Albania is a small country in Europe, with an important geographical position. Until 1990, Albania was the most isolated country in Eastern Europe. In 1990 Albanians overthrew the dictatorship to create a new democratic society. But it still carries its particularity in various aspects. Furthermore, the political and economical errors, the absence of a state where the "Rule of Law" is well administered, made the transition process very hard and difficult.
The transition in Albania has created a number of problems in all areas, particularly in the field of crime. Albanians were not prepared to face the new phenomena in all fields and particularly rising crime and its new forms and its quick qualitative and quantitative evaluation. Children were the most at risk in this situation.
In this paper I would like to concentrate on three main issues:
Albania is the country with the youngest population in Europe, so that the number of problems that follow the transition period is big. Many negative phenomena appeared in Albanian society, for example the kidnapping of children, the use of children by adults to commit crimes, the exploitation of children for prostitution, drug abuse and sexual abuse. At the same time children became authors of different serious offences, such as homicide, robbery and assault.
Several reasons conditioned the rise in the number of children at risk, children as victims and juvenile delinquency.
Albania is the poorest country in Europe. More than 20 per cent of Albanian families live under the official poverty level. As a consequence of this poverty, the number of street children, of children in the street, of children of the street and of abandoned children increased. Today in the streets of Albania one often sees children who live, eat and sleep in the streets and children who work all day long in the streets. According to the Pilot Survey carried out by UNICEF in Tirana, there are 138 children in the streets and 12 children sleeping in the streets. The national and local press also give information about the exploitation of girls for prostitution or the use of children as beggars.
Health and mortality among children
Infant mortality increased in Albania during the transition period. Infant mortality is two times higher in Albania relative to the industrialized countries and the maternal mortality rate is three times higher.
The education system was really subjected to a shock during the transition. Many children abandoned school. This phenomenon was evident especially in rural areas. It was conditioned by the very difficult economic conditions among families with children, the necessity of engaging children in work and the absence of family care.
Changes in family formation
The Albanian family is in a period of crisis. The divorce rate has increased considerably. The number of children living in incomplete families has risen. The low educational level and the incomplete emancipation of couples and the numerous problem families have raised the number of abandoned children and of children born outside marriage. Sometimes, mothers cannot take care of their children.
Families are moving from rural areas to urban areas, and this is leading to a very low level of living conditions among these families. A lot of parents and even the fathers alone are migrating abroad for economic reasons. Many families remain without the husband, and many children remain without their fathers. Together, all these causes have raised the social problems among children.
More than one-third of the people able to work are unemployed. Many families do not have the necessary income to cover their living expences. Under these conditions, the parents rely on the work of their children. Every foreigner that visits Albania can easily notice children who sell cigarettes or other things in the streets, children who beg in the streets and children who clean carwindows. In most of the cases parents are behind them or frequently people exploit them.
Every day Albanians are witnesses of the negative trends in drinking and smoking among young people and even youth drug addiction. The immediate opening of Albania towards the West and the absence of awareness of the problems being faced by Western Europe for many years caused an increase in drug use and prostitution. In some cases, the girls themselves and their families choose this prostitution as the only way of making money. But there are many cases where children are victims of criminal organizations.
Taking into consideration these reasons, one sees that the problems among the children at risk in Albania are very important ones, which require the attention of government bodies as well as NGOs and especially better coordination among their activities.
How does Albanian Criminal Law treat children as victims or offenders and especially the new phenomena such as prostitution and children exploited by adults?
The Criminal Code contains special articles concerning the crimes committed against children and crimes committed by children. The Criminal Procedural Code contains several articles which regulate the Criminal Juvenile Justice System.
It is important to stress that Albanian criminal legislation has been recently adopted, at a time when the above-mentioned problems were already evident in Albania. This legislation has been based mainly on international documents in the area of human rights as generally recognized and accepted. In this sense, the ratification of the Convention on the Rights of the Child by Albania on 27 February 1992 was really meaningful for the country. The European Convention on Human Rights was ratified by the Albanian Parliament on 31 July 1996, also reflecting a significant step forward in Albanian law.
Let's briefly present some provisions concerning children as expressed in the Albanian Criminal Code.
The Criminal Code presents a number of relevant new offences. Some special articles have also been reformulated. Some of these deal with the protection of children's rights. They are:
A special section of the Criminal Code covers offences against children, marriage and the family. Almost all the articles are new ones. For example:
How effective is the criminal legislation in dealing with these problems?
This can be examined only if we take into consideration the cases solved and the crime situation.
It can be said that there exists a big gap between the reality and the judicial cases. Police crime prevention work is at a low level.
Theoretically, the Albanian legislation in this area has achieved real progress, but a lot of problems still exist. Thus, official statistics are mute about the number of cases of prostitution among minors or about the use of minors by adults to commit crimes.
In 1996 only 74 persons were convicted of the sexual abuse of minors, 27 persons for indecent offences, and 11 persons for prostitution. As to the data concerning prostitution, according to official statistics it is never clear whether the prostitutes are minors or adults.
It is also not clear whether the persons convicted for favouring prostitution are using minors or adults.
I can conclude that the official data reflect only a small part of the reality. I think that the information from the Albanian and foreign media (especially the Italian and Greek media) is more complete in every detail.
As we have mentioned above, the children are at risk in different situations. But, I would like to concentrate on child prostitution and the exploitation of children by adults to commit crimes.
The phenomenon of prostitution is a recent one in Albania. Although traditional morality in Albanian Society does not accept the infringement of the female, it can be seen that several Albanian criminal organizations are involved in prostitution and the use of minors for prostitution.
According to the Albanian media, in 1997 an organized Albanian gang sent 200 children aged 14 to 18 years and 200 girls aged 14 to 18 years to Italy to use as beggars or prostitutes The biggest numbers of child prostitutes are found in rural areas or in small Albanian towns. Many of these children are tricked into doing this by gangsters promising them a better life abroad, or even by engaging or formally marrying them. The cases in which this life is considered a way of making money by the girls themselves cannot be excluded from consideration either.
Prostitution is also practised in Albanian territory, where hotels, motels, pubs, or rented houses are used to realize this criminal activity. The police work to prevent such phenomena leaves much to be desired, because, for the moment, other important problems concern the police.
To improve the situation, I suggest the following measures: