UNICEF in Bosnia and Herzegovina: History Past and Present
UNICEF was created as part of the response to the chaos that was Europe in the aftermath of the Second World War. In 1947, just one year after the organisation had been established at the inaugural session of the United Nations General Assembly, the children of what used to be the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia were among the first recipients of UNICEF aid shipments: a feeding programme on a scale never before witnessed that reached more than 600,000 needy children through post-war Europe’s largest milk distribution.
Almost half a century later UNICEF was one of the first to respond to the outbreak of war in former Yugoslavia, in 1991. The following year, just three months after the fighting had begun in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), UNICEF opened its office in Sarajevo. As part of a small UN family UNICEF, together with the UNHCR and the WHO, began working to meet the desperate needs of women and children caught in the middle of the bloody conflict. UNICEF is committed to upholding the rights of children to live and develop freely and to the creation of conditions that allow them to reach their full potential in life. In response to this human tragedy UNICEF worked with the remaining mother and child services to distribute USD 47 million of emergency aid relief. In the midst of this crisis UNICEF helped train professionals to better deal with the overwhelming suffering that engulfed the families and children of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
In the post-war period UNICEF began to address the consequences of the war and the immediate needs of families and children. Over time the role of UNICEF evolved from that of an emergency aid provider to supporting government bodies and civil society organisations in their efforts to restructure support services in order to be able to work towards fulfilling the rights of children, young people and women. UNICEF assistance during the first post conflict decade, totalling around USD 50 million, was used to support advocacy efforts aimed at keeping the rights of women and children on the political agenda, to improve the education system, encourage a move away from formalised lectures to a more active learning-based approach and to enhance the system for the protection and care of children.
In recent years the focus in BiH has shifted away from reconstruction towards development; however, the country remains locked in transition and building a sustainable and viable social protection system for every child continues to represent a major challenge.
During the period 2005-2009 UNICEF provided over USD 22 million in support to activities aimed at contributing to the establishment of norms and standards necessary for a functional social inclusion and protection system. One area of focus has been to increase public sector efficiency through the introduction of an inter-sectoral approach, coordination mechanisms as well as strengthening the capacities of service providers. UNICEF’s approach has been to work with and enhance the existing systems in order to bring support structures closer to needs at the community level.
UNICEF supported the introduction of child-friendly principles into primary schools in BiH and continues to reach out to those children suffering due to exclusion, discrimination and poverty. In light of the current movement towards EU membership, among the countries of former Yugoslavia, we will continue to build upon the foundations that have been laid for the adoption of European principles of social inclusion and the development of the national capacity in education, health and social protection.