Osama Makavi Kogali, UNICEF Crna Gora, UNICEF Montenegro, September 2017

Interview with Unicef Montenegro Representative Osama Khogali for daily Dan
Podgorica, 18 November 2017

Where do you see the greatest problems for children in Montenegro?

In Montenegro, as in other countries in the region, there are several groups of children who are most in need for support. These are children with disabilities, those without parental care, children living in poverty, those living in institutions and children minorities, especially Roma and Egyptian ones.

Providing equal opportunities to every child is at the heart of our mission worldwide and at the heart of building a just society. If we want that to happen in Montenegro, we need to provide more support to these children in particular, as they are growing up with significantly less opportunities for development than others.

In general, improving the access and quality of education, health and social protection, as well as the quality of cultural programmes, will benefit every child in Montenegro. For this reason, we are supporting the ongoing reforms of the education, health, child and social protection systems, as well as advocating for ethical reporting on child rights issues and quality, inclusive media programmes for children.

Do you think that state institutions take enough care of the situation of children?

In 2017, Montenegro achieved the goal of having 0 children under three in large scale institutions. In addition, the number of all children placed in residential care institutions decreased by 45% in the period 2010-2016. While this is a success, more work needs to be done to provide every child with a loving family environment, as there are still children living in institutions.

The number of children with disabilities attending mainstream schools has significantly increased in the last few years, but more work needs to be done to ensure that Montenegrin schools provide quality inclusive education to every child.

While the number of children attending preschool education in the most poor northern region has increased lately, Montenegro still invests a smaller percentage of its GDP in preschool education than the neighboring countries.

Further, there is no official data on children living in the streets. However, there is a number of such children, predominantly Roma and Egyptian, who are in urgent need of support as they are at risk of all forms of exploitation, including trafficking, economic and sexual ones. Child begging is also present and needs to be further addressed with families and relevant institutions.

Findings of the most recent studies conducted in Montenegro and the neighboring countries indicate that adolescents need more support, as well as their parents, and so, this is another priority for institutions to focus more on.

In general, Montenegrin society is committed to improving the situation of children. However, improving education, health and protection of children is complex work, which needs to be scientifically based and to include continuous inter-sectoral cooperation in order to be efficient and result in positive changes for children.

Are children asked for their opinions when decisions are made about them?

In Montenegro, as worldwide, one can say that in general, children and young people need to be more consulted and better included in the process of building a society fit to children.

We all used to be children, but what that means changes with time. For example, today’s children are growing up with digital media, while their parents and teachers grew up with television and newspapers. From this perspective, children are the greatest experts on today’s childhood, as they are the ones living it every day. Therefore, we need to consult with them regularly to learn about their issues and identify the best ways to resolve them.

For this reason, UNICEF celebrates the World Children’s Day (Nov 20), which marks the anniversary of the adoption of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, in a way to support children from around the world to ‘take over’ key roles in media, politics, business, sport and entertainment to express their concerns about what global leaders should be focusing on, and to voice support for the millions of their peers who are facing a less hopeful future.

How many poor children are there in Montenegro and how can we solve this problem?

More than 1 in 10 Montenegrin children live in poverty. Child poverty is especially of concern, as it leaves lifetime consequences influencing negatively child development and thus, the future of the entire society.

We know from research that providing access to quality educating starting from preschool is key to breaking the intergenerational cycle of poverty.

We need a child poverty strategy and intensive inter-sectoral cooperation in its implementation in order to address this issue effectively through systematic interventions involving health, education and child protection services.

Your most recent campaign is about raising children without violence. Why is that so important?

I noticed a number of media reports lately about peer violence occurring in or outside schools in Montenegro. Children learn what they live. Raising children with violence means raising bullies and future problematic citizens. If you hit them, yell at them, ignore them, etc., you deprive them of a possibility to talk to you and learn how to think by understanding why you instruct them to behave in a certain way. You also deprive yourself of developing a trustworthy, loving relationship with your child through which you grow as a person as well.

Most importantly, you deprive your children of having a parent to whom they can confide without fear when something bad happens and they urgently need advice from a more experienced and wise person. To summarize, if we want a violence free society, we need to start with creating violence free families. This is a demanding task, since it requires every individual to learn to resolve conflicts without violence. However, do we have an alternative if we want to progress as human beings and as a society?