Mr Palm's speech during the launching event of the National Study on Children in Street Situation in Albania "From begging in the street toward protection and care" on 19 May 2014
On behalf of UNICEF and Save the Children, I want to thank all parents and organizations and of course the government authorities for being here.
To start, I want to recognize the incredible skills of street children, who manage to survive in the face of adversity. Many of us adults, including myself, have grown up sheltered and looked after by our families. I couldn’t have survived on the street. But these kids do survive, through tenacity, grit, and courage.
Street children have skills – we call them life skills - that would be a real asset in many professions and companies. Many of them count money at a time when others are still learning the numbers.
But there is a catch. In order to go into business, kids need to know how to read and write. Kids need to know what’s right and wrong, and how to play by the rules.
For all the strength that children on the street have, they are still children. They are the most vulnerable of all children. If we don’t protect them, if we don’t help them, there is little chance for hem succeeding in life.
Most of the 3000 children on the streets of Tirana and other cities in Albania still have a family. These families are unable, and sometimes unwilling, to do what is best for their children.
Our first line response should be to help the families to look better after their children. To convince them that there is little future for their children begging on the streets or selling stuff.
This is not easy. For this we need social workers, who know how to assess each situation, how to plan for the family and the child to get out of the misery. A social worker who can call on education, health, emergency or law enforcement services, to find a solution that is in the best interest of the child.
Separation from the families is normally not a good solution and is only ok for emergencies. Children need their families for many reasons. Authorities need to create a safety net for struggling families. In most cases cash assistance alone will not be sufficient. The family has to be helped to manage their situation. Best practices exist from civil society, such as Arsis and Save the Children.
The family is the basic unit of society. We work with the Ministry of Social Welfare to continue with the reform of social care services. This will put in place the social workers and mechanisms that can strengthen the most vulnerable families and communities.
I often hear that certain groups of people or children, also street children, are not the responsibility of a local or central authorities or institution or department. But then, whose responsibility are they?
Everyone has to contribute. Each local authority or sector has to do its part. To prevent families from sending their children on the street, to make sure these children get an education and get treatment when they are sick. That they get sheltered and protected when the lights go out.
The study shows that every third child on the street is at risk of being trafficked or exploited. This is not what they want. The study says that most children like to go to school and learn something different.
This brings me to my last point. For most children on the street, their first and main contact with government is through the police. Many activities of street children are close to being illicit. Sometimes they go into criminal activity.
We are particularly concerned about the seasonal work of children in cannabis cultivation. They may earn good money there, but their life is doomed.
No society can allow that children get criminalized just because they had to live on the street, and make money according to the law of the street. The first official a street child should meet should be the social worker, or doctor, or teacher, not the police.
We have a lot of confidence that the reform of social care services will help to turn this situation around.
Finally, let’s not forget the strength of children on the street. Street children are not the problem, but part of the solution. Let’s work with them, all of us.