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Doc. 9457

7 May 2002

Social measures for children of war in South-Eastern Europe

Opinion1

Committee on Migration, Refugees and Demography

Rapporteur: Ms Ruth-Gaby Vermot-Mangold, Switzerland, Socialist Group

I.       Conclusions of the committee

1.       On the basis of its rapporteur's study of the Social, Health and Family Affairs Committee's report on social measures for children of war in South-Eastern Europe, the Committee on Migration, Refugees and Demography proposes the following amendments to the draft recommendation:

a.       Add the following sentence at the end of paragraph 1:

"The return and the integration of displaced families, in particular those belonging to ethnic minorities, continue to be impeded by limited financial resources for the reconstruction of housing and alternative accommodation, by problems of recovery of property and dwellings, by the complexity of administrative procedures and by the uncertainties of welfare systems, which contribute to sustaining discriminatory practices in certain areas."; 

b.       Add the following sentence at the end of paragraph 3:

"Moreover, the children of war appear to be particularly exposed to the dangers of trafficking and exploitation, notably sexual exploitation, and of deviant behaviour, such as drug addiction and delinquency.";

c.       In paragraph 6 insert the following sentence after the words "seriously affected":

"Refugee or displaced children belonging to ethnic minorities, including Roma communities, seem particularly vulnerable in this respect.";

d.       At the beginning of paragraph 10 insert the following sentence before the sentence beginning "Peace education":

"The Assembly expresses concern about the continuing social and ethnic tensions, which are particularly evident in the functioning of education systems";

e.       Insert a new paragraph, worded as follows, between paragraphs 10 and 11:

"The Assembly believes that marginalisation and social exclusion of children and adolescents represent serious risks, which it is important to counter by means of a dynamic prevention policy. Special attention must be paid to lone mothers and children and lone adolescents.";

f.       Add the following words at the end of sub-paragraph 12.i.a):

"in particular ensuring respect for the principle of non-discrimination;";

g.       In paragraph 12.i., after sub-paragraph k), insert a new sub-paragraph l), worded as follows:

"initiate far-reaching reforms with a view to the modernisation of education systems, founded on tolerance and cultural diversity, so as to ensure that education fulfils its role of fostering integration and children's development, and include vocational education in the scope of these reforms;";

h.       Between paragraphs 12.i. and 12.ii. insert a new paragraph, worded as follows:

«recommend to the governments of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and "the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia" that, in cooperation with the relevant international organisations and NGOs, they step up their efforts to combat trafficking and exploitation of children and criminal activities affecting them (prostitution, drugs, delinquency, etc.);";

i.       In sub-paragraph 12.iii.b) insert the words ", particularly concerning education," after the words "as a basis for constructing a children's agenda in South Eastern Europe";

j.       Complete sub-paragraph 12.iv.a) with the following words:

", with special emphasis on modernisation of school systems;";

k.       In paragraph 14 add the following words at the end of the sentence:

", ensuring, in particular, that their activities benefit all the communities on an equal footing;".

II.       Draft explanatory memorandum by Ms Vermot-Mangold

1.       The rapporteur congratulates Ms Biga-Friganović for the quality of her report on the consequences that war has had for children and concurs with the view that, in South-East Europe, recognition of children's rights must go hand in hand with efforts to guarantee effective enforcement of those rights in connection with the rebuilding of post-war societies restored to social peace.

2.       The successive armed ethnic conflicts that took place in former Yugoslavia, up to the crisis in "the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia" in 2001, forced several million people, including a multitude of children, to leave their homes and move to other parts of the region. In Serbia, for instance, 37% of the remaining displaced persons are minors.

3.       Many displaced persons have gone home. However, the problems raised by such persons' return or by their integration into the host societies are far from solved. It is pointed out that the issues linked to population movements in the Balkans will be discussed in a detailed report, which Mrs Zwerver has been asked to prepare for the Committee on Migration, Refugees and Demography. A number of matters having a direct impact on children's social situation should nonetheless be addressed here, in the context of this opinion.

a.       General comments on population movements in the Balkans

4.       The committee notes that, according to UNHCR estimates, 1,377,000 persons (including 618,000 in Serbia and Montenegro and 604,000 in Bosnia and Herzegovina) were still displaced as at 31 October 2001, and that population movements continued in the region.

