European integrations News

Contribution to the Serbia 2019 Progress Report

Progress achieved in the field of child rights and state of vulnerable children

The Council for the Rights of the Child

The Council for the Rights of the Child, the advisory body of the Government of the Republic of Serbia, has been active this year. MODS has a representative in this body.[1] Two work groups have been established in the Council – the work group on early development of the child and the work group on drafting the National Action plan for Children. The Council held five sessions from November 2017 to November 2018. Children participated in some of these sessions. MODS expects the Council for the Rights of the Child to be proactive on topics and legislative initiatives that they should be dealing with in their work.

Accession of Serbia to the EU Rights, Equality and Citizenship Program

MODS expresses great satisfaction with the accession of Serbia to the EU Rights, Equality and Citizenship Program.[2] The initiative for Serbia’s accession to the Program came from civil society organizations which sent this proposal to the Government of the Republic of Serbia.

The right of the child to life in family environment – preventing the separation of children from their families

One of the basic rights of every child is the right to live in their family.[3] In order to exercise this right in the child’s best interest, it is necessary to provide an adequate and timely support to the family in order to prevent the separation of children from families, as well as enable the return of children to their primary families, if there was a separation. A disproportionately large number of children in Serbia still live in institutions. The total number of children who live in alternative care in Serbia is 5.986, out of whom 666 are living in a residential care setting, while 5320 are in foster care. The number of children living in disadvantaged families in Serbia has increased (more than 162,000, 13% of all children in Serbia, and this rate increased by 27% compared to 2011).

                     In order to exercise this child right, it is necessary to:
  • Move forward in the process of deinstitutionalization in Serbia.
  • Explicitly prohibit residential accommodation of a child under the age of three in the Law on Social Welfare.
  • Explicitly recognize the measures in the Law on Social Welfare to provide support to families, particularly to families in crisis, which are at risk of having a child removed, and to provide support and help with preparations for the return of a child to its primary family.
  • Enable the establishing of services of intensive support to families, social and educational services, as well as counseling and therapy services by adopting the missing Rulebooks for these services and allocating funding from the government budget for the services of intensive support to families.
  • Improve funding of social care services in a way that DI is recognized in public spending. Funding must be available to cover transition and development costs.
  • Improve the financing system services, both in the domain of financial resources availability and in the domain of the very mechanism of service financing.
  • Improve the mechanism of earmarked transfers –the mandatory part of resources for the provision of support services to families with children.

Resources which already exist, both in the public and in the civil sector, need to be utilized for strengthening families in order to prevent the separation of children, as well as to support reintegration of children with their families, if a separation occurs.

Child education

Participation in early childhood education and care (ECEC) remains very low in Serbia, in particular by children from disadvantaged backgrounds. 9% of the poorest children and 6% of children from Roma settlements aged between three and five attend ECEC, compared to 82% of children from the richest households.[4] It is necessary to improve this situation, provide different kinds of support and improve funding for pre-school education in order to exercise the right to education, in particular to early education. 

Violence against children

Violence against children is still a problem. The new National Strategy for the Prevention and Protection of Children from Violence was drafted by the Work Group established by the Ministry of Labor, Employment, Veterans and Social Affairs. The Action Plan for Strategy implementation was drafted and needs to be adopted. It is a mechanism for effective monitoring of the Strategy implementation. It is necessary to improve the General Protocol for the Protection of Children from Neglect, Abuse and Violence so that it is aligned with the best EU practices and to enable monitoring of the implementation of the General Protocol. Also, special sectoral protocols need to be revised, assuming the obligation to apply them. These activities are set by the Action Plan for Chapter 23.

Lack of national framework

A consolidated Law on the right of the Child and a National Action Plan for Children have not yet been adopted in Serbia. 

The Law on Financial Support for Families with Children was adopted at the end of 2017. This Law doesn’t bring any improvements in the field of coverage and adequacy of financial social benefits. Despite a small increase in the coverage of children’s financial social benefits, the child allowance is still low and a large number of children remain at risk of poverty. Together with other civil society organizations, MODS submitted an initiative to the Constitutional Court for assessing the constitutionality and legality of Article 12, paragraph 7 of the Law on Financial Support to Families with Children. A controversial provision of this law compels parents of children with disabilities under the age of five to choose between the right to absence from work for the special care of the child (and the corresponding salary compensation due to that absence), and the right to financial assistance for support and care of another person. Parents are forced to choose between their right to work and the right of the child to financial assistance for support and care of another person. These rights are differently based and one right cannot exclude another.

[1] The Council for the Rights of the Child, the body of the Government of the Republic of Serbia, appointed Jasmina Mikovic, the Deputy Executive Director of Praxis, and the President of the MODS Board as their members.

[2] Joining this Program, with an annual budget of 63 million euros, allows local governments, public institutions and civil society organizations from Serbia to apply for funds for conducting activities in the field of combating discrimination and all forms of intolerance, promotion of equality between men and women, protection of the rights of the child, combating domestic violence, etc.

[3] This right is guaranteed by the Convention on the rights of the Child, Article 9.

[4] The main reason is the current state of pre-school education financing. 4% of GDP in Serbia is allocated to education (UNESCO recommends 6%), only 20% of which is for pre-school education. The issue of major concern is that the latest amendments to the Law on the Basics of the Education System make it possible for local self-government to reduce their allocations for pre-school education, which has resulted in uneven financing of pre-school education by different local self-governments.