Renewed EU support to key reforms in Albania must focus on needs of the most vulnerable children

Boy selling sticking plasters on the streets of Tirana. Photo: Roxana Todea

The European Commission adopted yesterday the 2013 national programme for Albania under the Instrument for Pre-accession Assistance (IPA).

The 82 million EUR programme will finance 19 programmes tailored to the specific needs of the country, supporting reforms and investments in key areas such as governance, justice and home affairs, transport, environment, employment and social inclusion, as well as agriculture and rural development.

Dedicated measures will be supported to improve the performance of the government’s labour and social policies, says The European Comission press release issued yesterday.

However, reforms and greater investment in protection systems for children are still required. Child rights and protection issues remain a serious concern in Albania. Although many official records are still lacking, many children in Albania suffer from violence, abuse, neglect, exploitation, trafficking and discrimination.

“Albania remains a source country for trafficking in adults and minors, including forced begging by children. The issue requires better coordination between law enforcement agencies and social services”, says the EU progress report on Albania, issued last month in Brussels.

Regarding children in labour, amendments to the Labour Code that create new support mechanisms for children involved in labour are still awaiting adoption.  The number of children (mainly Roma) working, begging in the streets or subjects to the worst forms of exploitation and extreme marginalisation remain very high.

“Child labour remains an important challenge. The first national child labour survey conducted in May 2010 (published in May 2013) estimates that 7.7% of all Albanian children aged 5-17 work. The statistical distribution of child labourers per age group needs to be improved, taking also into account international standards and provisions of the Labour Code on the minimum age for working”, says the same report.

In order to support child rights effectively and sustainability, ChildPact believes the EU should closely cooperate with the government of Albania to support the implementation of effective social services and the establishment of a functioning child protection system.

The number and quality of child protection and welfare services in Albania, such as Child Protection Units (CPUs) continues to remain low in terms of financial and human resources, preventative focus and sustained impact.

 “There are 155 child protection units (CPUs) in municipalities and communes. Out of 155 CPU specialists, 25 worked full-time while others were primarily social service workers. The number of CPU needs to be substantially increased in order to meet the child protection needs of the country’s vulnerable children in a meaningful way. The capacity of the state agency for children’s rights increased. The child protection system lacks sufficient budgetary means, staff sustainability and minimum standards of operation, in particular protocols, and legal requirements. The national child helpline that provides an emergency and referral service is run by a non-governmental organisation with donor funding”, says the EU progress report.

Further investments in capacity building and overall support are required to ensure adequate operations of Child Protection Units and other services in Albania.

The release of the European Commission’s annual enlargement package, unveiled in Brussels last month, is welcomed by ChildPact that encourages the efforts of the Albanian government to address child rights issues on the road to its European Integration.