Coordinated by Roberta PACE, Alain PARANT

 

Child policy in Romania.

Does Romania follow a Mediterranean model?

 

Sorin MITULESCU

Lumina- The University of South-East Europe, Bucharest

 

Abstract: The paper analyses several aspects of child and family policy in Romania, compared with Mediterranean countries - Greece, Italy, Spain and Portugal. It is highlighted the role of international organizations in pursuing child rights and support family and child policy reform. Child welfare indicators placed Romania among the last in an international OECD ranking. On some indicators, Romania has made progress and topped the last position but to others it is still lagging behind. Romania's position is closer to the Mediterranean countries’ than to any other European country except some former Soviet camp members. So Romania could easily follow a "Mediterranean" model in child policy. But such a model does not exist in reality, even though the Mediterranean countries have some common characteristics of their child and family policy. Romania should, however, follow the example of Mediterranean countries that have developed institutional systems designed to ensure and comply with children's rights, including the Children's Ombudsman (Spain, Italy). Also, Romania should follow closely how Greece used European funds to improve the situation of children and disadvantaged families.

 

Keywords: Child policy, international comparison, Mediterranean countries, child welfare (wellbeing), European funds.

 

 

1.                   INTRODUCTION

 

Romania faces an acute demographic crisis that poses multiple problems to the state as sustainability of mandatory social insurance or an adequate tax base. To replace the population and keeping it constant in number, it is necessary for every family to be  give birth to, an average, 2.1 children. In Romania are born less than 1 child, which makes the population to become older and drop fast. 2010 marked the beginning of the demographic collapse because, for the first time, population growth was negative throughout the year. Every year in the last 20, the natural decrease was around 40,000, but in 2010 it  was already  50,000. Specialists in demography  have recommended to Romanian authorities a series of measures to avoid a black future:  "Romania needs a family policy developed with great care and responsibility, clear, stable oriented perspective, that does not follow the immediate effects, that have consensus of politicians, civil society, the public and specialists . .. Basically, as time passes, things will be more difficult to change. " [i]

It is noteworthy that such phenomena as well as ways to solve are far from being specific to Romania. Here among others, Russian situation as presented a few years ago by President Vladimir Putin himself at a meeting with foreign journalists seem to be very similar: "... but what worries me more than the entire population decline in Russia. Are the special leave maternity for young mothers, a bonus for parents who want to have more than one child or adopted children, maternity leave mothers assuring them the opportunity to then return to their job without being disadvantaged. We need many more nurseries and kindergartens. Overall, policy support is poor. The family is the basis of society[ii]

So here is the remedy for demographic decline which is placed in close relationship with the child and family policy. Romania inherited from the previous government in 1990 high centralization in administration, inadequate legislation in relation to the real needs of children and families, lack of staff training in social work, lack of social services, bad practice to exercise adult authority to the child, lack of information on the effect of early separation of children from their families[iii]. In 1990 Romania ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and with particular concern for finding solutions to the problems of children ‘abandon in institutions. After 2000, in an effort to join the EU, Romania had to solve problems related to international adoption scandals and was pressured by the EU to adopt the necessary legislation to monitor and verify compliance with children's rights in 2004. Also the EU membership of Romania in 2007 was conditioned, among other things, to improve the situation of children and assure more pronounced their rights compliance[iv]. Today, after more than 23 years after the ratification of the Convention, significant progress can be reported on the protection of children in Romania. Thus, in 1990 there were 100,000 children in institutions and currently are 24,000, and the number of registered deaths before the age of five decreased compared to 2012 from 16000 to 3000[v]. On the other hand, schooling and poverty remain major problems:

"…preschool enrollment rate of children between three and six years increased from 54 percent in 1990 to 77 percent in 2010. It should be recognized, however, that the violation of children's rights remains a constant concern in Romania …. Approximately 320,000 children live in absolute poverty, about 400,000 do not go to school every day, and another 62,000 are separated from their families. 50 percent of children in institutions are there because of poverty "[vi].

Or, as a recent UNICEF document is appreciating, 

˝The Romanian legislative framework is generally well-developed as regards education and access to quality education, child rights protection, social assistance for vulnerable/disadvantaged groups and healthcare services, but quite inadequate when it comes to laying down relevant obligations so as to ensure that intended beneficiaries have access to and enjoy these rights,. Major weaknesses exist in  setting and/or implementing appropriate sanctions, this resulting in somewhat ineffective laws and leaving room for risky behaviours (e.g. selling alcohol and tobacco to the underage, access to drugs, smoking in public places etc.) and in limited access to rights for some vulnerable groups[vii]

 

2.         ROMANIA AND MEDITERRANEAN COUNTRIES AMONG OECD STATES

As EU member, Romania now has to compare with the most developed countries (and rich) including on child policy. From these, the most accessible (close) appear to be the countries of Southern Europe (Mediterranean). As other scholars have noticed, “Southern European Model” of the well fare state could serve as reference for Eastern and South Eastern Europe because:

”...Comparatively large agricultural populations... with some rural areas experiencing extended poverty; widespread informal economic activity and concomitant tax evasion, which is translated, first, into skewed and often unknown income distribution and, second, into the inclusion of non-poor in poverty alleviation schemes; relatively extended and traditional households... This situation... may decrease pressure on paternalist states to weave budgetfunded safety nets; limited administrative capacity, which indicates an inability to fully implement welfare reform and its prerequisites, such as the rise of the state’s tax-raising capacity.”[viii]

 

The differences in the level of development, structure of the economy, and culture between Southern Europe, on the one hand, and Eastern and South-East Europe, on the other, are far from negligible. As an EC study is describing, „within the European Union there are also big territorial differences with regard to demographic change... There are currently two major divisions with regard to population dynamics worth mentioning within the countries of the European Union: there is a clear East-West division or a division between the old and new Member States  and there is something that could be called the North-South division. Although there are many country-specific differences, they do not alter the larger picture”[ix]. After such scholar Southern Europe is characterised by low fertility combined with replacement migration that can help compensate for population loss, while  Central and Eastern Europe (to which Romania is belonging) has a low level of fertility combined with very little or no migration, in some cases combined with extensive emigration. However, some enduring problems of Southern Europe and, also, attempts to alleviate poverty in that region may contribute relevant input to the formulation of relevant East European policies[x].