5.       The return of minority communities to their home areas is gradually speeding up in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, but this is not yet the case in the rest of the region. On the contrary, in Serbia, Montenegro and the Republika Srpska a very small proportion of Serb refugees and displaced persons envisage returning to their regions of origin. In Kosovo and "the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia" it can be seen that the main population movements are tending towards regrouping of ethnic communities. Your rapporteur considers that the preservation, and even development, of minority enclaves in certain regions is tantamount to a ghettoisation process, which constitutes a major impediment to the integration of these communities. Along similar lines, Croat displaced persons from Bosnia and Herzegovina arrived en masse in Croatia in 2001, an instance of a movement tending towards ethnic uniformity. This means that there is cause for concern about the prospects of achieving sustainable social peace in future, in particular as regards children's future.

6.       It is also to be noted that the war has caused a mass exodus to towns and cities, due, inter alia, to the dangers posed by landmines in rural areas. The population of Pristina has, for example, doubled since June 1999. I wish to draw attention to the dangers associated with urban life for children and adolescents, concerning which the Social, Health and Family Affairs Committee made some very relevant observations in its report of 10 September 2001 (Doc. 9192).

b.       The situation of displaced, refugee and ethnic-minority families

7.       On this subject, the committee notes that displaced families and those belonging to ethnic minorities appear to be more directly vulnerable to the consequences of war and exile, as described by Ms Biga-Friganović in her report. "Getting back to normal" remains a very distant prospect for thousands of these families, and there is a serious risk that this will lead to their social exclusion. The extremely precarious socio-economic circumstances in which these families eke out an existence, the discrimination they suffer and ongoing violence in certain areas are all factors which prevent them from making a calm decision about their future, choosing between return or integration into another host community.

The extremely precarious socio-economic circumstances of displaced families

8.       Many families manage to live off the black economy or the support of relatives and friends, but it can also be noted that, as a result of war and exile, traditional solidarity mechanisms have to a large extent collapsed. An increasing number of displaced families in Croatia, Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina are finding themselves economically dependent, including on their return home. Unemployment of displaced persons has reached alarming levels: 30% in Serbia, 42% in Montenegro. Lastly, according to UNICEF, 33% of displaced families in "the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia" have no source of income, and 80% in Serbia have insufficient income to cover their most basic needs. Although the economic situation is somewhat better in Croatia, where a slight resumption in growth can be noted, unemployment is on the increase among the displaced population of working age. These families continue to encounter a number of obstacles to their integration and their renewed self-dependence, whether in the host regions, the regions of origin or elsewhere.

9.       First, there are housing problems, which result from a combination of factors, including the issue of property and tenancy rights, aid for the reconstruction effort, and management of social housing and alternative forms of accommodation. Implementation of measures to enforce property rights, based on the principle of re-possession by pre-war occupants, poses serious practical difficulties. Only one-third of property-related disputes have been settled in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and a far smaller proportion in Kosovo.

10.       In tangible terms, some displaced families are currently waiting to recover their property through a cumbersome claims process, whereas other families, the temporary occupants of dwellings left vacant, are being expelled to make room for the returnees who have been able to prove their ownership or tenancy rights. At the same time, other families are forced out of their homes by financial difficulties. In addition, there continues to be a chronic shortage of alternative accommodation, in particular social housing. According to Stability Pact estimates, some 200,000 housing units must still be built over the next three to four years. Aid for the reconstruction effort also remains inadequate in both Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo, where, according to a UNMIK estimate of February 2002, 12,000 displaced families are still waiting for and directly dependent on this assistance.

11.       In this connection, it has come to my notice that families are living in makeshift dwellings or are squatting other housing in terribly overcrowded conditions and with no water or electricity. This applies to between 15 and 20% of displaced persons in Serbia and Montenegro. At the same time, the number of new arrivals in collective accommodation centres in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro and Kosovo is rising again, despite a serious deterioration in living and sanitary conditions there. The future of these families is very uncertain.

12.       Second, displaced persons suffer various forms of de facto discrimination, made possible by the complexity, and even the hampering, of legal and administrative procedures and by a lack of coordination and cooperation between the competent regional authorities, in particular those responsible for displaced families' access to welfare services, health care or reconstruction aid.

