UNICEF Baku Office Head: It supports establishment of several child courts in Azerbaijan by 2015 (Interview)

UNICEF Baku Office Head: It supports establishment of several child courts in Azerbaijan by 2015 (Interview)

Azerbaijan, Baku, Feb. 3 / Trend E.Ostapenko /

Trend conducted exclusive interview with UNICEF Representative in Azerbaijan Mark Gervard.

Trend : What are the main priorities of UNICEF in Azerbaijan in 2010?

Gervard: This year is a kind of a transitional year: we are in the process of preparing a new Country Program for the next five years (2011-2015). We are continuing the things we have done, and we have some new to emphasize, as well.

We continue to work in health on infant mortality. We carried out a training last year. Now we are trying to make sure that this training will result in improving situation with very young babies.

We have been working in nutrition - we have successfully worked with the Ministry of Health to address iodine-deficiency disorders, and are looking at such terrible problems as anemia in young children and pregnant women. Around one third of them suffer from anemia.

We are also working in health on HIV and AIDS which is a particularly big danger that young people face, because they do not have enough knowledge on how to avoid HIV.

In general are looking to work more and more with young people. Some of the young people I have met have told me about how difficult it is to find productive things to do which helps society. We are looking at different ways that we can help to put this energy and excitement the young people have, into continuing ability to help themselves, their neighbors throughout Azerbaijan.

In education we are continuing to work with preschools. Very few children have the opportunity to go to preschools - it is only around 20 percent of children. We are working with the Ministry of Education to see how we can increase that coverage and improve the quality of preschools.

We also work in basic education, to support the concept of child friendly schools - that is child centered and is involved with teachers and the management of the schools, has strong parent-teacher associations (PTAs). It is effective for learning when parents become more involved in children's education. PTAs work on raising the funds that are needed for the schools and transparently using those funds.

In child protection very exciting thing has been happening for the last few years: we are helping to establish a system of justice for children, not only juvenile justice, which is how children are treated when they are in conflict with the law, but also if a child is a victim, if a child is a witness to a crime. Part of the efforts is to make sure that he is treated as a child, and not put into the frightening adult police interrogating rooms, courts etc. which are not designed with children in mind.

Deinstitutionalization is a very important part of government work which we support. What's needed now is to see what kind of services are needed at community level to support the children and their families so the children can stay at home, because it was a rational decision of the family to put their child into an institution when there are no community services. We want to change the basis of that decision by offering more services to help them stay at home.

One emphasis that is going to be new this year is to look at the children who have disabilities and what can be done to help them. Last year Azerbaijan ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and next year will be reporting to the Treaty Body on the disability issues. This is where we want to work with the government to be able to assist and to see what kinds of things could be done. That starts very early on, trying to tackle the conditions that lead to disabilities and prevent them. It means working with education system - how can children with disabilities be included in school; the protection system, the deinstitutionalization - how children with disabilities be supported.

Q: How would you evaluate the process of Juvenile Justice Reform in Azerbaijan?

A: A new law on Juvenile Justice has been considered and continues to be developed in the Parliament. I am very glad that the Parliament is taking it seriously enough not to just rush it through for the sake of having a new law. What they are doing at the moment is looking at how this law could be implemented and what action plan should be developed. So it is not just a piece of legislation. Even though I always want things to happen sooner, it is a good process, it is a fair process. They are trying to do a good job.

Beyond the juvenile justice itself the change is in trying up different ways of helping children avoid having to go to court - through diversion centres and child friendly interrogation rooms. We want to make sure that there are good models that are set up and then the Government could scale them up. I don't think it is a very long way until this moment.


Q: Does the Juvenile Justice Reform in Azerbaijan include the creation of a Child Court?

A: This will be considered in the next country program. We are looking to create probably four or five child courts. There are going to be regular courts, but convenient with the special child session. It doesn't necessarily mean it is a completely different room. But the court proceeding are carried out in a different way. There is a big tension from what we learned from other countries. The more specialized court room you set up, the fewer of them you can have. So you may have wonderful child court in Baku, but you couldn't afford to have it in two other places. We can have something which is less ideal, but you can have it in more places. 

Q: How do the UNICEF Diversion Centres works?

A: Now we only have one in Baku run by an NGO. It is good experience so far. It made a lot of progress already. When started it was just a place where those accused of a crime were taken. But now it is also working by going into schools and asking which are the most difficult students, who is not showing good attitude of doing well. And those are also being helped. It's preventing children from going into wrong direction, as well as dealing with children who have already committed a crime. 

If a child under 18 commits a crime, it is not entirely that child's fault. It means that something is wrong with the system, with the society, in the family, in schools etc. Somewhere something has not worked. Trying to address the problems before they come, is much better for everybody. It is even better for the Ministry of Finance, it saves their money as well. Prosecuting a child and putting a child into a jail is enormously expensive. It's much better investment to go up in earlier round and to prevent a problem than to wait until the problem happens and then trying to fix it.

