Key challenges for children in Montenegro
According to the latest official Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP) data (2003), almost 30% of children grow up below or close to the poverty line. Poverty increases to 49% for refugee and displaced children and to 57% for Roma children.
Only 25% of children are breastfed within one hour of birth and 19% of infants are exclusively breastfed during the first 6 months. According to the latest Multiple Cluster Indicator Survey (MICS) data, 12.5% of children aged between 2 and 9 years have at least one reported disability. Also, MICS found that only 29.8% of women aged 15-49 years have comprehensive knowledge on HIV/AIDS transmission.
According to MICS, the primary completion rate is relatively high at 91.1% overall, but it is much lower among children in some population groups, such as Roma. Pre-school coverage is low and children are not able to get into rhythm of learning through the provision of high quality early childhood education. MICS found that only 29.1% of children attend a preschool, while the figure for poor and excluded children, as well as children with disabilities is much lower. According to the recent OECD-coordinated Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), which tests 15-years-olds, Montenegro's education system was ranked 48th out of 57 places. A strong focus on quality is evidently required.
Violence is a growing problem. UNICEF research in 8 primary schools showed that 48% of children experience some form of violence in schools and around 80% of them have not talked about it to adults in school or at home. Since 2002, 500 cases of children victims of violence, abuse and neglect were dealt with by the multidisciplinary teams set up in 7 municipalities with UNICEF and UNHCR support.
Children in institutions
Four hundred and thirty-eight children were reported to be in institutions between the 4th and 14th September 2007 when an assessment was undertaken with UNICEF support. This figure may not seem high, but if we look at the rate of children in residential care as a proportion of the national population, we see that Montenegro has one of the highest figures in the World Health Organization region of Europe and Central Asia.
Fifty years of research indicates that infants who are placed in institutional care will suffer delays in physical and psychological growth. If infants placed in residential care are not moved to family based care by the age of 6 months such harm may have long term consequences increasing the chances of antisocial behaviour and delinquency. It is recommended as an overriding principle for child care and protection that no child under three years should be placed in residential care without a parent. Also, when high quality institutions are used as an emergency measure, research has suggested that the length of stay should be no more than 3 months. That is why the dismantling of institutionalized forms of protection, especially for very young children, should be considered as an urgent priority of the social welfare system reform.
Children in conflict with the law
The term "children in conflict with the law" refers to anyone under 18 who comes into contact with the justice system as a result of being suspected or accused of committing an offence. Most children in conflict with the law have committed petty crimes, while some have been used or coerced by adults to engage in criminal behaviour. According to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989), which Montenegro ratified in October 2006, children in conflict with the law have the right to treatment that promotes their sense of dignity and worth, takes into account their age and aims at their reintegration into society. Also, placing children in conflict with the law in a closed facility should be a measure of last resort, to be avoided whenever possible. Justice systems designed for adults often lack the capacity to adequately address these issues and are more likely to harm than to improve a child's chances for reintegration into society.
Montenegro still lacks a comprehensive juvenile justice code that contains all provisions related to children in one text. Moreover, there are no specialized juvenile justice courts, judges and prosecutors. Programmes for children and families at risk have yet to be developed. Capacity building is needed in order to assure effective implementation of alternative sanctions and rehabilitation that involves families and communities.
Roma continue to face difficult living conditions and discrimination especially in education, healthcare, social protection and employment. The 2003 census registered 2,600 Roma people, but it is believed that the real figure is much higher (around 20,000). According to the EU Progress Report from 2007, under a third of all Roma children attend primary school and only about 20% complete primary education. Unemployment among Roma is high at 82%.