The Rights of the Child, Time for Reflection
By Genc Mlloja
Albanian Daily News
Published November 20, 2017
"Despite the progress, there is a huge gap between the international community's aspirations for all children and the real-life situation for children. In real-life, there are still too many children in Albania who are poor, do not have access to basic health care and education, and are forced to work. These are the basic rights of every child," has said the UNICEF Representative to Albania, Dr. Ezio Gianni Murzi.
In an exclusive interview for Albanian Daily News Dr. Murzi highlighted the significance of the 28th Anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. "The Convention is an occasion for all UN Member States, including Albania, to reflect on implementation gaps and to undertake additional measures to ensure children's rights," he said.
Dr. Murzi retired in 2006 after having served UNICEF for over 18 years in various capacities at UNICEF Headquarters as well as Regional and Country levels; including as Representative in Burkina Faso, Iraq, Russia, Nigeria, India, Iran and Zimbabwe; Regional Director for West and Central Africa, Head of the Middle East and North Africa Section in the UNICEF Headquarters, Programme Division, and Director of UNICEF Brussels. Prior to joining UNICEF, Dr. Murzi worked in his home country Italy, Mozambique and Tanzania. He is a medical doctor, having trained at the UNICEF of Rome "La Sapienza".
"It is crucial that on this day of celebration we look at the progress made by Albania and commend the determination of the Government as well as the Parliament of Albania for the adoption of progressive legislation on criminal justice for children, child rights and protection. The Ministry of Justice is bringing together the experts in commenting and further developing the draft Strategy of Justice for Children," said Dr. Murzi in the following interview:
- The ratification of the Convention on the Rights of the Child is a great milestone. Albania is one of the first UN member countries to have signed that Convention. How has the CRC changed children's lives over the last 28 years in the country?
- The anniversary of the Convention is an occasion for all UN Member States, including Albania, to reflect on implementation gaps and to undertake additional measures to ensure children's rights. There is much to celebrate on the 28th Anniversary of the Convention of the Rights of the Child. The Convention has changed dramatically the way we look at children. Worldwide there have been significant improvements in almost all areas of children's lives.
I will mention here: reducing the number of children under the age of 5 who die each year by nearly 50 per cent from 12 to 6 million; reducing the number of children living in extreme poverty by approximately half from 47 to 18 per cent; increasing enrolment in early childhood education globally by more than 30 per cent; reducing the number of children aged 5-17 involved in child labour by almost a third; providing nearly 2 billion people with access to sanitation facilities.
Despite the progress, there is a huge gap between the international community's aspirations for all children and the real-life situation for children. In real-life, there are still too many children in Albania who are poor, do not have access to basic health care and education, and are forced to work. These are the basic rights of every child. There is no reason why a child should live in poverty, merely because he or she is born to parents who were poor themselves or less educated. For UNICEF, reaching all children means knowing how far we have come, and where we need to go. Even in areas where we are making progress, data show us that far too many children are left behind.
It is crucial that on this day of celebration we look at the progress made by Albania and commend the determination of the Government as well as the Parliament of Albania for the adoption of progressive legislation on criminal justice for children, child rights and protection. The Ministry of Justice is bringing together the experts in commenting and further developing the draft Strategy of Justice for Children.
The Albanian justice system has undergone significant changes since the transition to a pluralistic society that seeks to establish the rule of law. Specifically, Article 37 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child stipulates that "The arrest, detention or imprisonment of a child shall be used only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time". The reason behind this guiding principle is the fact that detention is harmful to the child's still developing body and mind and not the best option to resolve the problem of delinquency. The justice system reform led by the Parliament of Albania and now by the Justice Ministry is therefore, an important development for the country, and an important precondition of Albania's progress towards EU integration.
Through this event we are hoping to let public opinion and stakeholders know that the Ministry of Justice has advanced in their thinking and strategizing around justice for children and also create a forum where diverse stakeholders gather their wisdom on the draft Justice for Children Strategy and suggest improvements to the document.
Every five years, Albania is obliged to report at the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child to measure how much progress has been made, identify main priorities for future action and get a complete view of the reasons why children's rights are not yet fulfilled. UNICEF supports the Government to draft the report. The Committee then reviews and comments on these reports and encourages States to take special measures to promote and protect children's rights. The committee also periodically produces 'General Comments' to provide an authoritative interpretation of the rights contained in the articles and provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).
- How is UNICEF helping the Albanian Government to achieve the results enshrined in the Convention and ensure that no child is left behind? Can you mention some of the activities and projects carried out by UNICEF, especially for the vulnerable children, who lack access, particularly to educational and health facilities, including children belonging to Roma community and ethnic minorities?
