Improving responses to violence against children by turning evidence into policy and results
SARAJEVO, 19 September, 2012 — Government, Ombudspersons and civil society representatives from Albania, Bosnia Herzegovina, Serbia and Turkey are meeting in Sarajevo as part of a two-year joint initiative of the European Union and UNICEF to help protect children from violence in South East Europe.
The project funded by the EU’s Civil Society Facility aims to strengthen capacities to identify, monitor and address violence against children through partnership between civil society and state actors.
Almost 600 professionals from health, education, justice, welfare sectors and the police were interviewed in cities and villages across the four countries. The eight-month research focused on how schools, police, prosecutors, judges, health and social workers respond to cases of violence against children at home, at school, in care and justice settings and in the community. The findings revealed both strengths and weaknesses of current responses and will form the basis for the workshop`s discussion.
‘Violence against children is a hidden phenomenon but a global concern. Research including this one indicates that children who have become victims are not properly identified and not provided with adequate support,” said Jean-Claude Legrand, UNICEF Senior Regional Child Protection Advisor for the region comprising Central and Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States.
“UNICEF will continue its support to governments, civil society, ombudspersons, parliaments and others who can bring change. Together, we need to strengthen the responses to violence at all levels: by professionals, policy makers and in societies at large. What matters is that all children are protected from all forms of violence in any setting at any time in their lives,” he added.
UNICEF Representative in BiH, Ms. Florence Bauer, emphasized the importance of the fact that experts from the region will be working together to improve mechanisms for protection of children from violence and in particular identification of cases of this violence.
“We are all aware of the phenomenon of violence against children. It is a fact, however, that we do not have valid information which could provide basis for development of adequate strategies. In addition, we are faced with a general lack of social sensitivity to this problem, which is an area for improvement as well”, said Ms. Florence Bauer.
Assistant Minister for Human Rights and Refugees of BiH, Ms. Saliha Đuderija, thanked UNICEF and the European Union for organizing the Regional Conference in Sarajevo. She noted some institutional arrangements that put children in the background as one of important concerns. She also expressed her pleasure with having the opportunity to discuss that issue with colleagues from the region.
“There are institutions that do their job properly on certain levels. Nevertheless, child protection is rather decentralized and fragmented. Thus, we have no integrated system of child protection which would cover all levels of government. Another problem is the lack of resources and professionals to respond to all children’s needs. Child protection system should be considered a priority on all levels of the government”, said Ms. Saliha Đuderija.
Natalia Dianiskova, head of the Social Development, Civil Society and Cross Border Cooperation Section of the Delegation of the European Union to BiH, was pleased that the Regional Conference marked the halfway point in implementation of the project. The project has already yielded results and will provide the basis for the new follow-up program starting in 2014, she said.
“We have been working on regional and national programs to complete the effort. In regional programs we address common concerns in the countries of the region and jointly look for best ways of addressing them. In national programs we address country-specific concerns that are addressed locally”, said Ms. Natalia Dianiskova.
Professionals working with children and families strongly recommend the need to boost resources for prevention and family support services. Although structures and policies are in place, a harmonized, comprehensive cross-sectoral response to violence against children is not yet firmly in place everywhere.
The two-day workshop which closes today elaborated on challenges concerning referral systems and the prevailing stigma attached to violence which often results in serious underreporting of cases. Conference participants also discussed how best to tackle social acceptance of some forms of violence and address the uneven distribution of services and lack of human and financial resources.
The discussion and recommendations also focused on good practices identified in the research: health workers visits to schools can be an excellent opportunity to identify violence cases. Prevention programmes have started in some schools and communities. The number of committed and trained professionals in the region is growing.
Key recommendations to be discussed included:
• How to strengthen mandates and accountabilities of professionals who play a key role in identifying, referring and responding to violence.
• How to build and strengthen community awareness on what is violence against children.
• How to upscale existing good practices.
Reflecting the commitment of UNICEF and the European Union to protecting children from all forms of violence, both agencies are keen to assess carefully what needs to be done to assure that all children – inside and outside the European Union - obtain the same protection and support to realize their basic rights.
This project is also part of an on-going effort after a landmark 2006 UN Study on Violence against Children which has been a global effort to paint a detailed picture of the nature, extent and causes of violence against children, and to propose clear recommendations for action to prevent and respond to it.