General discussions about welfare state into the Mediterranean countries are stressing that:

·         despite having made great strides towards catching up with Northern European welfare, education and training levels, there remain important challenges such as persistent labor market segmentation and reliance on the family for social protection[xi]

·         Pierre Pesteau,  quoting Henau et al. (2005) assessing the relative generosity of child policies in the EU and their extention of „dual-earnier-family-friendly” , finds Nordic countries as the most generous regarding child-care and at the other extreme mainly Southern countries (Portugal, Spain and Greece). He distinguishes Italy from the other Southern countries for its child care programs. But „cash and tax benefits” for child families are also relatively low[xii]

So there are still some general aspects concerning the child policies that could apply  to all Mediterranean countries and we can develop a comparative analyse having as terms this group of countries and Romania. The European integration of Romania is a big challenge for it but  an opportunity too,  to be compared with others and learn from experience of other countries with longer history than its own in social reforms and  child policy. If we look in Table 1, ranking 29 developed countries (OECD and/or EU members) according to the overall wellbeing of their children[xiii], we find northern countries like Netherlands, Norway, Iceland, Finland and Sweden being in top five and Romania placing on the last position. Romania's position, though it is the last in the ranking, is not a surprise, considering the company of the most developed countries. There are other eastern countries very close to Romania’s place like Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia and Poland. But Greece and Italy are also placed in the last third of the average rank hierarchy and Spain and Portugal are placed at the bottom for some criteria. Or, as the Report states „Four southern European countries – Greece, Italy, Portugal and Spain – are placed at the bottom half of the table”[xiv] . A warning signal is expressed by the authors on the situation of Spain which, has slipped down the rankings – from 5th out of 21 countries in the early years of the decade to 19th of 29 countries in 2009/2010”[xv]. Starting from this situation I’ll try to make a comparison on the main aspects concerning child protection, between Romania and Mediterranean countries in order to identify the most accessible ways for Romania to develop own system of child protection adapted to other aspects of its  social and cultural structure.

Returning to Table 1, we find that Mediterranean countries (on the whole) occupy position 18.9 (from 29). They can even be a model (available) for Romania concerning children’s health (17th place) but weaker (and closer to Romania) on material wealth (rank 22) and education (rank 24) dimensions.

Following more closely a number of indicators used for ranking (see Table 2), we find that Romania's position in relation to the Mediterranean countries is not always the same. Romania lies far behind this group when we take poverty indicators affecting children: percentage of children reporting low family affluence is 40% for Romania but only less than 15% for most MC and less than 10% for Spain and child deprivation rate 70% for Romania and only 27% for Portugal, 10-20% for Greece and Italy and less than 10% for Spain. But, if we look to the relative child poverty rate (% of children living in households with equivalent incomes below 50% of  national median) we find MC with percentage between 15 and 20, more closed to Romania (23%).

Table 1 Countries according to overall well-being of their children and for the five dimensions of child being considered in this review[xvi] Ranks-

Place

Country

Overall well-being

(all 5 dimensions)

Dimensions

Material well-being

Health and safety

Education

Behavior and risks

Housing

and environment

1

Netherlands

2.4

1

5

1

1

4

2

Norway

4.6

3

7

6

4

3

3

Iceland

5

4

1

10

3

7

4

Finland

5.4

2

3

4

12

6

5

Sweden

6.2

5

2

11

5

8

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

15

Portugal

15.6

21

14

18

8

17

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

19

Spain

17.6

24

9

26

20

9

20

Hungary

18.4

28

20

8

24

22

21

Poland

18.8

22

18

9

19

26

22

Italy

19.2

23

17

25

10

21

23

Estonia

20.8

19

22

13

26

24

24

Slovakia

20.8

25

21

21

18

19

25

Greece

23.4

20

19

28

25

25

26

U.S.

24.8

26

25

27

23

23

27

Lithuania

25.2

27

24

19

29

27

28

Latvia

26.4

28

28

20

28

28

29

Romania

28.6

29

29

29

27

29

 

The same situation is related to child health and safety. The place of Mediterranean Countries in this dimension is much better than of Romania. But if we take into consideration only the indicator of immunization rate we find only Greece on some top position (second place) but Italy at the bottom (place 21 from 29) and Romania near Spain and Portugal somewhere in the middle.

Table 2 Indicators of child wellbeing[xvii]

Country

Child poverty gap: % of children below the poverty line

Immunization  rate of children of 12 to 33 months (%)

% of participation in further education of children aged 15 to 19

Greece

25

97

83

Italy

31

94

82

Portugal

26

96

84

Spain

39

96

81

Romania

30

96

76

 

If we look at other comparisons that Innocenti Report provides concerning habits and behaviors critical to the present and future well being of children and that are related to the way of life of children families (overweight, eating breakfast, eating fruits or practicing regular physical activity) we find big differences between Romania and Southern Countries which are also among the last. For example when we talk about % of children eating breakfast we find Portugal on the top (second after Netherlands) and Romania at the bottom very close of Greece and Spain and Italy somewhere in the middle.  So there is not a single behavioral model of Mediterranean families that could be followed by some eastern countries as Romania.

