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Code of Violence Weighs Heavy on Albanian Kids

School is not an option when a child could be killed at any time outside the safety of home.

14 November 2017

Liljana Luani is an Albanian teacher with an unusual specialty.


She travels to teach children who cannot leave home because of the threat of being killed in retaliation for a male relative’s past crime.


Two reporters with the BBC’s Radio 4 went with Luani to visit one of her charges, 13-year-old Niko, in an isolated village in northern Albania. A 20-year feud among several families means that he is “in blood,” liable to be killed if he leaves home according to the rules laid out in a 15th-century code of behavior, or Kanun.


Ironically, the code compiled by a local noblemansought to limit the destruction caused by  blood feuds by establishing rules about who could be killed by whom and under what conditions, as well as ways to settle disputes by monetary payments or through reconciliation.


Albanian children. Image via Goodfaith17/Wikimedia Commons.


The code was suppressed under communism, Al Jazeera wrote last year: “But as Albania transitioned from communism, a frail state and widespread judicial corruption saw more people turn to the kanun and its most extreme interpretations.”


Al Jazeera spoke with a 19-year-old man whose only schooling in his early years was thanks to teachers who came to his house. Helped by the Committee of National Reconciliation, a body set up to mitigate the damage caused by blood feuds, he and his family were given asylum in Sweden but were expelled in 2013 when authorities said their expatriation papers issued in Albania were forgeries, forcing him to return to a life of self-imposed house arrest back in his motherland.


These days the medieval code is being abused, Luani said: “If they follow the rules of Kanun … they would not kill children and women. But nowadays neither the Kanun nor the laws of the state are being followed," she said.


The police chief for the northern Shkodra region, Colonel Gjovalin Loka, gave a similar assessment.


“Different people are interpreting it in ways that suit them. It's not being implemented properly. … Besides, nowadays we do have the laws of the modern Albanian state – that are in accordance with European law – and the time is up for the Kanun. Its place now is only in the archives,” he told the BBC.



  • The Kanun is also enforced in parts of Kosovo, where informal councils made up of village elders are trying to prevent bloodshed by reconciling feuding families, Balkan Insight reported in 2016. A member of one council said there were nine blood feuds in one village alone.


  • Family vendettas were preventing nearly 600 Albanian children aged 3 to 15 from attending school, a member of the Organization for Reconciliation said in 2013. Authorities in 2012 began a home schooling program for children caught up in blood feuds, AFP reported.

Compiled by Ky Krauthamer

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