How do Kosovo's volunteering policies stack up?
In July 2017, in Ottawa, Canada, as part of a group of global delegates, I got to briefly meet and talk to Justin Trudeau — the prime minister of Canada.
My question to him was: “In a region like the Balkans, and specifically in a country like Kosovo, where people tend to preoccupy themselves with the daily political issues and drama, and the youth aren’t very optimistic about their future, what would be the best way to make them see that there is a bright future ahead and they can create that change?”
Prime Minister Trudeau, without hesitation, answered (and I paraphrase): “Youth, not only in the Balkans but all over the world, have limitless potential and energy. They want to contribute, they want to help, but they need to be offered a platform; an easily accessible and clear process through which they can contribute to that change and develop themselves too along the way.”
“Volunteering in Kosovo is conceptualized as charity… it is not conceptualized as a social activity."
For me, that platform was volunteering, but unfortunately, it isn’t nearly as well-defined and accessible as it should be.
Volunteering in Kosovo has been heavily shaped by political and societal developments prior to, during, and after the 1999 war. During the 1990s, volunteering efforts were focused on politics, economics and everyday life. After the war, volunteerism “dropped considerably” and in a post-war context, Kosovars mostly engaged in ventures with “short-term, tangible results and profitable volunteering.”
Kosovar sociologist Gani Lluga seems to agree, stating that “volunteering in Kosovo is conceptualized as charity… as something material such as financial assistance, food, or clothing… it is not conceptualized as a social activity, and this is because of the situation that Kosovo’s population went through, especially in the period of ’90-’99. We have a culture of volunteering… we don’t have permanent educated volunteering… it’s something like a momentary reaction.”
In Kosovo, volunteering was institutionally recognized for the first time by the 2009 Law on Youth Engagement and Empowerment, in which volunteering was defined as a “youth activity organized by the relevant institution, where youth voluntarily offer their time, work, knowledge, and skills without any pay or reward, in service of the community, for the good of society.”
Article 14 of the law mentions that a “sub-legal act” would regulate voluntary work, and that was the 2010 Administrative Instruction For Volunteer Work of Youth, a document that defined volunteers and voluntary work in detail, outlined the obligations of volunteers and voluntary work organizers, and set forward the process of registration and recognition of volunteers and voluntary work organizers.
The newest and most recent institutional document concerning volunteering is Kosovo’s updated 2016 Administrative Instruction on Youth Voluntary Work, which defines a volunteer as “the male/female youth — a physical person of the age of 15-24 that offers free services for the benefit of the society” and youth voluntary work as “a youth activity where youths voluntarily, without an obligation, provide their time, labor, knowledge, and their abilities in serving the community for the benefit of the society without payment.”
The strongest and most heavily promoted point of this Administrative Instruction is the establishment of the Platform and Database for Volunteerism, an “electronic system for managing online promotion and recognition of voluntary work.”
These three aforementioned documents are the only three legal documents in Kosovo regulating voluntary work.
There has been great development throughout the years, and Kosovo is now far better at recognizing volunteering, both legally and institutionally, than prior to 2009. However, we need to examine how effective these policy changes are compared to what they could have been, and compared to other countries in the region as well as to EU countries.
How many work hours are required?
The first major policy issue is the amount of work hours required to be recognized as a volunteer. Article 3.19 of the 2016 Administrative Instruction defines that “one year voluntary work experience shall be recognized, if the youth under 18 carries out over 222 hours of work, and the youth over 18 if he/she manages to carry out over 1107 hours of volunteer work per year.”
For young people under 18, that number is relatively achievable (four hours per week). For the youth above the age of 18, however, that equals 1107 hours per year divided by 52 weeks per year, which is 21.28 hours per week. Knowing that the average five-day workweek is 40 hours, this adds up to roughly two days and five hours of volunteering per week, the equivalent of holding a part-time job for a full year without any breaks or vacations in between.
Written consent is only required if volunteering efforts interrupt the regular education process.
In comparison, the Hungarian Volunteer Act places a limit to the maximum number of hours rather than instituting a minimum requirement: “The time spent on public interest volunteer activities by volunteers more than 16 but less than 18 years of age may not exceed four and a half hours per day and 18 hours per week,” and “volunteers less than 18 years of age shall be provided a resting time of at least 14 hours between the end of the public interest volunteer activity and its start on the next day.”
Article 11.2 of Croatia’s Act on Volunteering states that “volunteering shall not be allowed for more than 40 hours per week over a period of more than three months without interruption of at least three months,” which is exceedingly more realistic and humane than Kosovo’s 2016 Administrative Instruction that states a limit of “130 hours per month or 1560 per year” for youth aged 18-24, without requiring a break or interruption.
