What does the future hold for children in difficulty in Armenia?

MSF is closing its "children in difficulty programme" and is worried about the future of these children.
Erevan/Paris - Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is closing its mission for children in difficulty which has been running for seven years in the Vardashen special educational complex and the streets of Yerevan, Armenia. MSF considers that it is now up to the authorities to reform the 'Centres Républicains d'Education Spéciales' (CRES) and the care system provided for families and children in social difficulty. Through the work carried out over the years in Vardashen by its multi-disciplinary teams (doctors, psychologists, special educationalists, legal advisors...) MSF has shown that there is an alternative to the violent, repressive methods employed in the CRES: an educational approach that is based on the respect of the child as an individual and his rights. MSF has also demonstrated, through its prevention programme, that by providing direct assistance to families in difficulty, most children could stay in their families. They therefore no longer went begging to earn their keep and were no longer in danger of being placed in an institution for juvenile delinquents - which is totally inappropriate for them. The results and conclusions of this work were shared with the Armenian authorities during a conference organised by MSF in September 2003, on the protection of these children and their future. However, it is clear that despite all the declarations made on that day, little has changed. No formal political measures have been implemented to try and find alternatives to the abusive placement of children in these institutions and to transform the CRES into social rather than repressive institutions. Although there have been some concrete developments, such as the adoption of internal regulations ratified by the minister or extra staff on night duty in the CRES Vardashen, they are, nevertheless, totally insufficient. The ill-treatment of children in the CRES continues and once again violence was reported last September in Vardashen. In a second CRES, Noubarashen, despite public denunciations, nothing has been done to stop the violence perpetrated against children nor to change the methods employed to educate the children placed there. Concerning the status of the CRES and the stigmatisation of the children who are placed there, the Armenian authorities have not provided any answers to the questions asked nine months ago: despite the fact that 95% of the children in Vardashen are placed there because of social difficulties and not for offenses, the amalgam between social difficulties and delinquency persists. With respect to helping children in difficulty to avoid institutional placement, nothing has yet been undertaken to aid those in need to keep children from being separated from their families. It is vital and urgent that the authorities make in-depth reforms to provide these children with suitable care. Below, MSF restates the main points discussed in September 2003. RECOMMENDATIONS After working for seven years in the Vardashen CRES and four years with children in difficulty, and their families, in Yerevan, MSF would like to show that there is an alternative way of caring for children in difficulty in Armenia. So that these children in social difficulty can hope for a decent future in Armenia, MSF suggests the following: 1: The CRES should be replaced by open institutions The institutions do not currently offer enough guarantees that the children will not suffer violence during placement. 2: Where possible the return of children to their families must be organised In collaboration with local services (schools, night schools, day centres, NGOs and community associations), the priority should be to keep the child in the family circle by providing the family with direct assistance. 3: Children who cannot stay with their family should be placed in open institutions near their homes. By staying close to their homes family ties with the child can be maintained; the children can thus continue their education in a normal schooling environment outside the institution. 4: Overall reform of the child placement system, emphasising maintaining children in their families and finding alternatives to placing children in institutions. Firstly the status of the 'Commissions d'Orientation des Mineurs' must be clarified and they should be able to collaborate with the social and educational services at home as well as in the day centres. 5: For children in danger, as for juvenile delinquents (a juvenile delinquent is also a child in danger), adequate legal protection of juveniles with special jurisdictions (judges and juvenile courts) must be set up.