Children's Rights Protectio Proceedings: Privacy & Children's Best Interest Take Precedence

Every year, the Provincial Protector of Citizens - Ombudsman (PPCO) has a significant number of complaints concerning children's rights protection or exercise. Acting upon such complaints implies communication with various institutions and public services, including gaining access to and insight into confidential documents. Disclosing their contents would be contrary to the privacy protection principle and a violation of the professional secret protection obligation.

Knowing that PPCO handles such proceedings, a major number of citizens have been addressing our institution lately requesting insight into documentation containing information on the custody services activities concerning family affairs and mostly relating to issues of children's rights exercise or protection. The citizens have also been claiming their right to such information is based on the Free Access to Information of Public Interest Law and holding that the official correspondence between the welfare centers and the PPCO contains such information, which is not the case. 

According to this Law, information of public significance is that with a public authority; it originates/results from its work or is related to it, contained in a document and relating to anything the public has a justified interest to know about. Citizens' requests for access to information relating to family issues, but which they personally hold to be of public interest, are not legally grounded. Information with any public authority, service or institution - including the PPCO - acquires during proceedings concerning children's rights protection and exercise, aka family affairs, cannot be considered information of public interest because there is no justified interest of the public to know how the proceedings were handled in individual family disputes.

The PPCO hereby draws public attention to the fact that authorities in charge of family issues proceedings are bound to observe the privacy principle. The Family Act also regulates that proceedings concerning family issues (marital and disputes concerning relationships between parents and children) are not public. Data from court documents are also considered a professional secret and all participants in the proceedings having access to such data are bound to observe it. Observing thus also the child's best interest principle, they are acting to prevent its and possible children's rights violation as well.