Child protection and social inclusion
Protecting children from violence, exploitation and abuse is key to ensuring all children are able to realise their basic human rights.
The child protection system remains fragmented both at central and local level and lacks a holistic approach able to effectively address the protection needs of all children, especially the most marginalised.
A challenging economic and political situation along with a young population pose serious challenges to the capacity of Kosovo Institutions, communities, and families to protect children, particularly the most disadvantaged. Kosovo has made significant progress in bringing its legislative framework into line with international norms, including those for children’s rights. Most laws, policies and strategies for children are now to a large extent aligned with international standards. However, the child protection system remains fragmented both at central and local level and lacks a holistic approach able to effectively address protection needs. Meanwhile, the latest data from MICS show that 17 percent of children age 5 – 17 years are engaged in child labour, with the share being as high as 22 percent among children living in Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian communities. Child labour was noted as a critical concern from the EU, noting that it often leads to children’s exposure to various forms of violence. The MICS data show that 61 percent of children age 1-14 years had been subjected to at least one form of psychological or physical punishment by household members during the previous month (71% among Roma, Ashkali and Egyptians) and that 24 percent (40% for Roma, Ashkali and Egyptians) had experienced physical punishment.
Every child has the right to protection. We ensure that children are protected from neglect, abuse, violence, exploitation and family separation, focusing on the most vulnerable and disadvantaged children.
Justice for children
Over the past ten years, Kosovo has developed a solid juvenile justice system that aims to treat children aged between 14 and 18 who are in contact with the law in a way that respects their human rights. The necessary laws, procedures, institutions, and capacities are mostly in place to treat children in accordance with the relevant legal international standards. Furthermore during 2018 support was provided to the functioning of the new open educational correctional facility for juveniles through development of the internal regulation, job description, training curricula and provision of professional training for the staff. Moreover in 2019, the amended Juvenile Justice Code has entered into force, improving the protection of the rights of children in contact with the law, in line with the recommendations of the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child. However, limited capacity, along with lack of coordination between correction, probation service and Centres for Social Work limit the ability of the system to reintegrate children and prevent recidivism. Together with our partner EU in Kosovo, we have established a correctional facility in Lipjan, Kosovo, as a treatment-based alternative that employs continuous guidance and counseling to a juvenile while not depriving them of their freedom. This alternative measure allows us to tackle the root of the problem rather than punish the child. Read the booklet.
Violence against children
61 percent of children age 1-14 years in Kosovo had been subjected to at least one form of psychological or physical punishment by household members during the previous month (71% among Roma, Ashkali and Egyptians)
Kosovo has made progress in addressing violence against children through the adoption of adequate legislative and policy frameworks, but more remains to be done to prevent and effectively respond to violence against children. There are gaps and challenges in service provision, due in part to the inadequate number of professionally trained human resources. The main obstacle to eliminating violence against children is that it often happens behind closed doors, in the family setting or in institutions. Moreover, there is underreporting of cases partly because violence at home is seen as a private matter. The impact of violence on children is long-lasting and can be devastating. There is also a general acceptance of violence by both men and women. UNICEF aims to strengthen the child protection system in Kosovo as a powerful tool to end violence, exploitation, abuse and neglect of children. It also seeks to address the societal factors and social norms that perpetuate violence against girls and boys. In Kosovo, UNICEF is currently working with institutional stakeholders at central and municipal levels and its interventions will increasingly focus on preventing the occurrence of violence by supporting and empowering service providers, families and children to address the multi-faceted factors that underlie violence against children.
Furthermore, we have set up an initiative to establish peer mediators as part of a school-based violence prevention programme. The peer mediators are student volunteers who are trained to resolve conflict at school – often cases of bullying and psychological abuse. They are also trained to refer more serious cases of violence to appropriate officials, including social welfare authorities and the police. The peer mediators work with school administrators, teachers, the student council as well as psychologists and education specialists. So far, the peer mediation programme has benefitted at least 15,000 students in Kosovo.
Children with Disabilities
Children with disabilities and their families are not informed of their rights, or what few services are available to them.
In 2019, the number of persons with disabilities in Kosovo is still unknown. While data has been gathered in the last few years, both in the Census and through administrative means, there is no accurate number that can support data-driven decision-making because multiple definitions of disability are in use by multiple institutions and stakeholders. The completed Situation Analysis of Children with Disabilities (SitAn) in Kosovo (2017) is triggering tangible impact in various areas for children with disabilities (CwD). Recommendations from the SitAn are reflected and incorporated in the Kosovo Strategy on Children’s Rights 2019-2021, and contributed to the development of Advocacy Action Plan on CWD that was endorsed by the DPOs/ Forum network. The work related to disability has been largely carried out by small groups of disabled persons that have a common interest in a specific impairment. While there is a renewed effort to make disability all-inclusive in Kosovo, this effort does not always acknowledge that children have specific needs that cannot be addressed in legislation, policy and services developed for adults. Throughout, children with disabilities and their families have been largely absent from dialogue.