Another international comparison made ​​in the OECD countries aims to stress how formal child support systems that provide compliance of “absent” (or “non-resident”) parents, is insured by each State. Such  schemes have become more important with the growing number of divorces and the increased prevalence of sole-parent families in OECD countries. Table 3 provides information on child support recipients, the duration of child support payments, whether systems have different arrangements for children of married and unmarried parents vis-à-vis legally partnered, and whether or not countries provide advanced child support payments.

As we could see from the Table 3 the role of Court is more visible and clear for the Mediterranean countries, instead of a more unclear situation for Romania when it should establish responsibility for child maintenance payment. Informal rules are more present in Romania and Portugal. Only Greece from all taken into consideration countries foreseen special arrangements for children of unmarried parents. But Romania  is the only from the group (but similar to other OEDC countries) which extends duration of formal child support payments until  children finish full-time education. In relation to providing advance child support payments to guarantee that children receive a minimum allowance when non-resident parents do not meet their financial obligations, only Spain is fulfilling such criteria. It might be said that in general, in Mediterranean countries there is a stronger commitment of the judicial authority in ensuring children's rights and that they resemble an upgrade, while in Romania the administration is involved in justice system. Beyond that, each country has a certain specific: Romania has a tradition of support for the child until a more advanced age (if going to school), as Spain is the only country from the compared that is providing advance child support payments to guarantee that child receive a minimum allowance and  Greece supports unmarried parents too. A conclusion from this comparison is that Romania, although occupies the last place considering all criteria, for certain chapters is ahead of Mediterranean countries and for other, it shares the last places with some of these countries.

 

Table 3.  Key characteristics of Child Support Regimes[xviii]


3.                  
INTERNATIONAL DEMANDS ON CHILD POLICY 

Being familiar with the tests that the child policy in Romania was obliged to take and international monitoring of domestic reforms it went through whenever the state wanted to integrate into any European structures (Council of Europe, European Union) someone would be surprised that some southern Mediterranean countries follow similar procedures. Thus Italy was asked by The Committee of The Child Rights from Geneva to prepare a Report on implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.  Written by some independent evaluators, this Report   states that „several suggestions and recommendations of the Committee linked to Italy’s initial report remain pertinent. In particular, Italian legislative provisions concerning the protection against torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment are insufficient and do not contain a specific definition of torture. Ill-treatment by police and other public officials against children in detention have been reported as well as excessive use of force and denial of fundamental rights against demonstrators in the street or subsequently in custody. Physical and verbal abuse against Romani has been frequently denounced. Official statistics show a pattern of discrimination relating to foreign children in the administration of juvenile justice with more foreign than Italian children sent to custodial facilities rather than benefiting from alternatives to detention. Recently, the Italian Government has endorsed a very restrictive approach on immigration giving rise to serious concerns in the face of an ongoing tide of illegal migrants landing on its shores. Therefore, OMCT decided to submit an alternative report on Italy to the Committee, in which it focuses on specific areas that fall within the OMCT’s mandate. The report will raise several concerns, sometimes regarding the information given by the Government, and will make a number of recommendations on how to improve children’s rights in various situations[xix].

During  the period 2000 – 2010, one of the main issues was the international focus regarding Italy, was the absence of Children Ombudsman in this country. The Children's Ombudsman, Children's Commissioner, Child Advocate, Children's Commission or equivalent body is a public authority in various countries in charge with the protection and promotion of the rights of children and young people, either in society at large, or in specific categories such as children in contact with the care system. The agencies usually have a substantial degree of independence from the executive, and generally operate as specialised ombudsman offices or national human rights institutions, dealing with individual complaints, intervening with other public authorities, conducting research, and - where their mandate permits them to engage in advocacy - generally promoting children's rights in public policy, law and practice. The creation of such institutions has been promoted by the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, and, from 1990 onwards, by the Council of Europe. Recommendation of Committee on the rights of the Child  was that “... every State needs an independent human rights institution with responsibility for promoting and protecting children’s rights. The Committee’s principal concern is that the institution, whatever its form, should be able, independently  and effectively, to monitor, promote and protect children’s rights. It is essential that promotion and protection of children’s rights is mainstreamed and that all human rights institutions existing in a country work closely together to the end.”[xx] What is the specific nature of this institution is its "extrajudicial" character, which enables more timely and nuanced reaction to the defense of children's rights.

Italy was one of the last European countries that has included among their supervisory institutions civic children's rights defender (ombudsmen) for children. Although it has a long experience in the defense of children's rights at the regional level - until 2011 such institutions functioning only in the few regions of Italy - especially in Veneto, but not nationwide. As stated an Italian author, Italy is a country that “per taluni aspetti, segue le orrne internazionali e europee molto lentamente”[xxi]...and, as we shall see further, this is very right for Romania too. In 2011 the Italian press was providing information on more advanced experience of the Nordic countries as Finland[xxii] and recently, after long debates and postponements, on July 2011, Law number 112 set up an Ombudsman for childhood and adolescence as an independent institute. Law 112 of 2011 is a law but only 6 articles whose wording lasted more than 10 years. The final version replays a government project in 2008. Though considered by many, both inside and outside of Italy as a real step forward, the current law is not exempt from criticism. But what is essential through it is to ensure an independent and administratively autonomous authority. The choice of candidates for the leadership of this Authority is a public manner, open and clear (in accordance with the recommendations ENOC). The law provides for the appointment of the presidents of the two Chambers of the Italian Parliament of a person who has competence and experience in the field of children's rights for a term of four years. Independent administrative authority is backed by a financial cover that, at least from Romanian perspective seems appropriate: 1,500,000 euro for 2012, of which 200,000 to pay staff salaries[xxiii]. Among the major powers of the Authority is found to guarantee the right to education for all children. This task is important because several reports have attracted international attention since the inappropriate situation of education for Roma and Moroccans children in Italy.

