Mr Palm's speech during the conference - Child rights come first! "Strengthening the functions of Ombudsman Office for the protection and promotion of Child rights" organized by the office of the Ombudsman in collaboration with UNICEF on 3 December 2013
Today’s conference coincides with the International Day of Persons Living with Disability. It was not planned to be like this. But I want to note that children living with disabilities often find it very difficult to live a life free of discrimination. They are often in need of special care, remedies and protection. The Deputy Minister of Social Welfare and Youth, Bardhylka and I had an event yesterday at the school for children with hearing impairment. The children had a big message for all of us. The children didn’t want charity. Instead they wanted not be discriminated against, they wanted to participate in all those things that we love doing ourselves.
But who listens to children who cannot speak? Who visualizes a situation for children who cannot see? Who creates justice for children who are in conflict with the law?
The purpose of our roundtable is very clear. It is not just about hiring more people, or creating structures that are difficult to finance. We are here to find the best way to address situations that require our special care and attention, for those who are most vulnerable in any society. It is about the office of the People’s Advocate; it is about children being able to make their views heard, complain and be assisted so that the outcome is in their best interest.
The Albanian constitution recognises the need to guarantee a special treatment for children. In the penal area, this has often been translated into serving half-time. It is time to move from this. Children are not half adults. Children need special measures, because the cure is not punishment. Children develop and their development should be turned into a positive direction. Detention must only be a measure of last resort. At present that 66 percent of convicted juveniles complete their sentence in detention while awaiting trial – they are punished in anticipation of the outcome of the trial.
Another example: A robbery committed as a gang is usually an aggravating factor for adults. For children, it is practice to consider it a mitigating factor, because the child has probably been pushed into the situation by peer pressure. The sentence should thus be lowered. The outcomes of a criminal case are clearly different for juveniles and adults. Different considerations apply.
That’s why we believe a Child Rights Section within the Ombudsman Office is necessary. It is not just because of the anticipated additional workload. It is necessary because of the special expertise that is needed to ensure that children are not treated as adults. That their best interest is considered. That we have people who know how to interact with children and young persons.
Those in need to complain are usually those that have limited capacities to do so. Children, especially children with special needs or those from poor families are vulnerable. The People’s Advocate is mainly there to serve the under- privileged and marginalized. Rich people can hire a lawyer, are better informed and networked anyway, and influence the political process.
So the Child Rights Section should be able to provide information to children and those concerned about children, about their rights or how to lodge a complaint. Staff needs to act on their own initiative, including instituting investigations into observance of the right of the child. They need to define special procedures for children to complain, they need special skills in interviewing children. They need to have the best interests of children on their mind.
In its concluding observations on the report by Albania, the Committee on the Rights of the Child “urges Albania, to ensure that the People’s Advocate Office and in particular its Children’s Department function with efficiency and without interruption, notably by ensuring that it is provided with the necessary human, financial and technical resources. The Committee also urges Albania to take all the necessary measures to conduct awareness-raising programmes, particularly for children, including children living in remote areas on the possibility of submitting complaints to the Children’s Department”.
A last word on the inevitable discussion on budgets, and who is going to pay for all of this. Here I only have one piece of advice. We must learn to see services for children – including in the People’s Advocate Office – as investments. As parents, we all know this. We do everything to ensure the good health and education of our children. We go through many sacrifices. Because we know these are better investments than keeping money in the bank or buying a new car. It is time that the State also begins to take this view.
I look forward to the discussion and how to strengthen the culture of children’s rights in Albania.