COMMITTEE ON RIGHTS OF CHILD CONSIDERS REPORT OF ALBANIA
25 September 2012
The Committee on the Rights of the Child today completed its consideration of the combined second to fourth periodic reports of Albania on its implementation of the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Presenting the report, Filloreta Kodra, Vice Minister of the Ministry of Labour, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities, said Albania adopted a new law on the Protection of the Rights of the Child in 2010 which enforced children’s rights at family, community and country level. The Action Plan for Children 2012-2015 was adopted earlier this year, while a national programme to reduce child malnutrition was launched in 2010. To eliminate barriers in the field of education and to facilitate access to school, free textbooks were provided to children from families that received financial aid, as well as to Roma children enrolled in Albania’s compulsory education system. The social services system was currently undergoing reforms such as expansion of its target group to include victims of domestic violence and orphaned children, improvement of the management of the financial aid programme to take into account nutrition, healthcare and the educational needs of children in poor families, institutionalization of foster care services, and prevention of exclusion or discrimination of certain individuals and groups in need. There were also plans to restructure residential institutions for children with disabilities.
The Committee praised Albania’s efforts to implement the Convention and noted with satisfaction that the country had ratified the two Optional Protocols. Experts asked questions about the definition of the child, particularly that girls were only protected from sexual violence until they reached the age of puberty, at around 12 years of age, about violence against children and women, forced and early marriages. Access to education and healthcare by children of minority groups such as Roma and those living in rural areas, was also discussed, as was the reportedly widespread practice of corporal punishment in family and at school. Birth registration, the high infant mortality rate, stigmatization of children with disabilities, and mechanisms to deal with issues of discrimination were also raised.
The Delegation of Albania included representatives from the Ministry of Labour, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities, the Ministry of Science and Education, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, and the Permanent Mission of Albania to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
The next public meeting will take place tomorrow morning, Wednesday 26 September, at 10 a.m. when the Committee will consider the initial reports of Albania under the Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography (CRC/C/OPSC/ALB/1) and the Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict (CRC/C/OPAC/ALB/1).
The combined second to fourth periodic reports of Albania can be read via the following link: (CRC/C/ALB/2-4).
Presentation of the Report
FILLORETA KODRA, Vice Minister of the Ministry of Labour, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities, said Albania adopted a new law on the Protection of the Rights of the Child in 2010 which established an institutional mechanism to guarantee and enforce children’s rights at family, community and country level. In addition, various bodies for the promotion and protection of the rights of the child have been established at the central and local level. There were plans to establish Children’s Rights units at the regional level and Child Protection units at municipal level, which would render complete the institutional framework necessary for the efficient implementation of the law. The set-up of Child Protection Units was progressing at a satisfactory pace. In 2012 the Government adopted the Action Plan for Children 2012-2015, which had been drafted with the participation of civil society organizations. Its main objectives were ensuring children’s right to social protection and social inclusion, their right to protection from violence, abuse and economic exploitation, their right to development and education, their right to health care and their right to legal protection.
A national programme to reduce child malnutrition was launched in 2010 with a particular focus on the country’s most vulnerable regions. The programme was strengthened by adoption of the Strategic Nutrition Communications Document and launch, in March 2012, of a national awareness-raising campaign on new and better ways of feeding babies and children in Albania. To eliminate barriers in the field of education and to facilitate access to school, free textbooks were provided to children from families that received financial aid, as well as to Roma children enrolled in Albania’s compulsory education system. Furthermore a new law on the pre-university education system was adopted in 2012.
The social services system was currently undergoing reforms in order to improve the support provided to children and families in need. The reforms included expansion of the target group to include victims of domestic violence and orphaned children, improvement of the management of the financial aid programme to take into account nutrition, healthcare and the educational needs of children in poor families, institutionalization of foster care services, and prevention of exclusion or discrimination of certain individuals and groups in need. There were also plans to restructure residential institutions for children with disabilities. Albania attached great importance to close cooperation with civil society organizations that worked on the ground with children and vulnerable groups, an important aspect of which was cooperation on the drafting of all policies and legislation for children’s rights.
