Do not forget children - Serbia's most precious resource
BELGRADE, 10 March 2014 - We are at critical moment when new visions are being built and promises made. When citizens will decide who will gain their trust to lead them in the coming years. At this moment, it is important that you don’t forget those who are not asked, who are not given a possibility to raise their voices and cast their votes – CHILDREN.
Michel Saint-Lot, UNICEF Serbia Representative - UNICEF Serbia / 2014
Children are the scarcest and most endangered resource of Serbia. Their share of the general population has been steadily decreasing and reached a dramatic low of 17%, as per the latest census. Not only are they the smallest age group, they are also the poorest one. One third of children is exposed to poverty and does not have the possibility to grow-up in conditions conducive for their development. Putting it another way, we could also say that one third of the Serbian population of tomorrow will be people who did not reach their full development potential.
Unfortunately, these children and their families are still not sufficiently supported to overcome risks that are permanently damaging their development trajectories.
One of the most efficient means of support is through quality and inclusive education. Pro-poor education should therefore enable the most vulnerable children to overcome obstacles preventing them from achieving their full potential. This should start with early inclusion in pre-school education. Poor children should be provided with material support, for example clothing, meals and books, as well as learning support to enable school completion and achievement. Many of these measures are unfortunately lacking in Serbia. The chances that a child from a poor family will reach university education are slim.
At the same time, the economy of the 21st century requires skilled labour – at least 65% of the workforce. In Serbia today, barely 17% of the workforce has higher degrees, and one third has only a primary education or less. If we don’t support these, the most vulnerable children, to learn and develop from the youngest age, will Serbia have the necessary workforce or sufficient funds to assist the new poor?
Poor children live in poor families. These families are often faced with multiple challenges, including lack of employment, disability, high stress, and exclusion. They need support, both through cash benefits and adequate child and family community-based services. Serbia has cash benefit programmes reaching one quarter of all children. However, there is considerable room for improving their coherency, as well targeting, coverage and adequacy in terms of amount that would make them more effective in addressing the deprivation of children. They should also be more tightly linked to community-based services, so that families benefit from a holistic and integrated package of support. Severe poverty and deprivation, coupled with a lack of support to vulnerable families can even lead to family break-up, with children being separated from their parents. Making integrated support available to vulnerable families on a systematic basis will require sustainable financing mechanisms. In this regard, the proposed Social Inclusion Fund could be an effective modality.
It is clear, that children need to remain one of the most important priorities of every government to come - first, because government has the responsibility to protect the rights of every child and second, because a society that doesn’t prioritize children is undermining its own progress. Serbia has invested significant efforts and much progress has been made in advancing child rights in different spheres - particularly related to the legal framework.
Nevertheless, there are many challenges ahead to ensuring that no child will be left behind. And these challenges are not small. They will require:
UNICEF Serbia Representative