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LN: Czech children get indebted due to fines for fare-dodging

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Prague, Feb 6 (CTK) – The city of Brno tries to help youths not to get indebted due to fare-dodging through cooperation between the public transport company, the child welfare office and the parents of the teenage fare dodger, but in other Czech cities the practice is different, daily Lidove noviny (LN) writes yesterday.
The following story of Zdenka, a girl raised in a children’s home, is typical, the paper writes.
When Zdenka was nine years old, she rode a city bus without a ticket and a ticket inspector caught her. She was fined 1,000 crowns and did not pay the fine. Later on, inspectors fined her for fare dodging on two more occasions. By the time Zdenka turned 18, the age when she had to leave the children’s home and from which she became responsible for her debt, this fine increased to 56,000 crowns because it remained unpaid.
Zdenka is one of many such teenagers who enter adulthood with high debts. Some of them are raised in institutions, but many others are from poor families.
However, Zdenka was lucky that Prague lawyer Alena Vlachova helped her get rid of the debt.
If children do not tell their parents that they were caught for fare dodging, the parents learn of it only once they receive a letter from lawyers – and the sum to be paid is considerably higher than the original fine, LN writes.
The Brno City Hall wants to avoid this situation by cooperation between the public transport company and social workers who contact the family of the child who was fined for fare-dodging.
“Our goal is that children do not enter adulthood burdened with debts for fare-dodging,” Brno City Hall spokesman Filip Ponuchalek said.
In Olomouc, north Moravia, the City Hall wants to deal with this issue as well.
Olomouc City Hall social department head Kvetoslav Richter said he considers outrageous the huge difference between the original fine and the sum that is eventually demanded from the debtor.
“Especially in children’s debtors, the penalties pull poor families in the debt trap. The state should avoid these excesses by law,” Richter said.
In Ceske Budejovice, south Bohemia, the public transport firm has been cooperating with the town hall’s child welfare department for eight years, sending the list of underage fare-dodgers to it once a week.
In Usti nad Labem, north Bohemia, on the other hand, the town hall is not considering any such cooperation, the paper writes.
“It would excessively burden the welfare workers,” said Ivana Stastna, head of the Usti town hall’s social department.
In Ostrava, north Moravia, the clerks even consider such information exchange unlawful. “People should learn to bear responsibility for their actions and decisions, including underage children who are capable of assessing the consequences of their actions,” Ostrava City Hall spokeswoman Andrea Vojkovska said.
In Plzen, west Bohemia, the public transport firm addressed the city hall to deal with the cases of young debtors.
Prague has introduced public transport for free for children under 15, but it does not pay any special attention to the debts for fare-dodging of teenagers aged from 15 to 18, LN writes.
($1=25.155 crowns)

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