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In the name of the father: Helping children affected by blood feud

© UNICEF Albania/2003/C. Way
Marash Fili at his home in Shkodra

A teenager spends his days alone at home, isolated by the risk of being a victim of revenge killing.

Meet Marash Fili. He is 14 years old, good at math, loves to dance and wants to be a policeman when he grows up because he feels the law enforcement in his town -- Shkodra, Albania -- is ineffective. But these days Marash doesn’t have much opportunity to see whether the police are doing their job or not. He is ‘locked at home’, at risk of being killed by family enemies if he crosses his threshold.  “I want to be with my friends and live a normal life,” says 14-year-old Marash.

Marash is a living victim of blood feud – revenge killing sanctioned in medieval practices that have re-emerged in northern Albania since the fall of the Communist regime in 1991. Blood feud is an anachronistic practice codified in the Kanun, a code of law that emerged in the middle ages to govern life in the isolated north of Albania. It says that a wrongdoing must be avenged by killing a male member of the family that committed the wrong. This in turn leads to a cycle of tit-for-tat killings that put at risk all male members of the extended family. The feud can go on for years or even generations. And the children suffer in the name of the father.

A family broken by a senseless death

Marash’s older brother, Zef, was killed four years ago at age 17 to avenge the death of a man killed by the boys’ uncle over a banal dispute about harvesting lumber in a forest. Their father is in hiding. Mrs Fili, tears rolling down her cheeks, shows visitors a booklet of poems Zef wrote in a neat hand. His photograph is at the centre of a memorial on a wall of the family’s simple home behind a white concrete wall on the city outskirts. “We tried to reconcile with the other family, to stop the feud,” says Mrs Fili. “But they refused.”

For Marash the days are long and boring in the small compound. “I want to be with my friends and live a normal life,” he says. But few come to visit, and he can leave the house only on the feast day of St. Rocco, when tradition halts the blood feud. 

© UNICEF Albania/2003/C. Way
In the Fili home, a memorial to Zef, the victim of a 'blood feud' revenge killing four years ago at age 17

A project supported by UNICEF aims to help boys like Marash realize their right to education even while locked at home – and to diminish the isolation and keep them ready to return to school when the feud is resolved.

The project supports the education departments in the three most affected districts, which have developed special home schooling programmes. It also trains teachers to provide emotional and psychological support to the children and their families. A total of 84 teachers have been trained. In Shkodra, the project so far has assisted 370 children – of whom 230 have been able to return to school, while 140 must still be taught at home. Blood feud is an anachronistic practice codified in the Kanun, a code of law that emerged in the middle ages to govern life in the isolated north of Albania.

Teachers as agents of peace

In addition, 80 teachers have been taught to become ‘agents for peace’ in their communities. Their role is to mediate disputes and encourage non-violent methods of conflict resolution. In the first three months of 2003, six families reconciled in Shkodra prefecture due to the catalytic role of these teachers.

Arben is Marash’s teacher. He spends eight hours a week with Marash, keeping him up to date on his lessons and providing emotional support to the family – especially important while the father is hidden away.

“We also help them to avoid the isolation, with events like birthday parties,” he says.

For children returning to school after reconciliation between warring families, the project also provides catch-up lessons and assistance in adapting to the school environment.
All of the families affected by blood feud are poor, and the project helps by providing basic supplies and some clothing.

 

 
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