From: Alice Taylor, Arjola Tafaj
UNFPA: Albanian Government Must Take “Urgent” Action to Protect Girls and Boys from Sexual Abuse and Violence

In Albania, in recent years several studies have been conducted that address issues of child abuse, especially issues of child sexual abuse.

Findings show that child and adolescent maltreatment continue to be a concerning public health problem all over the world, with not only health but social and financial consequences as well. The same is true for Albania.

Most maltreatment affects child wellbeing and results in long-term consequences for a child’s neurological, cognitive, emotional development, and overall health.

Although protection of child rights has been among the priority actions of the government of Albania for years, the de-facto implementation remains a challenge, especially when it comes to protecting girls and boys from violence and abuse.

Sadly, during 2020 we have witnessed media reports of many cases of violence against children in kindergartens, schools, and in families, especially sexual violence against girls, both by their peers and adults. This includes cases of sexual abuse of female minors in family relationships.

Provision of specialist support services for abused girls and boys, especially in the case of sexual violence is even more difficult. Existing services are not inclusive and do not have the sufficient capacity to cover the entire territory of the country. They lack the needed number of professionals and they do not always operate to the required standards.

A recent report supported by United Nations Population Fund Office in Albania (UNFPA) on “Adolescent and Youth Abuse in Albania”  provided necessary information about the characteristics of adolescent and youth abuse with the main focus on potential gender gaps, socioeconomic differences, and other differences pertinent to vulnerable population categories.

The in-depth analysis of several studies on violence against minors sheds light once again on issues that can lead to abuse. It also presents a detailed evaluation of the legal framework and emphasizes the importance of taking appropriate measures in the fight against violence against adolescents and youth. 

Figures from the report show that almost one in three Albanian children reported they had been assaulted physically by their parents or adults at home. 16% of boys and 18% of girls said they had been emotionally abused. Even more concerningly, 8% said they had been sexually abused and a further 3% said they had been raped or had been subjected to attempted rape.

One issue that became apparent from looking at the data was the difference in the way girls and boys are treated. Girls are more likely to be emotionally neglected (19%) and physically abused, with a difference of some 10 percentage points between sexes. Conversely, boys were much more likely to be sexually abused than their female peers.

Out of all the children surveyed, it was noted that Roma and minority children were at significant risk of sex trafficking. The issue of forced and child marriages was also noted, particularly in cases where justification was the girl’s “honor”.

The consumption of alcohol was a strong factor in the cases of actual violence and witnessing domestic violence. Furthermore, those that reported the abuse were also more likely to witness domestic violence at home, and vice versa.

Children living in a home with a low level of parental education, a father out of work, and a low income were more likely to be abused and witness violence.

Concerningly, grooming and sexual extortion are not illegal in Albania and there is no legal definition of “child sexual abuse materials” i.e. child pornography. This remains the case despite ongoing lobbying by a number of civil society organizations. There are some national plans for online child safety and child trafficking but the report notes they are not adequate or properly funded.

In terms of recommendations, the UNDP made 24 recommendations. These include the recommendation that the entire legal and policy framework must be reviewed to include the language “girls” and “boys” rather than sex-blind terms. This is due to the importance of assessing differences in risks based on sex. This should be taken into account with all laws, even the Constitution, they said.

The government must also amend article 100 of the Criminal Code to provide equality for girls and boys, to explicitly criminalize procuring sexual services from children, to protect exploited children from criminal charges for prostitution, to criminalize pornography, and to criminalize various offenses related to sex trafficking and online sexually predatory behavior.

Furthermore, the government should urgently provide accessible specialist support to abused girls and boys. These services should cover the whole country and should always operate.