Mr Palm's remarks during the BKTF launching conference of the Situation Analyses Report on Child Protection in Albania on 26 March 2012
When we hear of the need to protect a child, we often think of some terrible condition in the family, with violent behavior. Or families who are so poor that they rely on their children to work and bring home some income. Or we may think of ruthless criminals who want to traffic in girls or boys. And then we think how law enforcement, the police, the schools and the justice system can be mobilized to come to the rescue of the child. It is also true that it is the same child that becomes the victim of inadequate attention during childhood, who later drops out of school, possibly comes into conflict with the law or becomes a victim of crime herself.
But of course, there are also some institutions that can do harm to children. It is well known that children are better looked after by foster parents than in orphanages. There are also still some individual teachers that use outdated ways of discipline. As always, the children of poor families suffer most. Rich parents will find a way to stop a teacher who inappropriately punishes children, while many parents who are poor and less educated may think that this is the way it has to be. There are police stations, where children are particularly bad off, compared to the more regular police stations or detentions sites. There are health centers, where staff go out of their way to help a suffering child, and there are others where especially the poor children may get sent away.
There is a saying in Albania: “The child is the parent’s mirror”. Using this analogy, we - Government, civil society, development agencies - are the parents and the Child Protection system is our child, our mirror. The mirror reflects many good things, such as laws, policies, strategies. But I also see a mirror with cracks, with blind spots. A fragmented mirror.
Laws, strategies and policies have almost zero impact unless there are regulations, procedures, institutions, and capacities to implement them. All these are essential components of an effective child protection system. A functioning system requires simultaneous attention to all components. By focussing narrowly on high level policy and strategies we will fail to protect children at risk of social exclusion.
I was recently in Mamël, it takes about one and a half hour's walk to reach the school from the nearest asphalt road. Well, for most of you perhaps only one hour. If something goes wrong in that community, probably not many people will know. Who is going to tell? How long does it take for a policy to reach Mamël? I am using Mamël only as an illustration; there is no indication that things are bad there. Who is going to keep a check on those public institutions, or those remote communities or families, to ensure that nobody may trample children's rights?
So, the role of civil society is surely not limited to check on established authorities, state actors, or elected politicians. Is it possible to create larger movements; movements that have a larger impact on the community dialogue; supported by a basis in the community or - at the minimum - with community activists that support the same values that we all share.
Lastly, Albania's report to the Committee on the Rights of the Child is being reviewed by the UN Committee later this year. This is a huge opportunity to get things right, especially those that have been on the waiting list for quite some time. We look towards Government to use this opportunity to accelerate some of the reforms so urgently needed for children. Also, Civil Society has been active. I am pleased to have been invited by you into your discussions. I look forward to discussing and further developing our common agenda.