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UNICEF Executive Board visits Serbia

By Guy De Launey

An Executive Board delegation from UNICEF visited Serbia and saw first-hand what UNICEF is doing to help address the issues facing the most vulnerable children and their families.

BELGRADE, Serbia, 30 April 2013 – They may have different ethnic backgrounds, and different abilities – but the children are playing and learning together.

UNICEF correspondent Guy de Launey reports on a visit of the UNICEF Executive Board to Serbia.  Watch in RealPlayer


And their teachers are taking a proactive approach to preventing bullying.

Dusko Radovic Primary School, in the suburbs of Serbia’s capital, Belgrade, is just one example of how UNICEF and its partners have been working to improve the lives of the most vulnerable and excluded children here. The goal is inclusive development – bringing minority groups into the mainstream.

UNICEF Executive Board visits Serbia

For the first time in 60 years, an Executive Board delegation from UNICEF came to see the situation in Serbia – and how the organization can help in a middle-income country like this one.

The President of the UNICEF Executive Board, Permanent Representative of Finland to the United Nations H.E. Mr. Jarmo Viinanen, led the delegation, which included Permanent Representative of Albania to the United Nations H.E. Mr. Ferit Hoxha, Permanent Representative of Guyana to the United Nations H.E. Mr. George Wilfred Talbot, Hossein Gharibi, from the Permanent Mission of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the United Nations, John Mosoti, from the Permanent Mission of Kenya to the United Nations, and Secretary of the Executive Board Nicolas Pron.

Area Representative Judita Reichenberg acted as their guide to the issues facing Serbia’s most vulnerable children and their families – and to what UNICEF is doing to help.

Community outreach a lynchpin

Roma children, in particular, face acute poverty, discrimination and exclusion. They are twice as likely to die in infancy as the general population. Four out of five quit formal education before secondary school.

© UNICEF Serbia/2013/Maccak
Members of the UNICEF Executive Board visit a Roma settlement. UNICEF cooperates with Roma Health Mediators to ensure that Roma children are protected and kept healthy - and that they go to school.

That is why the Roma Health Mediators, created by the Ministry of Health to bridge Roma communities and the health system, are so important. These community outreach workers start their relationship with potentially vulnerable children before they are even born.

They connect parents to health services, and counsel them on breastfeeding, immunization and early stimulation and learning. UNICEF is working with the Ministry of Health to add to their capabilities and reach.
At the Roma settlement in one of Serbia’s poorest municipalities, Vladicin Han, children play among the ramshackle houses and dirt tracks, while their parents greet health mediator Olivera Ristic. It is clear, here, how valuable the health mediators have been.

“There are many changes that can be easily felt,” she tells the delegation. “People here now get scheduled medical examinations and vaccinations. Pregnant women are examined systematically. So much has been achieved, and the overall awareness of the Roma people here is much higher.”

School a priority

A short distance away, the delegation visited a community centre – another initiative supported by UNICEF. The centre is for all of the children of Vladicin Han, but it is particularly important to Roma children, whom it supports in getting ready for school – and staying there, once they’ve enrolled.

“It looks very impressive,” said H.E. Mr. Viinanen. “The best results are achieved when we combine the policy work with attention to the most vulnerable groups. That’s what they’re doing here. It’s about partnership – UNICEF working with the community so that the results are sustainable and won’t fade away.”

© UNICEF Serbia/2013/Maccak
President of the UNICEF Executive Board Permanent Representative of Finland to the United Nations H.E. Mr. Jarmo Viinanen (centre) visits the Knjazevac centre for children with disabilities. The centre is a model for similar developments across Serbia.

UNICEF and its partners in the government and civil society have worked together to make significant changes over the past decade. New legislation has been passed, and UNICEF helped to ensure it met international human rights standards.

“I trust them completely”

At Knjazevac, a sparsely-populated municipality in eastern Serbia, a centre for children with disabilities allows the children and their parents to receive temporary care and specialist assistance. With access to the centre and its services, the children can live with their families instead of having to move to a residential institution, which is now banned for children under the age of 3.

The centre is a model for similar developments across Serbia, and it is easy to see the positive impact it is having on families.

“I trust them completely,” said Brankica Petkovic of the staff at the centre. Ms. Petkovic’s 8-year-old daughter Sara has cerebral palsy. “Sara loves them, and our whole world has turned around.”

Collaboration for children

UNICEF is collaborating with the government to make Serbia’s health, social welfare and education systems more inclusive. The scene at Dusko Radovic Primary School is being replicated across the country, as mainstream schools admit more Roma children and children with disabilities. A vibrant civil society sector helps to keep the government accountable.

Serbia is moving in the right direction; the gaps are slowly closing. But, the work needs to continue – so that every child has an equal opportunity to grow, thrive and develop to her or his full potential.




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