Prague event offers new momentum for reform of child care

On 22 November 2011, government and civil society representatives from 18 countries from Central and Eastern Europe (Albania, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Estonia, Georgia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, FYR of Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia and Turkey) gathered in Prague for a sub-regional workshop on the rights of vulnerable children under three years of age organized by the OHCHR Regional Office for Europe in collaboration with UNICEF.

“This is a historic event, with all countries across the region coming together to address implementation of the rights of youngest children,” said Maria Herczog, the Hungarian member of the Committee for the Rights of the Child (CRC) and president of Eurochild.

“This event shows the growing recognition of a need for a region-wide shift from institutionalization to support for biological families and, where necessary, family-type alternatives,” emphasized former CRC member Dainius Puras from Lithuania, who presented a background study on the issue as a consultant for OHCHR.

The workshop was a follow-up to the “Forgotten Europeans, Forgotten Rights” conference organized by the OHCHR Regional Office for Europe in 2010. It also built on UNICEF’s and OHCHR’s joint Call for Action (from June 2011) to end the placement of children under three years of age in institutions, in keeping with international human rights standards. It was held under the auspices of the Czech Minister of Labour and Social Affairs, Jaromír Drábek. Speaking at the event, Minister Drábek re-stated his country’s commitment to phase out “baby homes” and replace them with family-type care in two years, as a response to the Call for Action. Other States such as Serbia and Bulgaria also illustrated how they had embarked upon systemic reforms in this area. The rights of children with disabilities were particularly highlighted.

Speakers analyzed obstacles to deinstitutionalization and discussed new opportunities to accelerate reforms. Michael Ralph from the European Commission presented the new draft regulations of the European Structural Funds which – for the first time – make explicit reference to de-institutionalization as part of social inclusion efforts. Working groups discussed what is needed in terms of family-type care at the country level, as well as international and regional cooperation to strengthen national capacities to reform systems. “We need political will at the highest level to prioritize the best interests of the child rather than the interests of entrenched professional groups defending the status quo,” said Jan Pfeiffer, Chairman of the European Expert Group on De-institutionalization and member of the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture. “The engagement of OHCHR and UNICEF, as well as the opportunities offered by the new programming of EU financial instruments, should be seen by the States as a major impulse for systemic change.”

A publication containing background information, conclusions and recommendations of the workshop, will be completed in early 2012.

23 November 2011

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