As Albania and Kosovo celebrate their second Children’s Day under the auspices of the pandemic this June 1, several NGOs have raised concerns over how children are managing isolation-related stress and changes to their normal routine.
Over the past year, families across the two countries have had to adapt to evolving changes in their daily lives because of the pandemic. Children have had to adjust to online schooling and participating in online activities more broadly, be taught about mask-wearing, and learn how to social distance.
According to World Vision, more than half of children in Albania and Kosovo reported they missed socializing with friends and being physically close with family members. The report also noted increased feelings of loneliness, confusion, and fear.
Just over half said they were concerned about contracting the virus themselves, or their family members getting sick. Overall, children were more worried about their parents or grandparents’ health than their own.
Worryingly, only 48% of Albanian children are optimistic about the future, and the numbers are starker in Kosovo, with 30% reporting feeling positively on the topic.
32% of Albanian children and 26% of Kosovo children said they had experienced physical and emotional violence during the pandemic.
During the 2021 election campaign, the Children Rights Centre of Albania (CRCA) condemned political parties for using children in their electoral campaigns, expressing its concern that their exposure and exploitation violated the law.
According to the UNICEF report “One click away” for 2020, Albanian children were found to be under heightened risk of sexual harassment, violence, and bullying, and had increased exposure to online sexual content due to lack of parental oversight.
One in four children reported having had at least one online contact with someone they had never met face to face. Almost 2 in 10 children reported meeting in person someone with whom they had had contact only through the Internet.
While access to online spaces has helped children develop their social and operational skills, their creative skills seem to have suffered as a result. Tellingly, YouTube and Instagram are the websites and applications most used by children, followed by Facebook and WhatsApp.
In the past three years, there have been worrying reports about the sexual abuse of Albanian children—and specifically Albanian girls. The use of revenge child porn has also been a growing concern. Criticism has been raised against the “serious shortcomings” of the court system in their approach to such matters.
More than half of the children who have fallen victims to sexual violence in Albania live in rural areas and face extremely difficult economic conditions.
Regarding the situation faced by children with intellectual disabilities in Albania, families encounter many difficulties and receive little help from government institutions, while experts stress that the treatment of people with intellectual disabilities should start from an early age to ensure their increased independent when they grow up.
In celebration of Children’s Day in Albania and Kosovo, a series of activities were held in both countries focusing on children’s right to be protected against violence and abuse, while stressing that more work needs to be done to improve their education, safety, and welfare.
In Kosovo, the coalition of NGOs for the protection of children, “KOMF” held a meeting with Kosovo PM Albin Kurti and other state representatives to discuss and address issues that require urgent intervention regarding the protection of children and funding for social services that help children and families.