Questions by the Experts
JORGE CARDONA LLORENS, Committee Member acting as Country Rapporteur for the report of Albania, congratulated Albania on its well drafted new laws and its progress made in implementing the Convention. A large number of laws had been adopted in a short period of time, he said, which was the result of the influence of the European Union combined with Albania’s own commitment to changing its institutions. While the adoption of new legislation was important, its implementation was equally important. Had Albania included indicators in its new Action Plan so that an impact assessment could be carried out, and had the technical and financial resources been evaluated in a comprehensive way, he asked? The Rapporteur noted that Albania’s ratification of the two Optional Protocols was a positive development in the right direction, and asked whether Albania planned to ratify the third Optional Protocol.
The Rapporteur noted that in recent years the proportion of the State budget allocated for children had significantly decreased and that a lot of funding came from civil society and international aid. Did Albania have a strategic plan for children who required special social services and had they taken steps to ensure the financial protection of such a plan? Financial resources that were protected and coordination across all departments was crucial, he said. It was not clear how all those bodies, plans and programmes on the rights of the child would be coordinated. How would Albania ensure that no duplication and overlap occurred? The Rapporteur expressed concern that for a long time nobody had been appointed to the Ombudsman’s Office in the Children’s Unit, which was under-resourced and in practice unable to operate. What had Albania done to raise awareness about the work of the Ombudsman’s Office?
Regarding the definition of the term “child”, the Rapporteur noted that in certain sectors of Albanian society children considered not to be children well before the age of 18 years. For example, girls were only protected from sexual violence until they reached the age of puberty, at around 12 years of age, which meant that girls were effectively considered adults from approximately the age of 12. Furthermore, although the legal age for marriage was 18 years, in the Roma community and other minority groups marriages occurred at a much earlier age, and some were forced marriages. What was the Government doing to tackle that widespread phenomenon?
There also seemed to be ongoing discrimination against children with disabilities, Roma children, girls, and children living in rural areas. What had Albania done in practice to prevent and reduce such discrimination occurring on the ground because of cultural stereotypes? Another area in which there appeared to be problems with the implementation of the Convention was the adoption of children, who often spent a very long time in institutions waiting for the adoption process to be completed. What was being done to ensure that the principle of the best interests of the child was always taken into consideration in practice?
The Rapporteur raised the issue of corporal punishment and violence against children. He noted with amazement that the phrase “I hit you because I love you” was widely used in Albania, which, he said, reflected the widespread idea that corporal punishment was a good thing. In addition, there was no clear indication that corporal punishment at home or at school was prohibited by law. He stressed that measures had to be taken to ensure that the ban on corporal punishment was upheld in practice and asked what Albania was doing to investigate reports of ill-treatment of children, including extreme cases of torture or honour killings.
An Expert said that the Committee had noted with satisfaction the adoption of the Law on the Civil Registration Office which eliminated the judicial procedure of late registration. Nevertheless, the Committee remained concerned that in order to obtain that certificate fees had to be paid, which made the situation difficult for children from poorer backgrounds and for Roma children. Also, some children had no certificate, which meant that they were effectively deprived of their right to enjoy certain rights, such as the right to education. Therefore, the authorities should take certain steps to ensure that registration was provided for all children. He also noted with concern that the State party had rejected a Universal Periodic Review recommendation to ban corporal punishment in all settings across the country and that there were no sanctions for teachers who used violence in order to discipline children. Were there any plans for introducing new laws that would deal effectively with the issue?
Albania was congratulated on its new laws, but an Expert noted that in certain sectors those laws were resisted. Had there been any court cases where judges or courts had directly invoked the Convention in their rulings and had the Convention been promoted adequately? How did the judges reconcile legislation with customary law, for example regarding issues such as corporal punishment?
