NEWS

Greece says life’s better for its kids

It could have been a summit that would fix the platform for an advancement of children’s rights worldwide. It could have been the moment of truth for most nations on how well they respect the rights of their young citizens. The UN Special Session on Children, which was scheduled to take place in New York from September 19-21 was formally postponed by the UN General Assembly following the tragic events of September 11 that shocked the USA and the rest of the world. The General Assembly had defined two objectives for the Special Session. First, there was to be a review of achievements in the implementation of the Declaration and Plan of Action adopted at the 1990 World Summit on Children, and, secondly, a renewed commitment and pledge for action for children in the next decade was planned. But, though the session on children’s rights never convened, the reports that had been submitted ahead of time to the United Nations for the meeting are available and tell their own story. A story which is all the more important in light of yesterday’s Children’s Day. One of those documents is the report by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, titled We the Children, which reviews progress made in the last ten years by assessing the decade’s achievements and setbacks by incorporating the latest data on children’s rights from 150 countries. One of those countries was Greece. The report, submitted by Greece in April 2000, is its first report under Article 44 of the Convention of the Rights of the Child and was prepared by the ministries of Health and Social Welfare, Justice, Education, Labor and Social Security, and Public Order, while the Foreign Ministry assumed the coordination of data. Based on the report’s findings, Greece appears to have made several advancements in various areas involving the rights of children from birth to adulthood. The Greek report According to the report, the under-five annual mortality rate saw a 30-percent decline from 1990 to 1999, while the infant mortality rate per 1,000 live births saw a reduction by 32 percent. As concerns malnutrition – one of the stated goals of the Declaration and Plan of Action adopted at the 1990 World Summit – the report offered no data, while stating that the general impression is that if there is problem associated with the development of children in Greece, this is probably, rather than malnutrition, obesity. The report indicated, however, that the percentage of underweight infants born rose from 5.96 percent in 1990 to 7.43 percent in 1998. In terms of schooling, the educational participation rates offered in the report note that substantial increases in participation took place for all the preschool and secondary education levels. Increases were also recorded in higher education, although they were not uniform during the two time periods from which data was collected. The upward trend, though, did not extend to elementary school education where rates of participation were generally at high levels anyway. In regard to the sex factor at school, the report underlines that there is no essential difference between the two sexes at the preschool and elementary school levels, while in higher education males had the advantage during the 1980/81 period and women during the 1998/99 time period. Nonetheless, the report stresses that the increasingly higher participation of women in higher education – to the point where it exceeds the rate for men – does not necessarily mean that a higher proportion of women actually graduate, obtain the higher qualifications or gravitate to the most lucrative jobs. One area of concern was that of dropouts, but Greece appears not to have excessively high numbers. The report makes clear, though, that concentrated attention should be applied to further reduce the dropout rate, to reducing functional illiteracy and to increasing equal access to higher levels of education and the labor market, with special attention to vulnerable groups, regardless of gender. The Greek government also took specific action to ensure safe early childhood development, the universal access to vocational training and job counseling. One of those actions was in respect to the protection of children in regard to employment, for which it enacted Presidential Decree 62/98 Measures for the Protection of Young People at Work. According to the decree, a young person (minor) is any person under 18 years of age and a child is a young person who is under 15 years of age or who is still subject to compulsory school attendance. Moreover, the decree states that no young people may be employed in work that: objectively exceeds their physical, mental, spiritual or psychological abilities; results in their dangerous exposure to toxic factors and radiations; is connected with accident risks, which the young people are presumed unable to identify or prevent, due to the lack of a sense of danger or due to lack of experience or training; is dangerous for their health due to temperatures, noises or vibrations. Independent reports The picture, though, is not as sunny when it comes to minority children and the documentation of cases of abuse, which has been detailed in reports by non-governmental organizations. Last year the Greek office of the International Save the Children Alliance (ISCA) published a book titled Children’s Rights: Equal Rights. The book touched upon the two most sensitive issues when it comes to children’s rights in Greece, sexual abuse and the rights of minority children. The authors of the book describe a shocking picture of child abuse and discrimination in Greece and around the world, and insist that this is not so much because of any rising trend in child abuse, but rather is due to the lack of accurate numbers. According to Attica Security, in the last two years 10 to 15 cases of sexual abuse have been recorded annually, which of course we know does not depict the true extent of the situation, said Niki Goulandri, president of the Greek office of Save the Children, during a press conference last November. Then, Goulandri had stressed that social services in the country have been increasingly concerned with the rising phenomenon of sexual abuse and the smuggling of children for sexual exploitation. A special problem is the lack of reliable statistical data, which is due mainly to the lack of mandatory reporting, she noted. Data mostly exist for cases that result in treatment at children’s hospitals. Moreover, in Greece, a country which signed the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) in 1992, the book reports that there is widespread discrimination, and a failure to introduce and implement adequate procedures to protect minorities, especially Roma. The committee of immigrant and anti-racist organizations accuses the Greek government of being autocratic and xenophobic in its treatment of immigrants. The book notes discrimination against the Roma in health services and education, stressing that an estimated 80 percent of Roma children up to 18 years of age are illiterate, and that cultural and language barriers are hampering their access to hospitals to which they are entitled by law.