SOS Children’s Villages started working in Macedonia in 1995 and has continued to expand its work in the country, responding to the needs of children and families at risk in the capital city of Skopje. In 2015 we started an emergency programme in response to the refugee crisis.
An independent nation since 1991
Children from SOS Children's Village in Skopje (photo: SOS archives).
The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia is a landlocked country bordering Serbia in the north, Kosovo in the northwest, Bulgaria in the east, Greece in the south, and Albania in the west. The capital city is Skopje with about half a million inhabitants.
The population is just over two million (July 2013 est.), 64 per cent are Macedonia, around a quarter of the population is ethnic Albanian. Other minorities include: Turks (3.9 per cent), Roma (2.7 per cent) and Serbs (1.8 per cent). The official language is Macedonian. Most Albanians and Turks are Muslim, most of the Slavs are members of the Eastern Orthodox or Macedonian Orthodox Churches.
A fall in living standards
Although Macedonia’s economy has been slowly improving since 1991, it still has one of the lowest per capita gross domestic products in Europe. The standard of living has actually fallen since independence. Furthermore, there is a growing gap in incomes. Unemployment rates are persistently high and officially currently estimated to be around 30 per cent. The actual number of people without a steady income is thought to be higher. As a result. nearly 30 per cent of the population lives below the nationally-established poverty line. Families with two adults and three or more children are most at risk of being poor. This combination of poverty and high unemployment has forced many people to move abroad in search of work.
Most Macedonians who are employed, work in the service section. About 26 per cent work in industry (textiles account for half the exports) and 17 per cent in agriculture.
Macedonia has been a candidate to join the European Union since 2005. A key aspect to its admission is corruption and international organisations are working in the country to fight it and promote inter-ethnic dialogue and cooperation. They are also addressing gender inequality and supporting victims of domestic violence.
Children have been badly affected by the recent changes
Thanks to the SOS Family Strengthening Programme, this young girl is able to go to school (photo: K. Ilievska).
The children of Macedonia have been affected by the falling standards of living. As parents have struggled to find employment, there has been an increase in poverty and households with children are particularly affected. Six per cent of children are forced to work: according to statistics they mostly work in the family business. Twelve per cent of children marry before they reach the age of 18.
The number of cases of under-five infant mortality remains high: at 8.1 per 1,000 live births the rate remains above the European Union average of 4.7 per 1,000 births. The figure is higher in rural areas than in urban areas. In fact children from rural areas face other problems too: they are more likely to drop out of primary education and less likely to go onto secondary education.
Children with a Roma background are particularly disadvantaged – more of them live in poverty and drop out of primary school. Only about one third of Roma children attend secondary school.
The new economic conditions have created new reasons why children are taken into care. An increasing number are being taken into care due to the fact that the family lives in poverty. While attempts are made to place these children in the custody of relatives, many end up in state-run institutions.
SOS Children's Villages in Macedonia
In addition to providing family-based care in SOS families, SOS Children's Villages has created a series of new programmes to support children, young people, and families from the local community. Since 2002, we have been supporting children and young people in a very deprived area of Skopje. In addition, in conjunction with local agencies, family-strengthening programmes were started in 2007, thus enabling children who are at risk of losing the care of their family to access support.
In response to the Refugee Crisis of 2015, the SOS Emergency Programme is focusing on supporting children (especially unaccompanied children), young people, and mothers with children and pregnant women. SOS Children's Villages is working with other organisations and is responding to the evolving situation. We aim to provide shelter and food, as well as health care to those arriving. At the camps in Gevgelija and Tabanovce, and in collaboration with UNICEF we have handed out packs with food and diapers and also set up a Child Friendly Spaces for children to play and spend some time away from the stresses of their journey to safety. We have also set up a space where refugees can charge their phones and have free access to computers and internet.