13.       Reciprocal recognition of social insurance schemes and the transfer of pension and sickness insurance rights between the various regional authorities concerned pose huge problems for displaced families. In January 2002 Bosnia and Herzegovina, which until then had three separate systems, adopted a legal reform that, at last, provides for reciprocal recognition of welfare and sickness insurance schemes between the entities, giving reason to hope that displaced persons access to welfare services will improve. A rationalisation of welfare systems at regional level is moreover absolutely essential. Displaced persons in Montenegro have so far been unable to receive wages and pensions from the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia on account of the currency difference.

14.       In Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina certain rights are reserved for nationals, and in some cases the law even confers priority on war veterans, in particular as regards the award of housing support or reintegration grants. In this connection, the scope of legislation on nationality and citizenship must be subject to special scrutiny. In Kosovo the requirement that persons wishing to be issued with identity papers must be physically present in the territory also has adverse implications for a number of displaced persons. Obtaining administrative documents or attestations of entitlement is a complex process because certain registers and archives no longer exist, and the relevant authorities' lack of diligence in implementing the cumbersome bureaucratic procedures often raises additional obstacles. As a general rule, in a difficult employment and housing situation, the competent authorities unfortunately tend to neglect displaced families, putting the interests of local communities first.

Ethnic tensions and discrimination

15.       These difficulties in gaining access to employment, housing, social assistance and health care are exacerbated in the case of families belonging to ethnic minorities, who are still frequently the victims of discrimination and even violence. Unfortunately, I can but note that the return of members of minority communities to their pre-war homes and their reintegration alongside a majority from another ethnic background is posing problems and that segregation is gaining ground. From Croatia to Kosovo, the economic situation is desperate in certain areas to which minorities, in particular Serbs, are returning, with unemployment as high as 90%.

16.       In Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia returnee families from ethnic minorities are faced with extremely harsh living conditions, primarily because decent accommodation is very hard to obtain and in the procedures they initiate to recover their pre-war property they often come up against delays or objections. In Croatia it would seem that the police are far less ready to enforce an expulsion order where the owner of a property is Serb, rather than Croat. At the same time, more Croats than Serbs benefit from reconstruction grants and social housing. The situation is the same in Bosnia and Herzegovina, where ethnic-minority families still complain of difficulties in securing access to basic services, such as connection to water and electricity networks. It is likewise alleged that persons belonging to minority communities are charged excessive amounts for the issue of administrative documents or required to furnish proof which they cannot possibly obtain. Discrimination in employment matters is a special cause for concern in Bosnia and Herzegovina, in particular in the public sector, where the authorities apply a recruitment preference in favour of members of the majority ethnic group. I wish to underline the need to establish effective means of appeal to independent, impartial bodies, which still too rarely exist, so that such practices can be sanctioned.

17.       Apart from these forms of segregation directly affecting minorities' access to public services, I am very concerned about the continuing intolerance and violence between communities. Despite a general improvement in security throughout the region, members of minority communities are unfortunately still prey to threats, intimidation, harassment and physical aggression. Arbitrary arrest and detention of persons from minority backgrounds, in particular Serbs, on the pretext that they have committed war crimes, and the distribution of "wanted lists" cannot be tolerated. In Bosnia and Herzegovina some families said they were afraid to go to police stations to fulfil administrative formalities. Attacks on means of transport, stone-throwing and forced sale of property are all acts that seriously infringe minority rights, in particular freedom of movement and residence, and, into the bargain, jeopardise minorities' access to basic services, constituting a grave impediment to their integration.

18.       The committee once again denounces the recent fresh outbreaks of serious violence, fires, explosions and armed aggressions in Kosovo, "the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia" and the Republika Srpska, where, in May 2001, an attack on an Albanian village led to the death of a sixteen-year-old Muslim girl.

