraining from visiting certain places, events or company with certain individuals, submission to medical treatments such as detoxification from drugs or other addictions, counselling or psychosocial treatments, professional training courses, etc.
Imprisonment in a juvenile prison may also be imposed as a last measure and subject to specific conditions with regard to the use of such a measure, its duration, purpose and content. Only older child offenders (aged from 16-18) may be sentenced to juvenile prison and only for a criminal offence punishable by a term of imprisonment of three years or more, where, due to the nature and seriousness of the offence and 'high level of guilt' (for example where there has been extreme persistence in committing the crime or the action has been particularly inhumane), a correctional measure cannot be justified.
Children who lack procedural capacity to act have been represented by their legal representatives in which cases a child receives information about court decisions and the enforceability thereof via his/her legal representative.
Certain protective measures can be put in place, by courts, during the enforcement procedure to protect children from unnecessary harm after conducting a non-contentious proceeding. Protective measures are: restraining order of non-contact or limited contact with the parent, grandparent, brother or sister of a child (or half-brother or half-sister).
a) All persons have the right to appeal against a judgment of the competent court as set out in the general rules and conditions on legal remedies established by the Criminal Procedure Act. A child victim, in addition to a state attorney, defendant and defence counsel, may appeal a judgment of the court of first instance. A child victim, as a party in the criminal proceedings, may appeal the decision of the court on the costs of the trial and the decision of the court on his/her financial claims.
All persons having the right to an appeal against a judgment may file an appeal against a judgment issuing punishment, a correctional measure against a minor, or a decision suspending the proceeding, within eight days of the receipt of the judgement or decision. The defence attorney, the public prosecutor, the spouse, a relative in the vertical line, an adopted parent, guardian, brother, sister and foster-parent may submit an appeal in favour of the minor even against his/her will. An appeal shall not postpone enforcement of the decision.
The second-instance court may alter the decision of the first-instance court by issuing a stricter sanction against a minor only if that is proposed in the appeal.
b) Children involved in judicial proceedings have a right to file a complaint, or an appeal or claim under the general rules set by the Civil Procedure Act and the Civil Obligation Act.
As children, in general, do not have procedural capacity, typically their parents or guardians act as their legal representatives on their behalf. The child’s legal representative is entitled to undertake all procedural actions on behalf of the child, including submission of appeal. An appeal can be filed against first instance judgments of courts by the parties. Appeals against first instance decisions suspend the enforceability of court decisions. An appeal can be filed challenging the judgement of the first instance court based on the following grounds: substantial violation of civil procedure rules, wrongful or incomplete establishment of the facts and wrongful application of the relevant law. Usually the timeframe for filing the appeal against the judgment of the first instance court is within 15 days from the date when a copy of the judgement has been served.
The Family Act regulates adoption as a special form of family-legal care and protection of children without adequate parental care, which allows parenting to the adoptive parents. The adoptive parent should be a Croatian citizen (exceptionally a foreigner if it is of particular interest for the child) and persons aged at least 21, and at least 18 years older than the adopted child. A child can be adopted by married couples and common-law partners jointly, one spouse/common-law partner if the other spouse/common-law partner is the parent or adoptive parent, a spouse/common-law partner with the consent of the other spouse/common-law partner, as well as by a person who is not married. Adoption may be established up to the eighteenth years of age of the child, and a child can be adopted if s/he meets the legal requirements for adoption and if it is in accordance with the child's well-being. A child who is 12 shall give a written consent for the adoption.
The adoption procedure is carried out by the social welfare centre of the place of permanent or temporary residence of persons who intend to adopt. If the adoptive parent or a child is a foreign citizen, adoption may be established only with the prior consent of the ministry responsible for social welfare.
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