Many young people in Albania face poverty, discrimination, and lack of educational opportunity, according to a recent report. The problem is especially severe in rural areas and among the country's Roma.
By Erlis Selimaj for Southeast European Times in Tirana – 29/06/06
Homeless children sleep on the sidewalk in Tirana. According to UNICEF, more than 290,000 children in Albania are affected by poverty and discrimination. [Getty Images]
In terms of its population, Albania is considered the youngest country in Europe, with 34 per cent under the age of 18. And according to UNICEF, an alarming number of young Albanians are living in substandard conditions.
In a recent report, the UN agency found that Albania lacks social policies to protect children from poverty, discrimination and social exclusion. Many children have to work long hours or beg in order to eke out a living, and some are trafficked to neighbouring Greece to work illegally, the report said.
According to UNICEF, more than 290,000 children (approximately 33 per cent), are affected by poverty and discrimination. Children from the country's Roma minority are among the worst off, as are children living in rural and mountainous areas. The phenomenon of blood feuding is contributing to the problem, said UNICEF, which also found that effective government policies and legislation are not yet in place.
"The exclusion of a certain category of children in Albania comes as a result of poverty, migratory movements, weakness of governance and lack of a proper, complete law. Due to these reasons, kids have fewer possibilities to get an education. Among the poor children, only two out of ten register for secondary school," the agency said in the report.
On average, Roma children receive only four years of schooling, it found.
Many children between ages 12 and 17 are obliged to work as many as seven hours a day, six days a week, leading to interrupted or abandoned education, according to UNICEF.
Albanian President Alfred Moisiu has emphasised the need to make childrens' rights a priority, calling for a "unique social and national system" that would at once guarantee the legal rights of young people while tackling the main causes of inequality -- high poverty, unemployment, weak governance, organised crime, child labour, and abandonment of school, especially in rural areas.
The government has been overhauling the country's national strategy for children -- first drafted five years ago. One of the most important steps outlined in the strategy is the establishment of specific state structures to monitor children's rights.
The Albanian authorities are also collaborating with neighbouring countries to tackle the problem of child trafficking. In February, Albania and Greece signed a long-awaited bilateral agreement on the issue.