19.       I would add that the most tragic situation is that of the Roma communities. Unlike other groups, they do not have the status of a minority and are often denied elementary rights concerning their persons, let alone their property. Local authorities often refuse to accept them. The Roma complain of systematic discrimination in all states in the region. The vast majority live in extreme poverty.

c.       Consequences for the children of displaced families and those belonging to ethnic minorities, in particular Roma communities

20.       Children in these categories are directly and personally affected in their dignity and their right to well-being. Their rights to decent, healthy living conditions are seriously jeopardised by the precarious circumstances in which they live. Problems of malnutrition and chronic disease are increasing in some marginalised communities in Kosovo. In "the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia" 55% of displaced persons suffer from health problems. Not only are children's primary needs (food, clothing, housing, health care) neglected, but the material insecurity in which they live generally goes hand in hand with a lack of emotional security.

21.       Ms Biga-Friganović explained in her report how family structures have been seriously eroded by war, the death of family members and violence suffered or witnessed. In Serbia one-tenth of displaced families have a lone parent at their head, while in other cases the tendency has been to form extended families. I would add that the trauma caused by war and by disruption of family structures is exacerbated to a large extent by exile, poverty and discrimination, leaving displaced or ethnic-minority children in a particularly vulnerable state. UNICEF has noted a rising suicide rate among displaced persons in Serbia and has found that 85% of displaced people in "the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia" spend their time pondering and worrying.

22.       It is a cause for concern that, throughout the region, there is a very high proportion of children living alone with their unmarried, widowed, divorced or separated mothers and of lone adolescents, who are among the most vulnerable, in particular those living in collective accommodation centres. In Serbia and Montenegro two-thirds of people living in the collective centres have no means of subsistence, and in Croatia 50% are below the poverty line. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Bosnia and Herzegovina has stated that the vast majority of the 9,500 people who were still living in the collective centres in May 2000 will remain dependent. Moreover, given the extremely overcrowded conditions in the centres, I believe that the children present there are clearly being neglected and marginalised. As the centres are gradually closed down, it is absolutely essential to take urgent measures in aid of these children and of lone adolescents.

23.       Education is a primary aspect of the process of democratisation and restoration of social peace. It has to be said, however, that few schools in the region today fulfil their role in such matters. The segregationist nature of education systems is a particular cause for concern. Serious problems are arising everywhere in certain disciplines (history, literature and language teaching), where the course content is geared to promoting nationalist values and intolerance. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, in particular, children belonging to ethnic minorities suffer wide-scale ridicule and discrimination on the part of their teachers and fellow pupils. It is also to be deplored that, in Vukovar, separation of Serb and Croat children is the norm from as early as nursery school and that, in Kosovo, the Ministry of Education takes the view that public opinion is not yet ready for the introduction of multi-ethnic classes.

24.       This general discriminatory attitude, which sometimes leads to expulsions from school, constitutes a direct impediment to the education of certain children, but their chances are also jeopardised by the shortage of money for school supplies and decent clothing, by the considerable distances they have to travel to school, by the pervading insecurity or by the lack of transport facilities. In December 2001 20% of displaced children in Serbia, and 80% in the Republika Srpska, did not attend school. Throughout the region Roma children encounter difficulties in enrolling in schools. Similarly, the education and training of adolescents over the age of 15, for whom school is not compulsory, poses a serious problem. In this connection, it is essential to include vocational facilities in the education system, so as to open up future prospects for these young people.

25.       Your rapporteur accordingly concludes that, for lack of genuine political will, schooling of a decent standard, which constitutes the last bulwark against exclusion, is currently incapable of fulfilling its role, particularly in the case of displaced children belonging to ethnic minorities.

d.       Specific concerns relating to the risk of exclusion of displaced children belonging to minorities, in particular the Roma community

26.       The psychosocial impact of financial insecurity, emotional stress, social and educational neglect, ridicule and discrimination on displaced and ethnic-minority children, especially Roma children, has particularly negative implications for their development. I therefore believe that children in these categories are at special risk of suffering some of the more serious consequences of exclusion. In the short term, exclusion makes children particularly vulnerable to certain antisocial forms of behaviour.

27.       A specialist association in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia has noted a steady rise in domestic violence and child abuse, in particular incest, since the beginning of the war.

28.       Homelessness and begging are emerging trends in Montenegro, "the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia" and Croatia, where the number of adolescents living on the streets - including many Roma children - is gradually increasing. Alcoholism and drug addiction are serious problems among street children, especially in Kosovo.