Were Roma children or children with disabilities really represented in the debate about issues which concerned them? What measures had been taken to increase attention to marginalized groups such as Roma children? The Committee had received reports that children from certain minority groups were denied basic rights.
Despite the best efforts of the Government in terms of designing public policies, there was reportedly widespread corruption in education. What was Albania doing to ensure that everyone had the opportunity to enjoy basic rights such as the right to appropriate schooling?
Albania was one of the poorest countries in Europe that did not have a child allowance and wanted to know what the country was doing to tackle the issue of child poverty.
Turning to health, an Expert said that Albania had a very high infant mortality rate and a high number of deaths from infectious diseases: what was the government doing to tackle that issue? What was the law on investigating the circumstances of a death in Albania?
An Expert requested information on the Office for Public Advocacy, which was not properly financed, and on the complaint procedure for children. How many complaints had been received and how were those complaints dealt with? What was Albania doing to inform children, especially those in remote areas, about their right to complain? To what extent did civil society organizations participate in the planning and decision-making process and how were funds secured for non-governmental organizations?
Response by the Delegation
The Head of Delegation said that owing to the absence of a Delegation Member from the Ministry of Justice, and in the interest of precision, questions regarding the judicial system in Albania would be answered in writing upon return of the delegation to Albania.
Regarding resources for the Action Plan for 2012-2015, Albania was in the process of reforming its budgetary policies and was preparing a national development strategy, while also training experts who would reconcile the aims of the Government under the Action Plan with the budgetary and technical resources. Furthermore, there were programmes in place for the protection of children at risk but those were included in larger programmes which were not specifically about children, so there was no separate budget allocation to children. Concerning the Committee’s comment about the decrease of the budget allocation to child-related issues, the delegation said that there had only been a slight decrease in 2010-2011 due to the global financial crisis which had affected Albania.
There were specific coordination mechanisms in place to ensure that the various units, the National Action Plan and the State Agency functioned well and in a coordinated manner. A year after the new bodies had been established there were signs that the division of responsibilities and competencies within the framework of de-centralization, which was being implemented, were working well.
Regarding the definition of the term “child”, the delegation said that the Penal Code was currently being reformed and the issue of terminology was being addressed as part of the reform process.
The delegation admitted that discrimination did exist in certain sectors in Albania but stressed that the Government was committed to taking concrete steps to change the mentality of the population. The newly established Commission Against Discrimination was now fully operative and could receive complaints. The Albanian judicial system was based on international and domestic laws, which had precedence over customary law and local practices such as early marriages occurring in certain rural areas. Every effort was being made to provide more information to minority groups such as Roma persons in order to help them change their practices, including the practice of early marriage, which was illegal.
The mapping of the Roma community had just been completed, which helped to identify the exact number of Roma persons in Albania, estimated between 15,000 and 20,000, and the areas in which they lived. Based on that information, the necessary measures would be taken for Roma children to be given full access to education. Measures taken by the Ministry of Education and by the Council of Ministers to assist Roma children and children living in poverty included provision of free textbooks to all pupils in pre-university education. In addition, nutritious meals were provided to children in schools attended by a high number of Roman children.
Since 2006 a law on domestic violence had been in place and a referral system was being established which included all local level institutions and aimed to coordinate action when dealing with reported incidents of violence against women and children. Support was also offered to the victims of domestic violence, while public refuges had been established for women and children whose security in their home environment was not guaranteed.
Regarding corporal punishment, the delegation said that the law on domestic violence covered cases of corporal punishment and psychological abuse in a family environment. Domestic violence had recently been classified as a crime in the Albanian penal code and the legal framework covered all types of violence - both physical and psychological - against children in a family environment. The delegation also said that, despite what Committee Members had claimed earlier, no such recommendation of the Universal Periodic Review had been rejected.
Questions by the Experts
The Committee Rapporteur noted that a very high number of children were placed in institutions by their own parents, because of financial problems. What was the Government doing to prevent that phenomenon? Moreover, children placed in those institutions were grouped by age, which meant that siblings were separated.
