UNICEF Acclaims Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Renewed Commitment to End Placing Children Under Three in Institutions
Sarajevo, 27.11.2012. - Following the last week’s regional conference hosted by the Bulgarian’s President together with UNICEF, the Call to action to end placing children under three in institutions gains momentum in Bosnia and Herzegovina as well. The study Children under the age of three in formal care in Eastern Europe and Central Asia: a rights-based regional situation analysis was launched at the conference. The study emphasized that institutional care should be used only when strictly necessary as an existing body of knowledge shows – among others - that for every three months spent within such an institution, a child`s physical development was delayed by one month. Children are also more likely to suffer from an inability to bond with parents and their brains are likely to deteriorate.
"Early childhood is the most important developmental phase in life and the institutionalization of infants is a serious concern because of the damaging effect it has on young child health and development. UNICEF is supporting the government authorities at various levels and including all relevant sectors in developing a holistic programme to support the country to invert the alarming trend." – said UNICEF Representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina Ms. Florence Bauer.
At least 1.3 million children in the Central and Eastern Europe and Commonwealth of Independent States region are separated from their families often because of poverty or their families and inability to cope due to stressful circumstances. Out of this number, an estimated 31,000 placed in institutions are under the age of three. They are at risk of severe developmental delays when left in such form of care at this very early phase.
It is estimated that in 2010 in Bosnia Herzegovina 16% out of all children in both private and public institutions, were below three years of age; this data makes the country the second worst in the region, after Bulgaria. In terms of trends, BiH is showing an alarming increase in infant institutionalization from 2000 to 2009 by 65%. Unfortunately, the absence of statistical data for the placement of children below three years in foster care does not enable a proper comparison with the rate of children below three placed in institutions.
Care for children with disabilities is a particularly important issue in Bosnia and Herzegovina, due to constant trends of institutionalization of those children for long periods of time - even their entire lives - making them more susceptible to abuse and maltreatment. The number of children with disabilities in residential care has been increasing since 2000, and has shown no signs of declining in the past three years. According to some estimates in light of data provided by TransMonEE for 2010, children with disabilities represent 67.3% of all children placed in residential care.
In order to address these issues adequately it is important to promote family-based care, to progressively scale down institutions and to provide adequate support to children and their families through community services. “Bosnia and Herzegovina is determined to develop a system for children without parental care which will favor alternatives to institutionalization and prevention of separation” confirmed at the Sofia Conference, Mr Damir Dizdarevic, Assistant Minister of Civil Affairs in the Sector for Labor, Employment, Social Protection and Pension.
The Conference stressed the importance of focusing on prevention of separation of children from their families, ensuring service providers (e.g. social workers, health workers, and professionals from the education sector) are properly equipped to identify families at risk of separation and provide quality services to avoid separation whenever this will be in accordance with the best interest of the child.
As a result of the regional ministerial conference in Bulgaria, governments are urged to:
The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (2010), and the Guidelines on the Alternative care of Children (2009), have reinforced the obligation of States to develop community-based alternatives to institutionalization. Last year, in the European Parliament, UNICEF and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights called on governments in the region to restrict placement of children in institutions.