Protecting minors from exploitation?
The second major policy issue is the protection of volunteering minors from exploitation. Aside from the maximum allowed work of 222 hours per year, the only other place where the 2016 Administrative Instruction protects underaged volunteers is Article 3.14, stating that “youth voluntary work under 18 is prohibited during their regular education process, except in cases it is permitted in written by teachers and parents or other legal custodians to be involved in volunteering activities.”
This means that written consent is only required if volunteering efforts interrupt the regular education process, but the law states no other requirements or limitations regarding out-of-school volunteering for underaged children.
By comparison, Article 3.13 of the previous 2010 Administrative Instruction, stated that an organizer of voluntary work “can accept as a voluntary persons under the age (underage persons) under age of 16 years, with prior consent of their legal representative, certified by the Municipal Court,” [sic] which is a stronger system ensuring a better protection of underage youth against exploitation than the current legal framework.
The Hungarian Volunteer Act’s Article 6.3 states that “A person with restricted legal capacity may enter into a volunteer contract only upon consent of/by his/her legal representative.”
It seems that there are still major issues that are left unresolved, and have even worsened in comparison to the previous legal situation.
Croatia’s Act on Volunteering has an entire Article on the Principles of the Protection of Juvenile Volunteers, in which the first subarticle states that “A minor of 15 years of age and an underage minor may enter into a volunteering agreement and volunteer only with the written consent of the legal representative.”
Furthermore, Section 8 of Germany’s Federal Voluntary Service Act states that, when concluding a written agreement, one of the requirements is “in the case of minors, the address of the parents or legal guardians and the consent of the legal representative.”
Who does the law exclude?
A third major issue is that Kosovo does not have any other laws regulating voluntary work, meaning that anyone over the age of 24 is by default excluded from having their voluntary work institutionally recognized. Eighty-seven percent of representatives from civil society organizations also believe that volunteering should not be limited to youth only, and perceive this lack of regulation as “one of the primary barriers in the development of volunteering.”
After a thorough analysis, it seems like the only positive policy change that the 2016 Administrative Instruction on Youth Voluntary Work brought forward was the creation of the Platform and Database for Volunteers, which has made it easier for volunteers to find opportunities, and organizers of voluntary work to find eager volunteers, while also seemingly having made it easier to track progress and pull official data from the platform.
However, it seems that there are still major issues that are left unresolved, and have even worsened in comparison to the previous legal situation.
One should only be grateful for the unfortunate blessing in disguise that is the lack of implementation of Kosovo’s laws. If the 2016 Administrative Instruction had been fully implemented, surely the number of volunteers would drop significantly, most civil society organizations would be punished for not registering their volunteers on the online platform and abiding by the rules, and the rest would have to halt their projects and highly decrease the intensity of their efforts, as their reliance on volunteers is undeniable.
What can be changed?
In terms of national policy, I suggest the creation of a new Law on Volunteering that would be fully inclusive of all ages, and would thoroughly address issues of domestic and foreign volunteering in multiple fields of action such as sports, STEM or culture, as well as include a detailed system of incentives and checks-and-balances. A good example for this policy change would be studying Germany’s “Bundesfreiwilligendienst,” or “Federal Voluntary Service,” as it includes all the elements put forward above.
In terms of youth volunteering policy specifically, I suggest a complete revision and substantive change of the current Administrative Instruction on Youth Voluntary Work.
Volunteers are the backbone of civil society in Kosovo, and as such, their careful handling, protection, and creation of opportunities can go a long way towards strengthening Kosovo’s democracy.
First, the lower limit of hours on being recognized as a volunteer should be removed, as it is highly discouraging and unrealistic, and should instead be replaced with realistic upper-limits on the number of hours one should be allowed to volunteer, thus focusing on preventing exploitation of volunteers rather than maximizing full use of them by organizers of voluntary work.
Second, protection of underage volunteers should be strengthened, including consent from a parent or legal guardian in all voluntary engagements, and further limiting the hours of voluntary work in terms of weeks, months, and years.
Third, after careful revision and proper consultation with all relevant stakeholders, the government and the relevant institutions should make sure that the Administrative Instruction is carefully implemented. Volunteers are the backbone of civil society in Kosovo, and as such, their careful handling, protection, and creation of opportunities can go a long way towards strengthening Kosovo’s democracy and all fields of culture and education.
Feature image: Creative Commons License.