 

4.                   OTHER ˝SOUTHERN˝ EXPERIENCES CONCERNING CHILD OMBUDSMAN

If we look to the list of members of The European Network of Ombudspersons for Children (ENOC), we find among 35 European countries,  Greece , Spain also Italy  represented, but only Greece has an „Independent Authority Ombudsman of the Hellenic Republic Department of Childrens Rights” while Spain has some regional  authorities (Office of the Catalan Ombudsman-Deputy Ombudsman for Children's Rights - Children's Ombudsman in Andalusia-Spain - Valedor do Pobo de Galicia) and Italy has delegated its National Authority for Children and Adolescents. Romania and Portugal are not at all represented, this could mean that there is no public or political interest in these countries for a better promotion and protection of the rights of children.

 

4.1                SPAIN

Even Spain was one of the eleven countries that on 1999 set up the "European Network of Ombudsmen for Children" (ENOC ) together with  Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Hungary, Norway, the Russian Federation, and Sweden,  drafting up an agreement to ensure that the members of the newly-formed organisation work together to improve the lives of European children, and called for the full implementation of the UN Convention and the Council of Europe's European Strategy for Children[xxiv], Spain also has something specific in terms of the Ombudsman institution, differing it from the classic Scandinavian model. So, starting from the  two models of Ombudsmen that have been identified: the “Parliamentary Ombudsman” emerged since the beginning of the 19th century, and the “Administrative Mediator” who emerged more recently since the 70’s,  Spain has a «Defensor Del Pueblo » and this institution was a source of inspiration for the French Parliamentary committee who recommended the creation of a Human rights Defender of constitutional rank which is intended to exercise the powers of the Republic Mediator and other independent authorities[xxv]. And in Spain operate strong regional authorities for overseeing and ensuring children's rights such as Children's Ombudsman in Andalusia or in Catalonia.

On children's rights issues, one of the most salient concerns of the Children’s Ombudsman in Spain is the alleged ill-treatment received by unaccompanied migrant children arriving in Spanish territory, and the lack of legal assistance given to those detained, as well as the poor conditions in the reception centres for minors (especially in Ceuta and Melilla). Other prominent human rights concerns include the vulnerable position of the Roma population, as highlighted by the UN Committees on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination; as well as gender violence, as reported by the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women[xxvi] In the same area of children’s rights we could note the Catalan Ombudsman’ call for action to guarantee right of children to adequate food:

The absence of a structural problem of child malnutrition should not ignored – neither by institutions nor society – about the existing malnutrition situations affecting part of children population. ... The Catalan Ombudsman requests the Catalan Government, the county councils and municipalities to act in a co-ordinated, harmonised and urgent manner to guarantee the right of children to adequate food. ... reality shows that the growing scarcity of social and economic situation creates both, under-nutrition (insufficient food intake) and not adequate food (non-balanced diet), conditions that cannot be ignored.”[xxvii]

Based on accurate information, Catalan Child Ombudsman contributes to warn authorities about the problems of children in the region:

·         evaluate the risk of child poverty rate in Catalonia at 28%.

·         asses the procentage of children suffering from material hardship affecting their food behavior: ”specifically, almost 50,000 Catalan children this age can not afford meat of fish at least once every two days, i.e. do not eat proteins on a regular basis”[xxviii].

·         prove a deep knowledge about child situation:

Situations associated with severe poverty, which currently affect to a tenth of children (130.000), have multiplied during the last years in Catalonia. The prevalence of Catalan homes (with or without children) who can not afford meat or fish at least once every two days in 2011 is almost six times higher than in 2008 and Catalan households who suffer a severe material deprivation in 2011 are more than three times than in 2008”.[xxix]

 

 

 

4.2               GREECE

In a more simple manner  it has been solved the situation in Greece. Although Greece does not have a stand-alone office, the Citizen's Advocate (Ombudsman) of Greece, created in 1998 as an independent authority, has in addition to the Ombudsman and Deputy Ombudsman position six Assistant Advocates, one of whom coordinates the activities of the Department of Children's Rights, and is sometimes referred to as the Ombudsman for Children’s Rights. The Department was established in 2003, by law 3094/2003, to investigate alleged acts and omissions by individuals and legal entities that violate the rights of children or endanger their wellbeing[xxx].  Nevertheless, Greece still faces numerous challenges, especially in the areas of violence against women and children, trafficking of persons, and discrimination against Roma children, according to Wordnet[xxxi]. In Greece, children under  the age of fifteen constitute about 15.5 percent of the overall population (11,000,000), which is below the average percentage in the European Union. Greece, as other European countries, has experienced in the last few years a high rate of influx of immigrants. As a result, a new multi-cultural and multi-ethnic society has emerged. There are approximately 130,000 immigrant students, mostly from Albania and other Balkan countries, that attend local schools and benefit from the services and programs offered by the Greek State. In Greece, there is no centralized agency designated to provide care and assistance and to supervise the various services provided by the State. Instead, a number of government agencies are responsible for providing social welfare and health services, as well as free education and child care. Generally speaking, the Ministry of Health and Welfare is responsible for health services, and the Ministry of Social Assistance is responsible for assistance to children who are vulnerable, that is orphans, the handicapped, and trafficked children. The Ministry of Health and Welfare and the Ministry of the Interior have joint responsibility at the national level for early childhood care. Local authorities are responsible for preschools and child care services; the Ministry of Education supervises the early childhood programs at the national level. The Ministry of Labor and Social Security handles the social insurance benefits and the family allowances for each child. The Social Insurance Institute (IKA) administers benefits through local offices[xxxii]

Romania can also learn from recent experiences of countries hat have tried to find solutions to reality quite different from those in northern Europe.  Romania has been in discussions lately about the need to establish such an independent supervisory authority. A report by Save the Children-Romania mentions the CRC Committee is concerned about the independent national institutions for monitoring and default to Parliament's decision to reject the creation of the Children's Ombudsman. Even if you take note of the appointment of a Deputy Ombudsman responsible, among other things, aspects of children's rights, the Committee points out that this institution is not well known and does not meet the Paris Principles. Committee calls on Romania to take into account its previous recommendations ... and the Paris Principles and to reassess the status and effectiveness of the Ombudsman in promoting and protecting children's rights issues, while ensuring the necessary financial and human resources. Furthermore, the Committee reiterates its recommendation that the Romanian government to continue its efforts to establish a Child Advocate of independent status[xxxiii]. In recent years, Romania has also developed sinuous. Even in 2010, the government disbanded the only independent governmental authority that function to coordinate child policy and then returned to this decision only recently in 2014, when it reopened Authority for Child Protection.

