YEREVAN, 4 September, 2018 — UNICEF, the Embassy of Bulgaria in Armenia, and the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs of Armenia launched a two-day conference in Yerevan today, entitled “Keeping families together.” The conference aims to boost progress in the next phase of child rights reform in Armenia and serve as a platform where Armenia can exchange and discuss relevant experience and lessons learned with other countries in the region. It brought together over 120 child rights specialists and stakeholders representing the Armenian, Bulgarian and Georgian governments, UN agencies, civil society and international development partners as well as the Armenian Apostolic church.
“In recently adopted new country programme by the UNICEF Executive Board in New York, Bulgaria was recognized as a leader in the region for achieving considerable progress in moving away from residential institutions to community based and family based care. Like in Armenia, residential institutions were part of the legacy from the socialist state in Bulgaria. It took us many years to address the complex nature of reform process and we are still working hard to further strengthen and make sustainable all system changes that occurred in child care and child protection sector,” noted Ambassador of the Republic of Bulgaria Maria Pavlova Tzotzorkova.
UNICEF estimates, based on data from 140 countries, show that Central and Eastern Europe and Central Asia has the worldwide highest proportion of children living in residential care. In this region, 666 children per 100,000 live in residential care, over five times the global average of 120 children per 100,000. In all, around 664,000 children in this region are growing up in residential care.
“Armenia should put the best interests of every child in the basis of all state policy, documents and events that refer to children. This should be supported by sound evaluation of their situation,” said Deputy Minister of Labor and Social Affairs Arsen Manukyan. “Programmes that enable the protection of children and their development are an important investment into the long-term prosperity and sustainable development of our country.”
The conference was opened by Anahit Vardanyan who shared her personal story of living in an orphanage. Participants also heard from 16-year old Karolina Razumovskaya who is living in a foster family for the past two years.
“Residential care should never be a viable long term alternative to family based care for any child. It has been shown for many years now that institutional care has a negative effect on children, hindering their development and opportunities later on in life. This is a serious child rights issue,” said UNICEF Representative in Armenia Tanja Radocaj.
Since 2001, the Armenian Government has carried out reforms in cooperation with UNICEF and other international and local organizations, aiming to establish and strengthen the child care and protection system in the country. As a result of these efforts, the number of children in residential care institutions has decreased drastically from 12,700 in 2001, to 2836 in 2017.
Despite the progress, data shows that 80–90 percentage of children living in residential care have at least one parent and are there due to disability, poverty or other circumstances that have risked their proper care in their biological family. Conference participants agreed that the next stage of reforms should focus on mechanisms that prevent abandonment of children through providing necessary support to families at risk of separation. Stakeholders agreed to put more effort into strengthening coordination and reporting of results.
UNICEF promotes the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do. Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere.
For more information about UNICEF and its work for children, visit www.unicef.org.