VULNERABLE CHILDREN IN ARMENIA: A CALL FOR ACTIONThe years after Armenia regained KEY STATISTICSindependence in 1992 have been Child population (millions, under 18 years) 0.8marked by drastic economic decline U5MR (per 1,000 live births) 20and deterioration of the social Underweight 7infrastructures. Although the (%, moderate and severe, 2005)country - supported by various Maternal mortality ratio 27international organisations and (per 100,000 live births, 2004)international financial institutions -has firmly embarked on the path of Primary school attendance 99/98 (% net, male/female, 2005)social reforms, the entire system ofsocial protection and social services Adult HIV prevalence rate (%) 0.1delivery remains faulty due to the Child labour 4lack of resources (budget allocations (%, children 5-14 years old, 2005)under social sector fall short of OECD Number of children in institutions 4902standards), lack of human resources Children with disabilities 0.9and lack of appropriate data and (% of child population)data collection and analysis GNI per capita (US$) 3090mechanisms.Deterioration in the social sector can’t but have a significant impact on thelives and well-being of children and their families.UNICEF’s MAJOR CONCERNSChild Poverty Child poverty in Armenia is growing faster than the overall poverty. According to the National Statistical Service data for 2010, 41.4 percentof children in Armenia were poor, and3.7 percentwere extremely poor; poverty for children means lack of access to essential nutrition, basic services, sport and leisure, and in some cases, even to the love of a family. Poverty in the first years of life hinders thedevelopment of children’s full potential, signing their lives forever.
Social inclusion of children with special needs Children with disabilities live on the edges of the Armenian society. Being hidden in their homes, most of them are deprived of opportunities of social inclusion and integration. 54per centof the children with disabilities and their siblings live in poverty. Even among the poor, this group is particularly vulnerable. There are around 8,000children registered withdisabilities in Armenia. For a large number, there is no record of any admission to school (adetailed survey is currently promoted by UNICEF to verify the access to services for all thesechildren). Only 500 out of 2,800students of special schools have certified disability status.Children in special schools are separated from their peers and communities and are morelikely to be socially excluded. And when they graduate, not many opportunities are offeredto them. A strong discrimination is still evident in Armenia for children with disabilities andtheir families, and more needs to be done to promote their rights to full inclusion and equalopportunities, according to their needs and abilities.One in five children with disabilitiesdoes not attend any kind of school.Children in institutions There are close to 5,000children in residential care institutions in Armenia.3,800of them stay in those institutions permanently and rarely go home. Almost 80 per centof those children have at least one parent and ended up in a residential care institution mostly due to social and economic difficulties their families are facing. UNICEF demonstrated that alternative care solutions, apartfrom responding to the best interest of children, and to their right to grow up in a family,are also less expensive for the State if managed in a proper way.Children dying before their first birthday According to official data, in Armenia 70 per cent of deaths occurring before child’s first birthday happen during the first 28 days of life– neonatal period. Most of these deaths could have been prevented, had timely and proper neonatal care and resuscitation services been provided to those children. Among factors contributing to the
problem in Armenia are poor antenatal and neonatal care, lack of qualified staff and lack ofbasic equipment, poor family practices on newborn care and nutrition. All of these requireimmediate comprehensive response, particularly in remote [and poor] regions andcommunities of the country, where population suffer from low accessibility to qualityneonatal services.Opportunities for development during early childhood Only 22 per centof children of 6 years and younger are enrolled in kindergartens in Armenia against 60 per centreported in 1989. Even more, the number of children attending pre-schools in rural areas is even lower – 10 per cent only. Pre-school education can have a significant role in the comprehensive development of children and formation of their cognitive, emotional and socialskills.In almost half of communities across the country, there are no pre-school facilities.Together with partners UNICEF is seeking for establishment of alternative pre-schoolservices, to ensure that children have access to early learning and go to school prepared.Why UNICEF?In Armenia UNICEF is a leading organization in providing technical assistance to theGovernment for policy change, as well as collecting and analyzing data on children. Manystudies, surveys and research papers developed and published with support of UNICEFtriggered policy changes or led to better programming on the part of the ArmenianGovernment. This includes such important areas as child poverty, public financemanagement, alternative community-based care services and inclusive education. Bycommissioning surveys and evaluations as well as introducing new ways of data generationand presentation, UNICEF helps the Government to make decisions and develop policies andstrategies that are based on evidence.UNICEF is a key strategic partner of the Government of Armenia for the promotion of equalaccess to quality services responding to the needs of children and their families, in particularof the most vulnerable ones. Although in recent years social sector reforms have becomethe centre of attention for many international organisations, UNICEF’s contribution in thisarea is particularly valued for its being systemic, long-term, evidence-based and founded ona solid technical competence.UNICEF brings best experts and knowledge to support the Government and is recognized asa champion in introducing innovative approaches and models built on the thorough analysis