 

 

 

 

5.                   COMMON ASPECTS

 

One of the last surveys of European Network of National Observatories on Childhood[xxxiv] could be source of comparative information on child and family policy under European framework. This survey on the CRC Committee Concluding Observations  on the last EU Countries’ reports tries  to offer an update on the EU countries situation and is based on analysis of the  last national reports  completed with some examination process in front of the Committee. The analytical study is particularly aimed at compliance with the Convention on the Rights of the Child in the smallest details, the proof difficulties all countries (surveyed) face in implementing the principles of the Convention. In view of our interest in comparison we retain only those observations concerning both Romania and the Mediterranean countries, to bring new evidence to our initial hypothesis.

The need for adequate budgetary allocations to implement a coherent and comprehensive rights-based national plan of action to comply with the Convention is present in a number of countries that include the countries being compared: Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Greece, Italy, Romania, Spain, The Netherlands and The United Kingdom[xxxv].

For another relatively broad cluster of countries - Czech Republic, Finland, Greece, Romania, Spain and Sweden - recommendation is that national plans Should  referred  to: children belonging to minority groups among others and children in need of special protection, in particular children living in rural areas, children in institutions, children with disabilities, unaccompanied and separated children, asylum-seeking and refugee children, Roma children, and victims of trafficking[xxxvi]

Romania has some specific issues where the report mentions as a singular case[xxxvii]:

  • child and infant mortality and malnutrition, in particular those associated with poor access to health care services, poverty and lower levels of education among Roma families and families living in rural areas;
  • pre-natal and post-natal services and lack of training programmes in parenting skills, the positive effects of breastfeeding, nutritious diet for mother and child and proper hygiene rules targeted at deprived communities;
  • weak in ensuring birth registration of certain categories of children such as out of home children, babies abandoned in hospitals and children of parents who lack birth registration themselves 

But in other areas the situation is similar to other countries including Mediterranean countries, which received similar recommendations. For example:

With Italy[xxxviii]:

  • to insure an increase in the overall budget allocated for education
  • to insure economic support for disadvantaged children
  • Roma children still face a high chance of not being registered which results in hundreds of these children being stateless
  • to carry out information campaigns targeting parents belonging to vulnerable groups (undocumented migrants, Roma…), who may refrain from registering children due to fear of discrimination or expulsion from the country.

With Greece[xxxix]:

  • to develop and implement a national strategy for the prevention of, support to and social integration of children living and/or working on the streets
  • to support family reunification programmes or other alternative care, provided they are in the best interests of the child with the active involvement of children themselves
  • to provide marginalized groups, such as minority children or young people living in rural areas, access to appropriate information, requiring the broadcasting of media products in the languages spoken by these children

With Italy and Greece[xl]:

  • exposure to harmful content also relates to the role of the advertising industry, which is understood to negatively influence children’s consumption patterns of food and toys to a worrying extent
  • to improve the provision of health services, above all through the strengthening of health infrastructures and the recruitment and training of health staff

 

With Greece and Spain:

  • indicators should  referred  to children belonging to minority groups among others and children in need of special protection, in particular children living in rural areas, children in institutions, children with disabilities, unaccompanied and separated children, asylum-seeking and refugee children, Roma children, and victims of trafficking
  • to ensure that children’s placements are periodically reviewed and that the children’s view is taken into account while reviewing and evaluating the “individualized care plan

With Spain:

  • to counteract drop-out rates through positive measures; at the same time practices such as permanent or temporary exclusion, for instance, are seen negatively by the Committee as they risk leading students
  • to distance themselves from the education path. Similarly, penalizing parents or criminalizing students’ undisciplined behaviour can bear negative consequences on the children and their right to equal opportunities in  education. The Committee recommends
  • to seek a dialogue with students and disadvantaged families and the promotion of school activities that may be attractive to a heterogeneous pool of students

With Italy and Spain[xli]:

  • to intensify their effort to render appropriate assistance to parents and to adopt measures to ensure that families are provided with financial resources and social support

Observations and recommendations show that Mediterranean countries like Romania have still much to be done to ensure the full requirements of the Convention of Children's Rights. Many challenges are going to appear with the social and technological development as mass media or social media, migration processes and other aspects of globalization.

 

6.                   EUROPEAN FUNDS TO IMPROVE CHILD WELFARE

The main way in which Romania can overcome the gap that separates it from other European countries in ensuring child and family well-being is the better use of the European Social Fund. From this point of view, Greece appears to be the country from which Romania could learn the most, being obvious similar interests in this country. During the time it held the presidency of the European Council, Greece hosted a Consultation meeting under the auspices of the Greek Presidency of the Council of the European Union and organised by the Greek Ombudsman in collaboration with the European Commission (DG Employment) and Eurochild. The meeting, has been focus on the implementation of the Recommendation ‘Investing in Children: Breaking the Cycle of Disadvantage”, adopted by the European Commission in February 2013. The event has included topics such as the mechanisms of implementation and promotion of the EC Recommendation “Investing in Children: A challenge and a task for Europe of the 21st century”, the utilisation of European structural funds and the involvement of Greek public agencies and NGOs in the formation of a national alliance for investing in children in Greece. Invited speakers participated from  European Commission (DG Employment, DG Justice) , Eurochild, FRA, Independent Network of Experts on Social Inclusion, European Ombudspersons, Greek state authorities, public organisations and NGOs and Children – members of the Greek Ombudsman’s Youth Advisory Panel [xlii], The starting point of discussions was the European Commission Recommendation recognizing the connection between the children’s living conditions, access to adequate resources and provision of quality services on one hand, and parents’ participation in the labour market, the need for further training and the fight against poverty on the other. It also recognizes the children’s right to participate in the decision making process. It was the first time that the Recommendation has been debated in Greece in anticipation of the first European Report on the Recommendation’s implementation[xliii].