The children of divorced families were not protected because they did not receive alimony payments. There were also reports that parents of children with disabilities were ashamed of their children. Had the Government taken measures to facilitate access to education for children with disabilities? What were the exact figures relating to children dropping out of school to work? What positive policies was the Government putting in place to deal with street children and to remove them from the streets so that they would not be subject to exploitation? What sort of training was provided to persons trained to work as social workers?
The Rapporteur expressed concern that 60 per cent of children deprived of liberty were placed in preventive detention for long period while awaiting a ruling. Adoption proceedings were extremely slow and, even though Albania had ratified the Vienna Convention, children spent a long time waiting to be adopted. What was being done to reduce the waiting time?
Concern was expressed about the fact that Albania’s education spending budget was one of the lowest in Europe. Moreover, schools were in the centre of communes, which made access for children from remote areas difficult. In education, there were reports that teachers asked children for money to guarantee that they would pass their exams. Was that the result of low salaries for teachers or was it due to the lack of monitoring in the education sector?
What was the Government doing to facilitate physical access to schools, especially for Roma children, children living in remote areas and members of the Egyptian minority? Did the children of asylum-seekers who had no certificate have access to adequate schooling? How did the border police deal with unaccompanied children and what did it do to ensure the best interest principle?
Regarding migration, and bearing in mind the global financial crisis affecting Europe in particular, there were over 4,000 children under the age of 17 years who lived in families whose parents had migrated. Did those children benefit from remittances sent back home and was there any psychological support offered to those children?
Turning to child labour, an Expert said the minimum legal age for work was 16 years and sometimes it was as low as 14 years, which was not out of line with international standards. Nevertheless, there was no inspection of children working in the informal sector, so there were serious concerns about the actual implementation of labour laws. What measures was the State party taking to prevent children from working in certain sectors?
According to information received by the Committee, one in five Albanian children under the age of five years old were suffering from malnutrition, and there was also a problem with child obesity. What was the Government doing to tackle those issues?
The number of reported cases of HIV/AIDS was surprisingly low, as was the number of cases of mother to child transmission. Did those figures reflect problems in the collection of data? More than half of the population lived in very small villages and rural areas; how did the Government reach the small villages in remote mountainous areas?
There was no official way of measuring poverty in Albania, an Expert noted. Despite that, families were classified according to their income. As poverty was a multifaceted phenomenon, classification by income was not enough but, rather, a multifaceted way of classification needed to be introduced. It was not clear whether there were any specific measures to lift families out of poverty and the percentage of families living below the poverty line, which was 30 per cent, was alarming. In addition, Albania had no provisions for child benefit which might have provided some assistance to poor families. Also, no information had been included in the report relating to parental leave, which should have been part of a welfare package. What was Albania’s strategy for combating poverty?
Implementation of the law promoting the inclusion of children with disabilities in society was highly problematic and that the belief that children with disability were different and was widespread and deeply rooted in Albanian society. As a result, a high number of children with disabilities stayed at home and were not integrated into society, a problem compounded by a lack of Government resources, an Expert highlighted.
Response by the Delegation
The Head of Delegation said that, following the last review of the country, Albania had passed a law on the rights of the child, Article 21 of which expressly prohibited corporal punishment and the degrading and humiliating treatment of children.
The delegation explained that Egyptians in Albania were not considered a minority but, as they were among the poorest citizens in the country, they received the same treatment as other citizens in the same situation. She also clarified that the percentage of persons living below the poverty line in Albania (which was less than two dollars per day) was 12 per cent, not 30 per cent as mentioned by the Committee.
The creation of student parliaments began as a six-year pilot programme which was initiated in a number of schools and, following the trial six-year period, efforts were made to expand the programme to all schools across the country so that students had the opportunity to express themselves and have their voices heard. Albania had set a good example with the student parliaments which served as a model for schools across all districts.