of good practices, while demonstrating the cost-effectiveness of a particular policy,approach or service.Communication for Development is yet another institutional advantage of UNICEF, which isconsidered by many partners in Armenia as an expert agency in promotingcampaignsfocused on a positive change in values, attitudes and perceptions, creating an environmentconducive for the promotion and protectionof children’s rights.PRIORITIES FOR ACTIONIncreasing the attention on child povertyUNICEF supports the Government in addressing the cross-cutting issues of child poverty anddisparities at regional level (marz level) as well as institutional weaknesses and capacitygaps. In this direction, throughout the whole programme cycle (2010-15), UNICEF ArmeniaOffice intends to contribute to the capacity of the Government to identify and address theneeds of vulnerable children through two main intervention areas: Improved data collection and analysis at national and regional level, through the cooperation with the NationalStatisticalservicesandthepromotion of theuse of theArmeniaInfo database for situation analysis and policy development Promotion of child-focused regional social action plans. Which are designed to respond to identified social needs of the population with a set of projects in health, education and social welfare sectors, designed together by local governments and the civil society. Supported by the Ministry of Territorial Administration, local social action plans intend to further gather funds to be directly administered by regional government for the realisation of social projectsSaving newbornsAddressing neonatal mortality is a priority for the Government of Armenia,asstated invarious policy documents - Sustainable Development Programme, and National Strategy forChild and Adolescent Health and Development 2010-2015.The implementation of Intensive Neonatal Care (INC) project in regional hospitals -establishment of INC units through provision of essential equipment and capacitydevelopment of neonatologists and neonatal nurses - is supportedby UNICEF as an effectivestrategy for the reduction of regional inequities in the access to life-saving services for new-born. UNICEF also stresses the importance of ensuring the continuity of services provided tonewborns in primary health care facilities and at home, and supports strengthening theoutreach services and increasing the capacities of primary health care providers on newborncare and nutrition, whileeducating and empowering families to provide better care and
nutrition to newborns at home. Additional resources are required to implement the fullpackage of interventions in the most remote regions of Armenia.Promoting the right of children to grow up in a familyIt is a right of children to grow up in a family-like environment, even when their biologicalfamily is not in the condition to care for them. There is wide evidence on the fact thatgrowing up in a residential care institution hinders the brain development of children under3 years of age, and that children in institutions are exposed to violence and abuse 6 timesmore than children living in a family. Since 2005, UNICEF has been supporting theGovernment of Armenia in implementation of its de-institutionalisation policy, contributingto the introduction of foster families in Armenia. Unfortunately, since then only a handful ofchildren have been placed with foster families, while the number of children in orphanagesand other types of residential care institutions remained stagnant. To move the processforward UNICEF is working with the Government on the development of a Master Plan onde-institutionalisation, a management tool for the progressive transformation of residentialcare institutions and establishment of alternative community-based care services. Themaster plan will be accompanied by specific transformation plans of identified institutions,with the development of individual care plans for every child, re-qualification plans for staff,and the re-allocation of resources for the development of alternative, community-basedcare solutions (day care centres, resource centres, foster families groups, support to familiesof origin etc.). The transformation of the first institutions (orphanages, special boardingschools or night care services) will serve as an example for all the other residential careservices. Additional resources are required to sustain the transition period oftransformation of residential care into other kind of services.Ensuring Full Development from Early ChildhoodTo enhance the quality of Early Childhood Development (ECD) services, to prepare childrenof 5-6 for the primary school, and to increase the number of children enrolled in preschooleducation, especially those from vulnerable families, UNICEF is working to set up alternativepre-school services inmore than 100 vulnerable communities in the country. Additionalfunds would be required to strenghten 2 components of the program - inclusion (strongeremphasis on including children with disabilities in pre-schools) and gender-focusedparental education (involvement of fathers in the education of their children).Enhancing school inclusion of children with disabilitiesUNICEF introduced the concept of inclusive education in Armenia in 2001. There are now 63inclusive schools where 1,700 children with disabilities are enrolled. However, access togeneral education remains a big problem for many children with disabilities. Parents eithercontinue to send their children to special schools, where they are separated from otherchildren, or do not send them to school at all. UNICEF has been advocating for the
promotion of the right of children with disabilities to have access to and opportunities forsocial life as all the other children,as well as access to all available services, particularlyeducation.More work needs to be done, in cooperation with the Ministry of Education, forthe creation of proper conditions in each school for children with disabilities to beadmitted; the provision of professional resources (mainly re-located from special schools)to accompany teachers in ensuring the inclusion of children with special needs; theestablishment of support services for teachers and parents dealing with children withdisabilities; the promotion of inter-sectoral cooperation from birth to accompany childrenwith disabilities during their life cycle (with the primary involvement of health and socialservices).