Children cannot wait longer for laws to be adopted

Statement by Patrizia DiGiovanni, UNICEF Representative calling on Government and Parliament to accelerate the adoption of key laws for children

25 December 2023
A girl sitting in class with her head in hands while holding a red pencil. UNICEF North Macedonia
UNICEF/North Macedonia/Georgiev/2022

Skopje, 25 December 2023: “Thirty years ago, the country promised children their rights would be protected and upheld when it adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child.  When signing up to this treaty, the country also accepted a responsibility to apply each of the obligations including its obligation to ensure national laws and practices are consistent with the convention.

“In thirty years, child rights have not changed but childhood has. Today children live in a world where their rights are being put to at risk and put to the side because of other priorities. But children cannot wait. Currently there are laws important for children in Government or Parliamentary procedure waiting to be given the priority that they deserve.

These laws include: 1) draft Law on Justice for Children which has been endorsed by the Government and needs to be urgently adopted by the Parliament; 2) Amendment to the Law on Primary Education has been in Parliamentary procedure for more than seven months and has had its first reading; 3) draft Law on General Secondary Education and 4) draft Law on Vocational Education and Training need to be put on the agenda for endorsement by the Government.

While we commend the Government for having recently endorsed the draft Law on Justice for Children, UNICEF calls on the Parliament to not wait and to take immediate action to adopt the Law when it enters Parliament procedure. Before being endorsed by the Government, the draft Law has been in the process of revision for more than four years. It introduces new measure to ensure the best interest of the child is taken into consideration on all decisions made for children in contact with law, and child victims and witnesses in judiciary proceedings. It also introduces new measures to support children in conflict with the law to repair any harm done, help them understand the implications of their actions and provide them with opportunities to reconnect with the community. It complies with the EU directives on procedural protection of children who are suspected or accused in criminal proceedings, and minimum standards for the rights, support and protection of child victims of crime.

We also call on Parliament to accelerate the adoption of the amendment to the Law on Primary Education. UNICEF remains concerned that the Amendment of the Law on Primary Education is still undergoing Parliamentary procedures seven months after it was submitted. While the current law provides basis for improving quality and inclusive education, this amendment is critical to provide a long-term solution for the children in the Educational Correctional Facility who continue to be deprived of their right to education. This child rights deprivation has been repeatedly raised by UNICEF, the Ombudsperson as well as the Commission for Prevention and Protection from Discrimination and the EU in various country reports.  

Government also needs to take prompt action to endorse and submit to the Parliament the draft Law on General Secondary Education and Law on Vocational Education and Training. These two laws are critical to ensure transition of vulnerable groups such as children with disabilities, children in correctional facilities, migrant and refugee children from primary to secondary education. Notably, these laws provide grounds for addressing discrimination and emphasizing the importance mental health and environmental considerations within secondary education. In addition, the introduction of regional centres for vocational education in the Law on Vocational Education and Training represents an additional step in ensuring the alignment of children's acquired skills in schools with the requirements of the labour market.

“Passing laws are an important step, but they are only as good as they are implemented, and the Government and the Parliament must also allocate sufficient financial resources to ensure those accountable have the means to deliver on the promise outlined in these laws.

“Delaying these will only exacerbate existing deprivations across multiple sectors. In education we see three quarters of all fifteen-year-olds failing to meet basic proficiency levels in reading, and two out of three students showing low-performance in mathematics and science.  In protection, more and more children are meeting the justice system.

“All political parties need to come together for children and show commitment to the future of the country by fast tracking these laws. We cannot afford to keep children waiting.”

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