The Network of Organizations for Children of Serbia – MODS expresses concern about the Ministry’s announcement – the fight against the abuse of “street children”. In the order sent to the centres for social work, in the first place it is emphasised that children should be taken away from their parents and that criminal charges should be brought against parents. Displacement of children from families is emphasised as a measure of support and assistance to “street children”. In a short period, 46 children were removed from their families, and another four children are planned to be separated from their families.
We are particularly surprised by the data on the number of children displaced from families, bearing in mind the current reform processes of the competent ministry in order to reduce the number of children in institutions and the separation of children from families, in order to ensure that all children have the right for their parents to take care of them before anybody else.
We are aware that there are situations in which, in order to assess the immediate vulnerability of child safety, it is in the best interest of a child to respond urgently and, as a final measure, to resort to relocation from the family. However, relocation from the family is the last and final measure, when there is an assessment of the team, and when all other prior necessary measures of support for the family and the child have already been taken.
On this occasion, we would remind that the UN Children’s Rights Committee adopted General Comment No. 21 on Children in Street Situations and that our country, as a member of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, actively participated in its preparation. This document provides guidance to States to provide support to children in street situations, as it has been observed that child rights in street situations are not respected in accordance with the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Youth Integration Center – CIM, a member of MODS, with many years of experience in supporting children in street situations, expresses concern that hasty action could result in criminal processing of all parents whose children are found working in the street, without a preliminary assessment of whether it really is the issue of child labour abuse for the purpose of exploitation. It must not be forgotten that street work is a result of extreme poverty and a way to survive.
The UN Children’s Rights Committee states that States should not separate children from their families solely because a family is working or living on the street. Financial or material poverty, or conditions directly and exclusively attributable to such poverty, should never be the only justification for removing a child from parental care but should be considered a signal of the need to provide adequate support to the family.
Therefore, we believe that the state should, above all, work to eliminate the causes that lead to street work, which is extreme poverty, and provide support to families before taking away their children. Poverty should not be the reason for relocating children from their families.
We call upon the Government of the Republic of Serbia and the competent ministry to fulfill the obligation to respect the dignity of children in street situations and their right to life, survival and development by decriminalizing behaviour that aims at survival; to provide material and financial support to the family; to support programs and services for developing parental competences; to respect children as active participants in support planning.