29.       This type of environment also leads to juvenile delinquency, which constitutes a greater risk in the case of child soldiers. In 2001 the KFOR recorded an increase in participation by Albanian minors in acts of violence against minority communities. Some children apparently belong to gangs having links with organised crime.

30.       Trafficking and exploitation of children, who are sometimes sold into slavery or forced into prostitution, are unfortunately well-established practices in the region. Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina, in particular, had long been points of transit and destination for the trafficking of young women from Bulgaria, Romania, Ukraine and Moldova, a situation which the International Organization for Migration (IOM) ascribed to the foreign presence there. However, like "the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia" and Montenegro, with the growing poverty in certain communities, they are now becoming countries of origin. Young women, mostly between 15 and 18 years of age, are exploited in local prostitution networks or sent to western Europe. Little detailed information is available. The number of young women concerned is estimated at between 175,000 and 500,000, of which at least 10% are under age.

31.       In conclusion, I would add that a further consequence of the exclusion suffered by children is that it feeds and perpetuates a climate of violence and racism.

e.       Regional and international cooperation

32.       To solve a number of outstanding issues, particularly regarding welfare rights and nationality requirements, harmonisation and increased cooperation are necessary at a multilateral level. The committee sees grounds for optimism in the generally improved political climate in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and in the restoration of intergovernmental relations in the region. At the same time, it regrets the inertia of municipal and local authorities in the sphere of regional cooperation. In this respect, UNMIK's gradual transfer of certain powers and responsibilities to Kosovar municipalities raises a number of concerns.

33.       The working priorities set by the Stability Pact for 2002 are a step in the right direction, particularly as regards investment in the reconstruction of basic infrastructure. In the economic sphere the prospect of the emergence of common markets by the end of 2002, inter alia following the agreement to that end signed by Serbia, Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina on 1 February 2002, augurs well for an improvement in the families' financial situation. The committee also welcomes the adoption of the action plan for social cohesion, so as to meet the needs of the most vulnerable members of society. Above all, the Agenda for Regional Action for Refugees and Displaced Persons, launched in June 2001, and the accompanying national action plans, followed by the regional donor conference held in Bucharest in October 2001, have ensured that issues relating to displaced persons' housing, status and welfare rights are paid the interest they deserve and that funding is available.

34.       I wish to draw the attention of national governments, private investors and the donors concerned to the need for non-discriminatory implementation of their activities, which must help to foster development in a multi-cultural context. In this connection, the establishment of a number of reporting and monitoring mechanisms would be a particularly desirable move.

35.       I welcome the Stability Pact's and, in particular, the IOM's and the OSCE's focus on combating organised crime and trafficking in human beings and am pleased to see that Kosovo recently adopted measures to counter such trafficking. Emphasis must also be laid on preventive measures concerning children at risk, that is to say those who are marginalised. The key role played by NGOs in this area cannot cloak the responsibilities of governments. Concerns have been raised about the future of dependent families, who are at risk of being left destitute as humanitarian assistance is replaced by development aid.

36.       The committee believes that both national governments and private donors attach far too little importance to the reconstruction of school infrastructure and the reform of education systems, and to child policy in general. For example, in Kosovo only 6 million euros have been set aside for a total of nine education projects, whereas 33 million US dollars are earmarked for the reconstruction of transport networks. The programmes implemented under the aegis of the Council of Europe, UNESCO and UNICEF for the supply of revised school textbooks, teacher training and promotion of education in human rights and tolerance are exemplary in nature, but too limited in scope. Your rapporteur suggests that reform and reconstruction of school systems, to ensure that they are of a high standard and fulfil their role of social integration in a context of cultural diversity, should become a genuine priority for both the governments of the region and the international community.

*

* *

Reporting committee: Social, Health and Family Affairs Committee (Doc. 9454).

Committee for opinion: Committee on Migration, Refugees and Demography.

Reference to committee: Doc. 8227 and Reference No. 2326 of 4 November 1998.

Opinion approved by the committee on 23 April 2002.

Secretariat of the committee: Mr Lervik, Mrs Nachilo and Ms Sirtori


1 See Doc. 9454, report of the Social, Health and Family Affairs Committee