A ‘young’ country on the move

Country Programme 2006-2010

The new UNICEF representative in Albania

Related information on the Convention on the Rights of the Child


A ‘young’ country on the move

© UNICEF Albania/04-0079/G. Pirozzi

Albania is a ruggedly beautiful and dynamic country with a wealth of resources – most importantly, its children and youth. It is the ‘youngest’ country in Europe, with 40 per cent of its population under 25.

Albania emerged from 45 years of isolation following the demise of its Communist regime in 1991. The country faced the difficult socioeconomic and political transition to democracy and open markets while struggling with poor governance and organized crime, and undergoing a series of debilitating challenges:

  • widespread social and political unrest that accompanied the unraveling of the government in 1991 and resulted in the destruction of factories, schools and health centres
  • the collapse of pyramid investment schemes in 1997, which bankrupted hundreds of thousands of families and led to anarchy and widespread looting of government weapons
  • the influx of half a million refugees from Kosovo in 1999.

A societal shake-up

During the Communist era, a whole generation grew accustomed to guaranteed government jobs, concentrated largely in rural areas. In addition, factories built during the years of the state-owned economy were not oriented to the needs of a market economy; many closed, eliminating thousands of jobs. These profound changes brought a significant societal shake-up. Around a quarter of the population headed to the cities in search of new livelihoods, breaking supportive family and community bonds and overwhelming the already fragile social services in urban areas.

An additional 20 per cent of Albania’s 3 million people left the country seeking stability and employment opportunities abroad. Remittances from these migrants now make up 14 per cent of GDP. One quarter of the population is jobless, and this proportion rises to 35 percent among young people aged 15 to 24. GDP per capita is one of the lowest in Europe – just $1,100. These trends have discouraged Albania’s youth. A 2001 survey found that 44 per cent expected to make their future outside the country.

The societal upheaval has also brought problems almost unknown in Albania: organized crime, drug and alcohol abuse, domestic violence, human trafficking, prostitution and sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS.

Services: slow rehabilitation

Services that used to be widely available deteriorated badly in the early years of the transition, and limited budgets means they are only slowly being repaired and brought up to current standards. Health centres, especially in rural areas, are poorly staffed and equipped. While almost all children attended pre-school during the Communist years, now only 44 per cent do, and in rural areas, just 13 per cent. Primary and secondary schools are being rebuilt, but teaching methods are not child centred, and materials are outdated. As a result, growing numbers of students are dropping out.

© UNICEF Albania/04-0014/G. Pirozzi

But Albanian showed its commitment to its children by its early ratification of the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1992, and it is working hard to realize the Millennium Development Goals agreed at the United Nations Millennium Summit in 2000. The past two years have generated optimism about realization of child rights as real progress has been seen around the country. UNICEF has helped Albania to reach these achievements:

  • High-level task forces representing government, academia and civil society are working to bring about concrete improvements in early childhood care and development, girls’ education and the fight against child trafficking.
  • The government recently initiated a process to update the national strategy on children and an action plan to implement it, based on child rights principles.
  • Young people are joining government and civil society as genuine partners in guiding the country’s development and formulating national strategies and action plans on issues such as HIV/AIDS and youth.
  • The government’s poverty reduction strategy includes loan conditionalities requiring the government to maintain high levels of vaccination coverage.
  • Health statistics show real improvement over the past several years, and health professionals are increasingly adopting holistic and preventive care strategies.

These and other achievements are helping the country move along the path towards full realization of child rights, and encouraging its key resource -- the young generation -- to stay and build the future of Albania.

Some statistics may differ from UNICEF's official data due to differences such as definitions and sample size. Complete official UNICEF data can be found on the main UNICEF website at www.unicef.org



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