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The Ministry of Labor, Employment, Veteran and Social Policy failed to act upon the Protector of Citizens’ recommendation for repealing a work order issued to all social welfare centers in Serbia, obliging them to take children who live and work on the street from their parents or guardians by urgent procedure, initiate judicial proceedings for withdrawing parental rights, prohibit the contacts between children and parents, pronounce safeguards from violence and file criminal charges against parents.

In late February 2020, the Protector of Citizens determined that by sending a work order of 21 May 2018 the competent Ministry directly acted contrary to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, significantly narrowed down the level of realization of child rights in Serbia, and steered the Social Welfare Centers (SWC) to illegal actions.

However, in the response submitted in early June 2020, the line ministry denied the identified shortcomings in the work and pointed out that the work order “aimed at intensifying the activities of the system of social and family-legal protection in responding to the phenomenon of 'street children', i.e. violence and abuse of children who ‘live and work on the streets’ and engage in begging, washing windshields, by collecting secondary raw materials from waste disposal containers, selling flowers late at night, etc."

The Protector of Citizens believes that the Ministry of Labor, through the disputed work order, focuses on intensifying the activities of the system, while the focus should actually be on the protection of the child’s best interests, exploring and eliminating the causes of this phenomenon, which the system should be for.

According to the Ministry of Labor, the content of the working act also indicates the obligation of the SWC “to undertake safeguards in accordance with the performed assessments and that the legal obligation of the SWC is an urgent, imperative intervention in the protection of children”, as well as that the way of reacting in the work order takes into account the fact that one must react immediately after learning about a child being endangered or abused.

In a recommendation issued to the Ministry of Labor, the Protector of Citizens states that it is necessary to repeal such a work order without delay and inform all SWCs in Serbia about it in writing, as well as to draft a new work order in cooperation with the Republic Institute for Social Protection on the manner of handling the situation with street children.

Further to the recommendation of the Protector of Citizens, the new work order should contain the following instructions: examining whether the child and his/her family are in poverty and determining the causes of poverty, planning services to help parents and reduce poverty, detection of families at risk of finding their children on street and undertaking measures to prevent the exclusion of children from the family.

In addition, it is recommended to ban the removal of children who are on the street solely due to poverty, take measures for the urgent inclusion of street children in early preschool education as well as measures for their inclusion in the community, develop a service plan for the child and the family in case of removing the child in order to return the child to the biological family and to mandatorily integrate the data on the cause children being in a street situation, the economic situation of the family, measures and services provided by SWC to the family and assessments of the expediency of initiating criminal proceedings against parents.

The Ministry of Labor failed to act upon these recommendations of the Protector of Citizens, stating that the protection of child’s best interests was provided through the work order issued on 21 May 2018.

“Automatic removal of children is not the solution, but the essential question is who organizes the begging and child exploitation and what circumstances led to the children being on the street. The question is whether it is about human trafficking or it is about the necessity of having nothing to live on. The activities of the system must be focused on finding and eliminating the causes and not the consequences ", believes the Protector of Citizens.

The Protector of Citizens highlights that the issue of determining the organizers of begging is inevitable, and that it must be resolved because it is about the abuse of children and violation of their rights. “The issue of 'street children' cannot be seen only as a problem of the Ministry of Labor and that is why the Protector of Citizens will continue to monitor the work of the Ministry of the Interior (MOI) as well. The most important thing is that the Ministry of Interior takes all actions to determine the organizers of begging and prosecute the responsible ones where there is room for it,” the Protector of Citizens points out.