In Kosovo, a second chance for vulnerable children
12-year-old Gani used to spend his days on a street corner begging for change, today he is back in school.
PRISTINA, Kosovo (SCR 1244) – Gani Berisha wakes up at the crack of dawn and quietly puts on some clothes so as not to wake his family. The hands of the clock show it’s barely 6 a.m. as he steps outside and begins his commute to Pristina. He works at the same intersection almost every day. On some days he cleans the windows of cars passing by, hoping that he’ll get a few pennies in exchange. And on others he simply begs for money. Most people avoid him or utter profanities at him, but he is happy to get away with a few euros a day to help his poverty-stricken family.
Gani is only 12 years old, born into poverty and one of the most discriminated communities in Kosovo* – the Roma community. And this was his life. Forced to quit school and beg on the streets, his days used to look bleak, until a fortunate turn of events changed everything for him.
Gani was spotted on the streets by Terre des Hommes (TdH), an implementing partner of UNICEF. In cooperation with the Centres for Social Work (CSW) and local civil society organizations, UNICEF has helped establish the Case Management Roundtable (CMR) in 12 municipalities. The CMR is a mechanism for identifying, assisting and referring vulnerable children and families, including children who are victims of neglect, abuse, exploitation and trafficking, as well as children in conflict with the law.
Under the lead of social services, the CMR meets on a monthly basis and discusses intervention plans for children like Gani. The social workers conduct an in-depth assessment for every single case, identifying appropriate services and regularly visiting and monitoring supported families.
Protecting the most vulnerable
Hafije Kastrati, a social worker in Fushe Kosove was in charge of providing assistance to Gani’s family, making sure he returned to school and lived a normal child’s life. She said that Gani and his family were in a particularly tough situation: “Gani was identified as a child at risk; it is not only him, but there were another two to three children in his family that were begging on the streets or cleaning car windows.”
Kastrati noted that these children on the street are at high risk of being abused or raped. They are often victims of domestic violence and may even be forced by their families to beg on the streets. When a child is identified, social services conduct field visits to the family, sometimes involving the police as well.
Naim Bilalli, a Case Management Coordinator at Terre des Hommes says that Gani’s case was referred by a local NGO for the reason of neglect and school dropout. “The Centre for Social Work of Fushe-Kosove visited the family for an initial assessment of the case … where they noticed that this family is living in very bad hygienic conditions, children didn’t have clothes and family relations were very bad”, Bilalli said. Gani was pushed by his family to beg on the street, even after initial counseling was provided by the CSW of Fushe-Kosove. But Gani himself also noted that he felt the need to help his impoverished family.
I wanted to help my family because there was no one to help them. I would go next to traffic lights to make some money to help my family”, Gani said. “People would often ask me if I’m going to school, and tell me that I shouldn’t be on the streets.”
After reviewing Gani’s case, Kastrati and other Fushe-Kosove-based Social Workers reached out to Municipality officials who, in addition to providing basic assistance, helped Gani’s family to buy a tractor and a cow.
Gani’s dad, Sylë Berisha, expresses deep gratitude for the help his family received. “I really thank them for what they have done; they secured me a tractor and a cow, and now I do business selling vegetables and fruits”, Sylë said. “Gani regularly goes to school now and I thank them so much for it.”
A bright future
Since Gani’s case was raised in the monthly CMRs, Gani hasn’t needed to work anymore. He was involved in various counseling meetings and has also received educational materials like books, notebooks and pencils to help him get back to school. Gani says that his days look quite different now compared to just a year ago – he enjoys studying. “I don’t have to go on the streets anymore. I go to school and have a lot of friends”, he said.
After completing social services counseling, Sylë says that he has new hopes for Gani. “I often talk to him. He’s a very good boy, and smart, and he will continue school”, he said. “I won’t pick his field of study, he can do that for himself; and I won’t get him married at 17 or 18 like I did with my three other children. I want him to find a job, have his own life.”
Likewise, Gani has great plans for his future: “When I grow up I want to become a President. Or a deputy minister. But I have to study and do my best.”
In 2015, 174 girls and boys from 12 municipalities, at medium and high risk of being neglected, abused or at risk of becoming in conflict with the law have benefited from integrated community services in the form of emergency support, but also family visits, school visits, psychological counseling, family counseling, sheltering, vocational training, et al., all made possible through the CMR mechanisms.
UNICEF played a critical role in establishment and institutionalization of CMR mechanisms. Due to UNICEF advocacy efforts and its technical assistance, the draft of the new Child Protection Law includes provisions on instutionalisation of CMR. With UNICEF technical assistance, Minimum standards for social services in respect to children at risk or in conflict with the law, children without parental care and vulnerable children have been developed. The capacities of professionals have been strengthened to ensure effective functioning of CMRs. UNICEF will continue playing an active role in the CMR scaling-up process so that more children benefit from necessary assistance and services.
*All references to Kosovo in this story should be understood to be in the context of United Nations Security Council resolution 1244 (1999).