ChildPact written contribution for the 2019 Enlargement Package on child protection and children rights in the Western Balkans

ChildPact has recently provided a written contribution to the preparation of the EU Enlargement Package 2019. This contribution has been prepared with the support of our members in Albania – All Together for Holistic Care of Children (BKTF), Bosnia and Herzegovina – Stronger Voices for Children (SVC), Kosovo – Coalition of NGOs for Child Protection (KOMF), Republic of Serbia – Network of Organizations for Children of Serbia (MODS) and the our partners in Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia – First Children’s Embassy in the World “Megjashi” – Republic of Macedonia.

Child protection and children rights are facing similar difficulties in the region, with some country particularities that will be highlighted in the country specific sections. Some of the main challenges in child protection and children rights across the region are as following:

Legal frameworks and implementation capacities – improvements in the existing legal frameworks can be identified in many countries in the region; however, the major challenge of their proper implementation remains; among the problems hindering the adequate implementation of the existing legal frameworks include the lack of adequate funding of the systems and the limited staffing of the systems, thus limiting their capacity to actually put in practice the facilities established by the law. Governments in the region need to be reminded more strongly that the mere adoption of laws is not sufficient and progress towards the EU standards also requires progress in the actual implementation of the legal provisions. Available EU funding should prioritize the building of capacities to implement the existing legislation. Increased cooperation and coordination should be encouraged by requiring integrated approaches and national level cross-sectoral strategies that would support the actual enforcement of the rights guaranteed by law, but constantly infringed by the limited and faulty implementation mechanisms. Increased recognition and involvement of NGOs in development of strategies and policies would provide an extraordinary opportunity to make best use of their expertise.

Coordination and integrated policy approaches are limited – it is common across the region that the authorities continue to approach problems in isolation, based on how the ministries are structured, and do not make efforts to set up integrated approaches that would have a real contribution to addressing problems and bringing improvements to the most vulnerable; thus social services or social support services are not correlated with educational policies, families have to choose between different types of benefits although they would be entitled to receive more support due to their increased vulnerably; local and national level policies are not coordinated and capacities at various levels of decentralization are not sufficient.

Real capacity development – while extremely valuable, exchanges and trainings are not a proxy for real capacity development which requires much more that trained personnel; training is a burning need in many fields, from education personnel that needs to learn how to integrate children with disabilities to the personnel in the judicial system that deals with children, to the staff working in the social services provision and to the police forces interacting with children and families; but training alone will not enable these professionals to do a better job for the interest of the children, if they lack mechanisms, rules and procedures that enable them to actually apply what they have learned or if they lack resources to make their learning reality for the children. Long term support is needed to build capacities, train people and develop functional mechanisms that enable real and systemic level changes. Financial support is key, but also real will of governments to act is required.

Progress in deinstitutionalization needs to take two directions: preventing separation of children from families and facilitating return of children in the primary family if separation has occurred – working to develop alternative care for children in institutions is progressing, but the other side of fighting institutionalizations needs increased attention and investment: prevention of separation of children from their family. Significant numbers of children across the region are still separate from their families from pure economic reasons due to the failure of the social systems to provide adequate support to the vulnerable families thus enabling them to keep the children in the family. Revision of the social support provided to families with children is required and adequate support mechanisms need to be designed, funded and implemented so that children are no longer separated from their families on economic grounds.

Violence against children remains a significant challenge in the region – countries seem to lack capacity to properly tackle this phenomenon, not only within the family, but also in public settings like the educational institutions; increased awareness on the negative effects of violence against children needs to be developed among the general public, parents and school staff; personnel from educational institutions, social care centres, social service providers, police forces and judicial system need to be trained to approach this topic with sensitivity and fight its negative effects. Inter-sectoral cooperation and coordination mechanisms should be established to enable smooth and coordinated intervention form the relevant actors.

Increased inclusion of children with disabilities and improved access to early childhood education and care require immediate action – children with disabilities remain an extremely vulnerable category of children, exposed to severe risks of #separation from family due to inadequate support, both financial and psychological, available for families and #exclusion from education since the infrastructure is not adopted to facilitate their access into the educational buildings and the staff is not trained and supported to include the disabled children in the system. Some conditionality of access to certain financial benefits affect the capacity of the family to provide adequate care for the children with disabilities, while the lack of support and facilities prevents children from vulnerable backgrounds to access early childhood education and care, significantly affecting their path in life.

The data collection systems and practices remain a challenge – There is a significant lack of adequate, reliable and updated data on the overall situation of child protection and children rights in the region. The data collection and management is a key factor for development, implementation and monitoring of relevant public policies for children. Therefore the emergence of independent data collection mechanisms by civil society should be supported in order to monitor the state of child rights in countries in the region and feed the decision making processes with real and recent data.

More information and specific country recommendations are available in the full document here.