Q: How effective is the cooperation of UNICEF with the public organizations in Azerbaijan on the subject of child rights protection?

A: We are working with a variety of NGOs, some of them are part of the National Assembly of Youth Organizations of the Azerbaijan Republic (NAYORA) and some - of NGO Alliance for Children's Rights. We are working on a whole variety of issues - economic research, juvenile justice, youth participation issues. Every time we have to do some work we always go back to look and see what NGO is the best suited to carry out that work.

The NGO area in Azerbaijan is young compared to some other countries where I have worked. So there are not as many NGOs and they are not as strong as they might be in other countries. But the individuals and the people working in them are amazing people. They are so committed to what are they doing!

Q: Do you think that it is necessary to improve Azerbaijani legislation concerning the child rights protection? What should be improved?

A: The legislative basis of child right is very good in Azerbaijan. There is still progress to be made. One of those area is Family Code which is also been revised this year. One of the revisions is to raise the age of marriage to 18, which we fully support. There are some other provisions which will help to support deinstitutionalization and particularly the provision of social services at community level. When the Family Code was originally written there was no concept of having social workers to help families in difficult situations. And that needs to be in there, because otherwise the Family Code will not include these innovations.

We are also very concerned about the legislation on domestic violence. This is a very important and very difficult issue. It is difficult, because there could be easily misunderstanding about what is culturally accepted in the country and what the international standards are. Everybody says violence is wrong. Some people would say that our culture would not allow violence and therefore we don't need a law about it. I think there will be a wonderful step forward if Azerbaijan is able to establish that law against violence.

Q: Does UNICEF promote the creation of Ombudsman for children in Azerbaijan?

A: UNICEF has been having this discussion with the Government for quite a long time. It was a recommendation of the Committee on the Rights of a Child when they were reviewing progress on the CRC. It is not an easy issue either, because although everybody can agree in principle that is a good idea to have a separate Ombudsman for children and some countries do (there are many countries which do not). If you have separate ombudsmen, they have overlapping mandates. Does one ombudsman report to another or they all report to Parliament separately and how do they coordinate?

Even if the Ombudsman for children is not ever established, the continuing dialogue is very important, because it keeps emphasizing how important children are. I am not dismayed if it doesn't happen, as long as we keep on the conversation. The current Ombudsman has a very strong focus on children, so the need for a separate Ombudsman for Children is not as urgent as in other countries.

Q: UNICEF along with the government of Azerbaijan is implementing the project of alternative system of children adoption in Azerbaijan. What has the government of Azerbaijan been offered to address this issue? And does the government manage to meet its commitments in this regard?

A: The government is taking a very strong lead in deinstitutionalization. Particularly, the Ministry of Education has established the special department on child protection. And they have been tasked by president to lead the process and they are doing so very actively. They bring together the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection and the Ministry of Health and some other ministries to be able to coordinate the work on DI. So we are working with the Ministry of Education as a coordinator and other ministries this year to work out exactly what kind of social services are needed at community level to be able to allow children to move out of this full-time care. But it is a government-led initiative that we are supporting, we are just helping the process.

Q: Many international humanitarian institutions have recently cut or even stop financing large social projects in Azerbaijan, referring to economic self-sufficiency of the country. Does UNICEF discuss the issue of financing UNICEF-initiated projects in the country by the means of the government? How about financing UNICEF projects worldwide?

A: UNICEF is not looking for government funds to help it in its projects. We are helping the government to do what the government should be doing. Although it can make sense in very limited situations, usually we don't take the money from the Government and then give them to the Government to help the Government do things. It does happen in some circumstances, but that's not our general policy. The general policy is to try to find the way to mobilize the money from the private sector in Azerbaijan as well as from the remaining international donors.

The big cuts come from the donors who say they don't need to fund big cost items, because it is something that is being funded by the Government itself. UNICEF provides the international knowledge and experience from different countries. So what we are providing is a bit different from what a large scale of loan from the World Bank would normally do, for example.

I am still optimistic that we can attract funding that we need to do our work. So we are not planning to cut back on what we are doing, as we have a certain amount of money from our headquarters which is more or less secure.

Q: After the earthquake in Haiti the international community accuses UN, and UNICEF in particular, of not being ready in emergency situation of such a scale. How much is UNICEF ready to response in case of emergency in Azerbaijan? What work is being done in this regard?

A: I don't think we were unprepared in Haiti. It was such a difficult situation there. What happened was so massive, that nobody could do anything different. The port collapsed and the airport, as well. There was not much that you can do. And if you are even ready, it's just physically impossible.

We have already started conversations with the Ministry of Emergency situation to make sure we are on the same page, that we have the same kind of understanding of situation. We are planning in the next Country Program to have more activities in helping communities - in particular children - to be ready in case of emergencies. The Ministry of Emergency situations is already working on this. So we are looking at what they are doing to see if there is anything else - experience from other countries - that we can share to help their work.

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