Overcoming obstacles to child survival and gender equality in Kosovo

By Arbena Kuriu

PRISTINA, Kosovo, 1 May 2007 - Despite the progress made during the post-conflict period since 1999, the UN Administered Province of Kosovo remains one of the poorest territories with one of the most vulnerable economies in Europe.

Child poverty, lack of rural livelihoods and infrastructure, and cultural barriers to girls' education are obstacles to Kosovo's aspirations to achieve Millennium Development Goals 2 and 3 - universal primary education and gender equality, respectively.

With an estimated unemployment rate of 50 per cent, the economy is not able to generate enough employment for Kosovo's large youth population. Some 52 percent of the total population is under 25, and 70 per cent of young people in the labour market are unemployed. Meanwhile, 16 per cent of children under 14 in Kosovo are living below the extreme poverty line.

Other indicators suggest that Kosovo has the region's highest child mortality. The infant mortality rate is between 35 and 49 per 1,000 live births, while the mortality rate for children under five is estimated at 69 per 1,000 live births. These rates are 3 to 10 times higher than those of neighbouring countries.

Help for minority communities and girls

Girls from Kosovo's Roma, Ashkalia and Egyptian minority communities are especially vulnerable. Only 69 per cent of them enrol in primary school, for example, and almost all of them drop out by the fifth grade.

Moreover, a lack of awareness and knowledge about parenting practices has devastated Roma children - particularly in light of a services vacuum that has affected their communities since the end of the conflict. To be born a Roma female child in Kosovo today is perhaps the worst start for any child in Europe in terms of poverty, health and educational opportunities.

"There are many obstacles to good health and development of Roma children - illiteracy, poor education, poverty and traditional and cultural barriers," says UNICEF Health Officer Agron Gashi. "But with the Kosovo government, the UN agencies and the community working together, we can transform this within less than a decade."

To ensure that every Roma household is provided with the best information on parenting and access to health services, UNICEF is working with the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Education in Kosovo. At the same time, UNICEF is closely cooperating with other UN agencies and organizations to ensure that international efforts are mutually reinforcing and support the work of the Kosovo Provisional Institutions for Self Government.

Back-to-school initiative

As part of the campaign for child survival and development in Kosovo, UNICEF and its partners also have been engaged in an alliance to keep Roma, Ashkalia and Egyptian children in school. More than 60 parent-teacher councils across Kosovo are working to identify out-of-school children and conduct public awareness campaigns on education.

In addition, UNICEF and the Regional Education Directorates recently helped distribute some 400 school kits with supplies for children living in extreme poverty in seven municipalities. As a result, 125 children from the minority communities were able to return to school.

One girl, nine-year-old Arberita from Skivjan village, Gjakove/Djakovica, went back to her school last month. "I dropped school because my parents couldn't buy any books for me," she says. "Now I got my books, I'm back with my friends and I'm happy."