Children with disabilities need to be welcomed as full members of the family, community and society. To achieve this goal we need to begin removing physical, cultural and attitudinal barriers in the society.
Furthermore, UNICEF is promoting community-based spaces to support children with disabilities. Our collaboration with Special Olympics is helping Children with Disabilities socialize and to develop physical fitness, demonstrate courage, experience joy and participate in the sharing of skills and friendship with their families and the community.
Special Olympics Young Athletes is an Early Childhood Development sport program for children with and without intellectual disabilities (ID), ages 2 to 8 years old. The ‘Young Athletes’ initiative provides children with activities and games that meet their individual skill and ability levels, while allowing them to play together in a fun and inclusive environment. Young Athletes offers families, teachers, caregivers and people from the community the chance to share the joy of sports with all children in the community.
Children without parental care
The impact of child institutionalization is severe and can last a lifetime. Children placed in institutions are deprived of social, emotional and intellectual stimulation, which can hamper the healthy development of a child’s brain. Shut away from mainstream society, these children are also particularly vulnerable to violence, neglect and abuse.
Discriminatory social norms and cultural beliefs often prevent deprived and disadvantaged groups from accessing basic entitlements and services. It is not unusual for groups of children or types of parents to face stigma and discrimination prevailing in society and perpetuated by systems. These attitudes negatively influence the separation of young children from their parents. Single mothers are frequently considered as “unfit mothers” and encouraged to leave their babies at birth in hospital.
In 2018, in Kosovo as per the data provided by MLSW and Organisation of Children without the parental Care- OFPA, 34 children were abandoned immediately after the birth by single mothers due to the unplanned pregnancies among young girls, non- existence of national or municipal support mechanisms that can help keep families together and support single mothers, no adequate housing, discriminatory social norms and cultural beliefs, economic conditions, unemployment and lack of reproductive health education at schools.
In late 2015, UNICEF Office in Kosovo has carried out the assessment of Alternative Care System for children without parental care, with specific attention to foster care services, in Kosovo. The key issues emerged from the report shows that the 1) NGOs are still having a prominent role in developing foster care in Kosovo, in provision of professional expertise, capacity building of CSWs and advocacy activities, training and monitoring of foster care families/ placements; 2) CSWs lack of budgets, lack of capacities-human and professionalism, the payment for foster care is low, number of foster families declining, no policies in place about young children leaving care, lack of information about kinship care. To respond to the situation UNICEF for few years now has been partnering with NGO “OFAP” aiming to contribute to the development of foster care services for all categories of children in need of care, through capacity building of child protection professionals including foster care families; provision of psychological support services to children in foster care and foster families; awareness raising activities for expanding foster care services for children with disability and younger children in need of family durable placements.
For the past few years UNICEF provided technical assistance in improving the legal and policy framework for enabling easier reintegration of repatriated families with children into society.
Reintegration of repatriated persons is a complex process that requires cooperation and coordination of the actions of all institutions and organizations involved in this process. Various monitoring reports have pointed out that the situation of repatriated persons in Kosovo has been alarming for several years, especially for the most excluded, often from Roma, Ashkali, Egyptian communities. Their repatriation challenges are multiple facing significant marginalization and hardship and are disproportionately affected by poverty and unemployment. For children, the situation is even more traumatic, as they often have little, if any, memory of Kosovo, limited, if any, knowledge of Albanian. Furthermore, vulnerable cases identified include children with acute and chronical health problems, children with disabilities and mental health problems. Harmonization of reintegration policies and programs and their proper implementation are a prerequisite for the successful process. For the past few years UNICEF has closely been working with the Ministry of Internal Affairs through providing technical assistance in improving the legal and policy framework for enabling easier reintegration of repatriated families with children into society. Furthermore through its implementing partner Civil Rights Program in Kosovo (CRPK) UNICEF supported the improvement of the wellbeing of the repatriated children and their families, including unaccompanied and separated children through provision of legal and practical advice for repatriated persons/families, monitoring activities, facilitation of a more effective inter-institutional working and capacity building for mandated institution, such are Municipal Offices for Communities and Return and Employment Office which are responsible for reintegration of repatriated families with children and vulnerable groups.