In the preparation of this meeting an UN paper  - Consideration of reports submitted by States parties under article 44 of the Convention[xliv] stressing the budgetary constraints  of any child policy has been proposed by Greece to the attention of Member States. It has been stressed to: increase and prioritize budgetary allocations to ensure the implementation of the rights of the child at all levels, especially aiming at protecting the services provided for children from cuts in the current financial situation and ensuring that they are further sustained and developed bearing in mind the need for services to be equitable and of quality;  pay particular attention to investments on the protection of the rights of children in situations of vulnerability including children with disabilities, Roma children, children belonging to the Muslim community, unaccompanied, migrant and asylum-seeking children by, inter alia, defining strategic budgetary lines that are protected even in situations of economic crisis, natural disasters and emergencies; establish a budget process with clear allocations to children in the relevant sectors and agencies, as well as specific indicators and a tracking system;  establish mechanisms to monitor and evaluate the efficacy, adequacy and equitability of the distribution of resources allocated to the implementation of the Convention;  and  increase anti-corruption efforts to ensure transparent fiscal management.

All these recommendations are fully suitable for Romanian public administration in order to achieve a proper child policy. But what could be more interesting concerning Greece good practice is that most of the measures implemented in the area of social inclusion in Greece, except the income support measures, have been heavily co-financed by the EU Structural Funds, and especially by the European Social Fund (ESF)[xlv]. These measures have taken the form of programmes, projects and actions, which have been implemented under the various Operational Programmes (sectoral and regional) of the consecutive Greek Community Support Frameworks (including the current Strategic Reference Framework 2007-2013), as well as under the European Union initiatives[xlvi] .

As an example:

the Greek Ministry of Rural Development and Food launched the implementation of two programmes financed by the EU in the framework of European School Milk and Fruit Schemes. The first programme “Plan for the promotion of fruit consumption in schools” provides nationwide fruits to students in schools. For the period March-June 2013,  347,000 students benefited from the programme... The second programme “EU School Milk Programme” provides subsidies for milk consumption in schools. Both these programmes are 100% financed by the EU”[xlvii] .

As for Romania, although it has a similar program "Horn and milk" only governmental budget funds are used to finance.

As regards the ESF, these are also included for  support certain categories of vulnerable groups. There is a  co-funded programme, which is under implementation today,  namely "Reconciliation of family and professional life", that aims at filling the gaps in pre-school childcare by increasing the capacity of the child care centres and services. Another programme, which was launched at the beginning of this year, concerns the provision of free meals to pupils in certain school units, mainly in ‘zones (areas) of educational priority’ (ZEP). This programme is under the responsibility of the Ministry of Education and it is co-financed by the ESF. ..

The Report appreciate that “...EU funding, in most cases, has been directed towards supporting different measures and actions, which are implemented in a fragmented way, without ensuring synergy and close interaction. Indeed, the various programmes implemented to date in the field of parents’ employment, children’ education, childcare and health services, continue to be fragmented and no links have been developed between them. ...Besides, the design and approval of these programmes, by and large, is not based on hard evidence and on an ex ante impact assessment. Moreover, in most cases, there is no information as to the actual impact of their implementation, while follow up processes and results’ dissemination to the wider public are hardly taking place”[xlviii].

It was finally suggested that ˝ ...there is a need to elaborate a specific public investment plan for children for which EU funding should be earmarked. This investment plan should be based on evidence based priorities and be underpinned by an integrated – multi-sectorial approach, while EU financial support should be multi-funded (that is more than one EU Structural Funds).”[xlix]

It was considered  should be included into the next progammes  co-financed by EU:

“increasing access for all children to quality pre-school care and services, as well as health services and especially mental health services, improvement of the educational system, provision of ‘targeted’ integrated support to poor children who live in jobless households and to children of vulnerable groups (including those in institutions) and increasing access of parents with children to the labour market.[l]

Comparing the use of European funds by Romania [li] we find funds absorption consonant with the challenges faced by the central administrations that is characterised by very low administrative capacity - a structural instability of institutions and intrusion of politics in their functioning[lii]. Therefore the low absorption of structural funds, respectively of the total cumulative funds, does not come as a surprise. In March 2013, according to the Council’s Recommendations for Romania, the absorption of structural and cohesion funds was a mere 13%. In fact, last year, many European funds have been blocked, and many of the programmes in the field of education and social assistance suffered as a consequence. The blockages, due to funds management problems and procurement practices, brought into light another important issue. The lack of transparency not only of financial management of the European funded projects and programmes, but also a high lack of transparency in regard to these programmes.

The  Romania Partner Agreement with EC is a good framework for improving child and family wellbeing. Of the 7 priority axis within, 4 are  including children or youth as target groups, or do directly benefit these:  education and professional formation in supporting economic growth and development of a knowledge society (a small intervention line is aimed at pre-university schoolchildren);  Correlating life-long learning with labour market;  Promotion of active employment measures and   Promotion of social inclusion. But  -as quoted Report  is stressing – ”absorption of funds was low, and contracting capacity below allocated funds. The programmes with the highest challenges, those trying to reach the most distant persons from the labour market and most vulnerable groups, where the least well performing and the least contracted. Take-up rates among target groups, for educational and training  programmes, were rather low; these rates are indirectly proportional with the distance from the labour market of the target group[liii]. Not only take-up is a concern, but also performance rates. Although performance is estimated only based on certification rates, and more rarely based on employment rate, performance is rarely reaching expected target levels.