Concerning the issue of violence against children, in 2007 the Government issued a ministerial decree explaining the measures taken by all schools in order to combat violence at school. Equally important was the national programme “Communicate for Change” which was designed to change the educational approach taken by teachers at schools with a view to eradicating physical violence. To that end, a number of training sessions for school principals and other teaching staff had been carried out across the country targeting the sort of behaviour which was at the root of violence against children at schools. In addition, an awareness-raising campaign had been initiated, in which not only teachers but also students were involved. The delegation recognized that more work remained to be done in that area but stressed that the issue of physical violence remained high on the agenda of the Ministry of Education.
The education system in Albania was free from three to 18 years, and education was compulsory from six to 14 years, said the delegation. At least 90 per cent of students who completed compulsory schooling were enrolled in secondary schools. The Government was making efforts to divert a number of students to vocational training. The Government was aware of issues of corruption in education and had addressed the problem. More specifically, it had reformed the examination system and the method of evaluation so that students could take their exams in a system that was transparent and fair.
The delegation said that the problem of the lack of registration of children had emerged in the post-communist era and concerned mainly Roma children. As 98 per cent of births occurred in hospitals where registration was automatic, the problem of non-registered children concerned less than two per cent of the population. Registration was important because a valid certificate ensured access to a number of benefits available to children.
In Albania there were both public and non-public centres for children and a total of 2,828 children benefited from those facilities. In emergency situations children at risk were looked after by child protection emergency services. The best interests of the child were always taken into account and, wherever possible, children were kept in their home environment rather than being sent to institutions. The delegation recognized that capacity building was extremely important and training was offered to social workers not only by the State but also by non-governmental organizations.
There were two Ombudsman Offices in Albania, one of which was concerned with issues of discrimination, while the other consisted of three Commissioners, two of whom were responsible for monitoring the implementation of the law on the rights of the child and also receiving discrimination complaints from members of the public.
Infant mortality had decreased steadily over the past 20 years, according to official statistics and reports produced by international organizations. The factors contributing to that trend were primarily socio-economic but also related to improvements in areas such as pre-natal and post-natal care. Regarding deaths from infectious diseases, a delegate said that the issue of deaths from respiratory diseases in particular was being addressed through the introduction of new vaccination. Regarding access to healthcare in rural areas or remote areas, a delegate said that family physicians, who were the first point of reference, could also refer patients to specialists if necessary. In every village there was a primary health centre staffed with a number of general practitioners, paediatricians and nurses. All residents were entitled to free emergency healthcare and vaccination.
Turning to nutrition, a delegate said that the Government was currently focusing its efforts on remote areas and areas where the most deprived and vulnerable groups of citizens resided. At the same time, the problem of obesity affecting populations in urban areas was being addressed by an awareness-raising campaign. In each school there was a team of three officers - a nurse, a dental care specialist and a psychologist - responsible for addressing student health issues.
Albania had a very low HIV/AIDS rate, which the delegation attributed to the country’s well-established awareness-raising, testing and counselling programmes. Albania had benefited significantly from international funds in those respects. Mother to child transmission was low for the same reasons. The treatment of HIV/AIDS cases was centrally controlled.
The delegation said that there were approximately 18,000 children living with disabilities in Albania.
The delegation said that there were approximately 8495 children living with disabilities in Albania. Those children received a disability allowance and the allowance was doubled if they went to school and tripled if they went to university. Usually, children with disabilities were educated in special schools, but the trend was now to provide education to these children in mainstream schools, a delegate confirmed. Within the framework of decentralization, Government-funded centres for children with disabilities had been established in the north and south of the country. An effective social inclusion law was also in place and non-governmental organizations were in the process of monitoring the Government’s social inclusion strategy, the results of which would be released soon. The issue of helping children with disabilities was a major challenge facing the Government, which was working hard to put in place a number of policies to improve the situation of those children who, until recently, had been kept in special institutions.
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