- UNICEF's work is guided by the principles of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. These principles represent the underlying requirements for a child to realize any and all of their rights, they include; non-discrimination; the best interests of the child; the right to life, survival and development; and the right to be heard. We work to promote sustainable and equitable development, social inclusion in line with international norms and fulfillment of international obligations, in support of the integration of Albania into the EU.
Currently, we are working in partnership with the Albanian government to ensure social inclusion of children and women, especially among the most vulnerable populations. Our aim is to ensure that policies that address health, nutritional, educational and developmental needs of young children at the critical age of 0-3 and 3-6 especially those coming from vulnerable family backgrounds, are effectively implemented and monitored.
To achieve this, we advocate with government to put child rights at the top of the national agenda. The objective is to line up national priorities with the Convention of the Rights of the Child. We act to ensure that all children are registered and stay in school and that they are equipped with the basic tools they need to succeed in life later. We encourage child-friendly policies that prevent and reduce marginalization in education. UNICEF strongly advocates for equal opportunity in financing and access to health care for the most vulnerable who most need health care and cannot afford to pay. For children in conflict with the law, UNICEF provides support to implement laws and reduce time spent by youth in pre-trial detention centers. We work to ensure treatment of youth in custody in accordance with international accepted practice.
To see the change happen, we make proposals, including in the budget, to ensure equal opportunity for all children. Guaranteeing equal rights for all children is no act of charity, it is a duty. For this, we do not work alone. We ask policymakers, civil society, development professionals and international partners to look for creative solutions in their work as advocates for the rights of children. We ask media and key influencers to support nationwide conversations as means of reaching the most disadvantaged children.
- What can you say on the contribution of the Albanian government, civil society, the people in general, to cooperate with UNICEF for stepping up the awareness drive to protect children against the threats you mentioned above?
- Achieving results for children is everyone's business. At UNICEF, we continue to work with a range of partners, including Government, national and international NGOs, academic institutions and civil society. In 2016, after four years of intensive work, and thanks to the Swiss Development of Cooperation, the Albanian government approved the necessary laws to set out for the first time the foundations of a system of integrated social-care services. UNICEF Albania has offered technical expertise in developing a comprehensive plan to reform social-care services, and has mobilised resources to support the Government of Albania in the implementation of this reform.
Last year, the Parliament of Albania approved with a qualified majority the Criminal Justice for Children Code, as part of its efforts to reform the entire justice system. This revolutionary piece of legislation represents a major conceptual shift from a retributive to a rehabilitative and restorative approach in handling juvenile offenders. The Code also designs a friendlier justice, for children victims or witnesses of crime.
Together with the Ministry of Education and Sports and other national partners, in the last three years, more than one-thousand Roma children have been registered in kindergartens and schools across Albania, as part of the "Every Roma Child in Kindergarten" initiative. For the first time, this initiative has created Clubs of Parents and Teachers, throughout Albania, who are working together to develop plans for the integration of every Roma child to early childhood education.
In February 2017, the Albanian Parliament approved the Child Rights and Protection Law as a foundation to protect children from violence, exploitation and deprivation of their rights. Considering the adoption of the Law as a victory for the country and for all girls and boys in Albania, UNICEF commends the effort of the Government and the Parliament for making a remarkable step forward in guaranteeing child rights as prescribed in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. UNICEF is proud to have supported the Government of Albania in the process of drafting of this Law, done in a consultative way and involving a broad range of stakeholders. The Law opens new horizons and opportunities for the fulfillment of the rights of every child in Albania, with no child left behind.
I am extremely happy to say that the Parliamentary Group "Friends of Children" has been re-appointed and that UNICEF will fully support the work of this Parliamentary Group as I reiterated it to the Speaker of the Parliament, Mr. Gramoz Ruçi, when I met him last week.
Now, the law needs to be implemented. Those charged to execute the law must grasp the same basic message that the Government understood so well: "Protection of vulnerable children is all our business". Investments in children are the investments with the greatest possible return. In many instances, implementation plans lack the entire budgeting component for children. This critically important component includes evidence to cost children's services and formulate budgetary submissions in line with national Public Finance Management requirements. If we fail to invest in the most disadvantaged children, we will fail to achieve sustainable economic, political and social progress and stability.
- Dr. Murzi, besides being the UNICEF Representative in Tirana since June 2017, you are also an ordinary citizen. How do you feel yourself in the status of a common foreign citizen residing in Albania, which are Your impressions on its people, their culture and tradition and history?
- In my short stay in Tirana, I have two key words to describe Albanians. They are exceptionally friendly and welcoming society and with an admirable religious harmony. They represent a rich culture and history, and place children first in everything they do.