Recommendations for the next planning period (2014-2020) point out to the need to rethink the types of programmes within the priority directions formulated in the previous period. Within the component aimed at developing active employment measures, it became evident that effective programmes cannot be developed without a sensible mechanism of assessing market demands and coordinating market demands with supplied qualifications.

˝The analysis on social inclusion  points out to the need of changing the whole approach and focusing on integrated social services at local level, able to take up not only employment concerns, but also to address needs in regard to health care, educational services, social assistance support. The outreach of employment/ activation services, in the absence of a personalised, family centred, intervention plan, based on a ‘minimum social service package’, will continue to be extremely low. While the government, institutional preparedness (in terms of legislative and strategic framework requirements) is still low, putting future funding at risk.”[liv]

Romania is the country that has managed less to improve the situation of children by using EU funds in the period 2007-2013. And other countries like Greece should be an example in the attempt to improve administrative capacity, even if Greece also has things to resolve in order to successfully use EU funds.

 

7.                   CONCLUSIONS

×          There is not a single behavioural model of Mediterranean families that could be followed by some eastern countries as Romania.

×          Romania, even if the overall result is found much to occupy the last place in Europe, certain aspects look better than some Mediterranean countries. While other issues shares only drawbacks with some of these countries.

×          Romania will not follow a Mediterranean model but it has to draw the best measures adopted by Mediterranean countries that have reached a much better child wellbeing. One of the solutions is strong and complex institution building, able to provide the best measures of the authorities towards the situation of children and their families.

×          In order  to improve the situation of children by using EU funds in the period 2013-2020, Romania should attempt to improve its administrative capacity and follow some examples from Mediterranean area.

 

 

 

Bibliography

 

ABRAHAM, Dorel (coord.), State of Adolescents in Romania , UNICEF, Bucuresti, 2014.

ADAMSON,  Peter (coord.), ‘Measuring Child Well-being-Innocenti Report Card 11, UNICEF Office of Research, Innocenti, Florence, 2013.

BELOTTI, Ruggiero R. , Vent’anni d’infanzia. Retorica e diritti dei bambini dopo la Convenzione dell’Ottantanove, Milano, Guerini, 2011.

GHETAU, Vasile,  Declinul demografic al României: ce perspective? (Demographic decline and the future of the Romanian population), Sociologie Româneasca, Volumul II, Nr. 2, 2004.

FERRERA, Maurizio , Welfare State Reform in Southern Europe, Routledge, London &New York, 2005.

IVAN,  Andreea (coord.), The impact of European demographic trends on regional and urban development, Issued within the framework of the Hungarian Presidency of the Council of the European Union, Budapest, April 2011.

KARAMESSINI, Maria, The Southern European social model: Changes and continuities in recent decades, 2007 at http://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/---dgreports/---inst/documents/publication/wcms_193518.pdf.

MANOLE, Mihaela , Administratie publica în beneficiul copiilor, Salvati Copiii Romania, 2011.

STURMER, Michael , Putin  si Noua Rusie, Editura Litera, 2014.

PESTEAU, Pierre , The Welfare State in the European Union, Oxford Univ. Press, 200 .

POP, Luana Miruna, Investing in children: breaking the cycle of disadvantage (an analysis by the European Network of Independent Experts on Social Inclusion), European Union, 2014.

RUGGIERO, Roberta (coord.), Survey  on the CRC Committee Concluding Observations on the last EU Countries’ reports. Updating of the 2006 ChildONEurope report, Istituto degli Innocenti di Firenze, 2014.

SAULINI,  Arianna (ed.), The Rights of Children in Italy. Supplementary Report to the United  Nations, Save the Children Italy, Rome,  2001.

STRUMENDO, Lucio, Una proposta per un sistema integrato dei Garanti dell’infanzia e dell’adolescenza, Regione Veneto Ufficio Protezione e pubblica Tutela dei minori, 2006.

ZIOMAS, David, et al., Investing in children: breaking the cycle of disadvantage. A study of National Policies, European Union, 2014.

 

 

 



[i] Vasile GHEŢĂU, Declinul demografic al României: ce perspective? (Demographic decline and the future of the Romanian population), Sociologie Românească, Volumul II, Nr. 2, 2004.

[ii] Michael STURMER, Putin şi Noua Rusie, Editura Litera, 2014, p. 57.

[iii]Ministerul Muncii si Protectiei sociale, Strategia Natioanla a Copilului... http://www.copii.ro/Files/Strategia%20Nationala%20in%20domeniul%20protectiei%20dreptu.pdf

[iv] The prohibiting of international adoptions was one of the conditions for Romania’s entry into the European Union. It was sayng that time  there is no member state in the European Union which permits such exportation of children. Romania was for many years under the tyranny of the international press which criticized the shameful conditions of the institutions in which children were kept, but at the same time promoting the business of international adoptions. The prize for these adoptions which involved non profit organizations finding foreign parents (usually Americans) for these children, was sums of up to $50,000. Under pressure from European bodies, the moratorium on international adoptions was introduced in October of 2001. Even this moratorium was often violated. Even Traian Basescu used this matter against the government of Nastase. In 2004, even the possibility of finalizing adoptions which were in process was stopped. The current legislation went into effect in 2005, and international adoptions were supposedly a closed subject…..until now. (at http://romania-eborn.org/adoption/adoption-opponents-respond/ )

[vi] Idem.

