UNICEF has been operational in the region since 1947 and remains committed to working with the government to ensure that every child gets the best start in life. UNICEF is guided by the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989), which Montenegro ratified in October 2006. According to this most ratified international treaty, every child has the fundamental and inherent right to develop to his/her full potential.
Children are the most valuable resource that any country has. Ensuring that they achieve their full potential is the best investment a country can make for its future. UNICEF Montenegro supports the government to cope with the key challenges related to the promotion and protection of children's rights.
Children in conflict with the law
Through the reform of the juvenile justice system, which started in 2004 with UNICEF’s support, Montenegro is heading towards implementing international standards in this area. With the amendments to the Law on Criminal Procedure and Criminal Code, educational measures– alternatives to the judicial proceeding for juvenile offenders – have been introduced into the legal system.
UNICEF supports the introduction of mediation within the juvenile justice system reform in Montenegro as a cost-effective and time-efficient alternative to regular court procedures and sanctions for children who committed petty crimes. Legislation changes, training of professionals from different occupations and opening of the first Centre for Mediation in the capital of Podgorica and in Bijelo Polje on the north will increase possibilities for victim-offender mediation in Montenegro. This internationally renowned practice supports the healing process of victims by providing a safe, controlled setting for them to meet and speak with the offenders. Moreover, it allows offenders to learn about the impact of their crimes on the victims and take direct responsibility for their behaviour. In this way, victim and offender can develop a mutually acceptable plan that addresses the harm caused by the crime. In other words, children are provided with opportunities to change their behaviour and attitudes.
More recently, in October 2008, the government of Montenegro, with help from UNICEF and financial support from the European Commission worth 500.000 euros, started implementing the project “Reform of the Juvenile Justice System”. This project will lead to the establishing and implementing of an appropriate legal framework for children in conflict with the law, with the goal of reintegrating them into the society. Moreover, developing community based youth programs for preventing children at risk from coming into conflict with the law and for facilitating rehabilitation of young offenders; introducing new methods to solve conflicts such as the Victim-Offender Mediation scheme; and raising awareness for the necessity to give children in conflict with the law a second chance are fundamental components of this project.
Children in institutions
Family is the best environment for children: research demonstrates that babies who are institutionalized for more than 6 months suffer delay in early brain development that can only be recuperated by the care of a loving family environment. This means that a system of services needs to be put into place to support families with children and as a result, decrease the number of children in institutions. UNICEF believes that families needing support to care for their children should receive it and that alternative means of caring for a child should only be considered when, despite this assistance, a child's family is unavailable and unable to care for the child.
Alternative services for children did not exist in Montenegro until a few years ago, when UNICEF supported the Ministry of Health, Labour and Social Welfare and the municipality of Bijelo Polje to set up the first Day Care Centre for children with disabilities. The Centre provides support to families so that their children can remain at home, but still receive the education and health care they need. The government plans to open more day care centres across the country.
The approach of UNICEF has been, from the beginning, twofold: on the one hand to assist the Government with the ongoing child care reform process, by transforming the institutions which are in the most critical state. On the other hand, UNICEF focuses at the development of alternatives to institutional care. UNICEF engaged an international technical expert to assess the situation, state of children and programmes of work in Montenegro's child care institutions. As a result, an action plan for the transformation of the institutions was shared with the government.
Most recently, with UNICEF’s support, intensive interaction has been introduced in Montenegro in 2009. Cath Irvine, Specialist Speech and Language Therapist, visited Montenegro and worked with children with disabilities and staff in one of the residential institutions in order to teach them intensive interaction.
UNICEF will support developing of alternatives to residential care in Montenegro such as fostering (care and guardianship by paid carers) and national adoption.
UNICEF is about to engage in a major campaign on parenting and early childhood development and will support prenatal classes throughout Montenegro.
Based on different programmes aimed at prevention of violence implemented worldwide, UNICEF Montenegro, together with the Ministry of Education and donations from the private sector, started to implement "School without Violence - towards Safe and Enabling School Environment" programme in several primary schools. The programme is conceived as a multi-year effort aimed at changing attitudes and tolerance threshold for violence, stimulating cooperation and respect, as well as preventing further emersions of violent behaviour among children.
With support from UNICEF and UNHCR, Operational Multidisciplinary Teams in 7 municipalities protected more than 900 children from violence, abuse and neglect since 2002. A recent evaluation of their work recommended their full integration into the social welfare system, which is now underway.
UNICEF supported the opening of the Centre for Children and Family Support in Bijelo Polje, which also serves as a shelter for children and women victims of violence, abuse and neglect. It is an important pillar of support to the existing social welfare services at the local level, as well as a good practice model for other municipalities to replicate.
UNICEF promotes equal access to quality education for all children in Montenegro. In particular, children with disabilities and Roma children are marginalized from the mainstream education system. UNICEF supports the Ministry of Education in development and implementation of Child Friendly School Standards in Montenegro. Also, Multidisciplinary Commissions for orientation of children with special needs in the mainstream education system are established with UNICEF support. In partnership with Roma NGOs and local schools, outreach education for excluded Roma children in several municipalities improved their access to preschool and primary school education. Finally, Roma women and mothers improved their understanding of children's development and right to education through community based activities supported by UNICEF.
More than 5,000 students and adolescents from vulnerable groups acquired knowledge on how to prevent HIV/AIDS and other diseases as a result of UNICEF supported awareness raising activities. Access and quality of services related to HIV/AIDS prevention improved thanks to the replication of the Youth Friendly Health Services in four municipalities.
UNICEF supported the national and local authorities to open the first pre-natal and parental education centre in 2007. Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative began in 2000 as a joint project of the Ministry of Health and UNICEF. As a result, 7 out of 11 maternity wards became Baby Friendly. However, this cannot and should not be a one time label, as it is an ongoing process. UNICEF is committed to supporting increased awareness of critical importance of breastfeeding and of turning international standards into everyday practice.
Local Plans of Action for Children
UNICEF supported development of Local Plans of Action for Children with active participation of all stakeholders and particularly children in 6 municipalities: Bar, Tivat, Cetinje, Niksic, Bijelo Polje and Berane. Ongoing implementation of these action plans is of great significance for effective protection and promotion of child rights in local communities. UNICEF has supported a major survey among RAE and found that around 70% of those without documents are children.
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