President of Moldova and UNICEF speak with one voice: “Moldova – with and for children.”
Reform of child care system is central to improving the lives of Moldavan children and youth.
President Vladimir Voronin’s genuine concern for the children of the nation was clear at the conference when he said, “Many children living in one bedroom for seven or eight years – this is worse than in prison. We need to offer better opportunities to Moldova’s children.” The President continued, stating, “The residential care system that we have inherited from the Soviet era does not respond anymore to the present reality.”
Contrary to popular conception, the majority of Moldovan children living in institutions are not orphans, rather their parents are unable to financially support their needs as result of the extreme poverty that characterizes the lives of many families in Moldova. About 1.3 per cent of the nation’s children currently reside in some 68 institutions throughout Moldova, resulting in one of the highest rates of child institutionalization in Europe. The largest of these institutions is home to about 700 children – an unacceptable reality, but one that President Voronin and UNICEF are working to change.
Conference discussions centered on major reforms to the child protection system in Moldova, including the creation of a single, central agency that would handle social services and include a national database by which the needs of vulnerable children and families can be tracked and monitored, reflecting President Voronin’s desire to improve the Government’s efficiency and capacity for providing comprehensive child protection, a goal further echoed by UNICEF Representative, Ray Virgilio Torres. “UNICEF hopes that this will be done under the aegis of a strong Ministry or Government Agency that enjoys sufficient political and budgetary support to function effectively and to be able to positively influence policy and budgetary decisions in other line Ministries.”
Furthermore, the Government seeks to provide greater support to family and community-based solutions to the issue of institutionalized children. In order to reduce the number of children living in institutions, preventive family support services need to be strengthened – particularly via a network of social workers trained to identify families and children at risk and to facilitate their access to services and benefits – and the development of additional community-based services such as foster care, adoption and guardianship need to be maximized for those children who can not remain within their biological families.
For those children who have little choice but to reside in facilities, President Voronin proposes modernization and child-friendly improvements to the nation’s residential facilities so as to minimize disruption to childhood development and prevent feelings of isolation, rejection, and other trauma. “We want to offer children the best we have. This does not mean the most delicious sweets and the nicest toys and clothes. What we mean is creation of the most appropriate conditions for the child’s development to ensure a decent life,” stated President Voronin. “We are very serious about this reform and will be very demanding when monitoring its implementation.”
“We feel His Excellency’s vision of a protection system that no longer foresees institutionalization as the only available means of assisting children who have to be separated from their families is in full compliance with the Convention on the Rights of the Child. UNICEF is of the opinion that most of the children living in internats in Moldova today, should not be there in the first place,” said Torres.
Although progress has been made in decreasing poverty (including child poverty), throughout Moldova, thanks to recent economic growth, children remain quite vulnerable, especially for those residing in rural areas where the risk of living in poverty is 2.6 times greater than children living in urban areas. Forty percent of the households with 3 or more children are considered poor.