[vii] Dorel ABRAHAMState of Adolescents in Romania , UNICEF, Bucuresti, 2014, p. 17 at http://www.unicef.org/romania/UNICEF_Study_State_of_adolescents_in_Romania.pdf

[viii]Dimitri A. SOTIROPOULOS, Poverty and the safety net in Eastern and South-Eastern Europe in the post-communist era, in Maurizio FERRERA, Welfare State Reform in Southern Europe, Routledge, London &New York, 2005, p. 225.

[ix] Andreea IVAN (coord.), The impact of European demographic trends on regional and urban development, Issued within the framework of the Hungarian Presidency of the Council of the European Union, Budapest, April 2011, p 18.

[x]Idem.

[xi] Maria KARAMESSINI, The Southern European social model: Changes and continuities in recent decades, 2007 p. 5  http://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/---dgreports/---inst/documents/publication/wcms_193518.pdf

[xii] Pierre PESTEAU, The Welfare State in the European Union, Oxford Univ. Press, 2006, pp. 143-144 Andreea Ivan (coord.), The impact of European demographic trends on regional and urban development, Issued within the framework of the Hungarian Presidency of the Council of the European Union, Budapest, April 2011, p 18.

[xiii]Peter ADAMSON (coord.), ‘Measuring Child Well-being-Innocenti Report Card 11, UNICEF Office of Research, Innocenti, Florence, 2013, p. 3

[xiv] Idem p 3.

[xv] Idem.

[xvi] Data from Innocenti Report Card 11, 2013. Among not included countries because lack of data on a number of indicators: Bulgaria, Cyprus, Malta, Turkey

[xvii] Idem.

[xviii]  PF1.5: Child Support, OECD Family database at  www.oecd.org/els/social/family/database

[xix] Arianna SAULINI (ed.), The Rights of Children in Italy. Supplementary Report to the United Nations, Save the Children Italy, Rome, 2001, p.10.

[xx] Committee on the rights of the Child, 2002, Paragraph 7, p. 2.

[xxi] Lucio STRUMENDO, Una proposta per un sistema integrato dei Garanti dell’infanzia e dell’adolescenza, Regione Veneto Ufficio Protezione e pubblica Tutela dei minori, 2006, pp. 5-6 at http://tutoreminori.regione.veneto.it/gestione/documenti/doc/Doc_comune_PTM_INTEGRALE.pdf

[xxii]„ The family services offered by Finnish municipalities are to be reviewed. This is the summary of '"Yearbook, 2011" filed on June 16 by the Ombudsman for Children, an organization under the direction of the minister of Social Affairs Finnish vigil on children's rights and defines the line guide that municipalities and local authorities will follow on design of services for children and families. ’The children do not grow up at a distance’’ is the verdict of the director, Maria Kaisa Aula, ’and should not be understood that our social and economic problems are resolved by investing in the carrier as their parents or cutting the budget of the government’. In practice, the municipalities should  facilitate access to parental leave in order to ensure that at least one of the parents spend most of the first year of life of children at home. In second place are asked to ensure access to part-time employment contracts for new parents of both genders, because ’according to our opinion polls, children want no spend time in kindergarten or elementary school, they would like to spend more time with their family’,  says Aula. Finally, the Ombudsman demands better services for divorced families and those belonging to ethnic minorities: ’As decision-makers have a responsibility to ensure the welfare of children but are their parents first have to educate them. Our aim, therefore, is to support families in order that they may play their role without worry’.” (personal translation from Italian) At http://www.vita.it/welfare/minori/l-ombudsman-dei-bimbi-finlandesi.html

[xxiii] Ruggiero R. BELOTTI, Vent’anni d’infanzia. Retorica e diritti dei bambini dopo la Convenzione dell’Ottantanove, Milano, Guerini, 2011. p. 94

[xxiv] Report Setting-up a European Ombudsman for children, oct 1999, doc Cons Europei 8552 to http://assembly.coe.int/ASP/Doc/XrefViewHTML.asp?FileID=8748&Language=en

[xxvi]Cf. Children Rights International Network at  http://wiki.crin.org/mediawiki/index.php?title=Spain.

[xxviii] Idem.

[xxix] Idem.

[xxxii] See remarks of the Minister of Education Integration Through Education: Migrant Workers in Greece, Woodrow Wilson Center Web site, Mar. 29, 2006, available at http://www.wilsoncenter.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=events.event_ summary&evnet_id=177

[xxxiii] Mihaela MANOLE, Administraţie publică în beneficiul copiilor, Salvaţi Copiii Romania, 2011, p. 9.

[xxxiv]Roberta RUGGIERO (coord.), Survey  on the CRC Committee Concluding Observations on the last EU Countries’ reports. Updating of the 2006 ChildONEurope report, Istituto degli Innocenti di Firenze, 2014, available at http://www.childoneurope.org/.

[xxxv] Idem.

[xxxvi] Idem.

[xxxvii] Idem.

[xxxviii] Idem.

[xxxix] Idem.

[xl] Idem.

[xli] Idem.

[xliv] Committee on the Rights of the Child Sixtieth session 29 May – 15 June 2012, at 

http://www.0-18.gr/downloads/CRC_C_GRC_CO_2-3.pdf.

[xlv] David ZIOMAS et al., Investing in children: Breaking the cycle of disadvantage A Study of National Policies, European Union, 2014.

[xlvi] Idem.

[xlvii] Idem.

[xlviii] Idem.

[xlix] Idem.

[l] Idem.

            [li] Luana Miruna POP, Investing in children: breaking the cycle of disadvantage (an analysis by the European Network of Independent Experts on Social Inclusion), available at http://ec.europa.eu/social/main.jsp?catId=1025&langId=en&newsId=2061&moreDocuments=yes&tableName=news

[lii] Idem.

[liii] Idem.

[liv] Idem.