The Protector of Citizens, in an own-initiative investigation, launched based on information from the media that at the beginning of June this year, a father, a foreign citizen, forcibly took his children and took them to a neighboring country, identified shortcomings in the work of the City Centre for Social Work in Belgrade, as it did not act according to the international convention.
On the occasion of allegations in the media that with the first-instance decision of our court the children were entrusted to the mother, but also that the mother violated the previous decision of the court in Switzerland because she brought the children to Serbia, the Protector of Citizens launched an investigation into the regularity and legality of work of the Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Interior and the City Centre for Social Work in Belgrade.
During the control investigation, the Protector of Citizens determined, among other things, that the City Centre for Social Work in Belgrade made an omission in its work because it did not apply the appropriate regulation in the specific case – the Hague Convention on jurisdiction, applicable law, recognition and enforcement of foreign court decisions and cooperation in respect of parental responsibility and measures for the protection of children.
Namely, in the investigation, it was determined that the family lived in Switzerland, that the Swiss court decided during the divorce to place the children under the sole custody of the father, with the place of residence at his address, but also that the mother, in April 2021, without his knowledge, brought the children to Serbia and that in the same month, she filed a lawsuit for divorce in our court.
The Protector of Citizens also established in the investigation that the father of the children, who is a Croatian citizen, informed the competent court in Belgrade in January 2022 that the divorce was decided by a court in Switzerland, that he filed a criminal complaint against the mother of the children for taking away the children, and that he had previously reported the mother for violence, which is why he stayed with the children in a safe house for men in Switzerland – from July to December 2020.
In this case, the Ministry of Family Welfare and Demography performed supervision of the professional work of this Belgrade Centre, during which it was determined that the Centre did not act in accordance with the standards of professional work, because it did not timely and comprehensively assess the condition, needs and risks for all family members, the Protector of Citizens states.
The relevant ministry stated in the supervision report that the mother illegally kept the children in Serbia in April 2021, that in this particular case, the authority to decide on parental responsibility, even after the illegal removal of children, should have been retained by the authority in Switzerland and that there were no grounds for the guardianship authority to act and provide findings and an expert opinion.
The Protector of Citizens was informed that, according to the opinion of the competent ministry, the said omission resulted in an unjustified prolonged stay of children in the safe house with a parent to whom children were not entrusted as part of independent exercise of parental rights.
The Ministry ordered the City Centre for Social Work in Belgrade to initiate procedures for determining the disciplinary responsibility of employees who were involved in work on this case, but also to inform all employees of the Centre about the report of the competent ministry, in order to prevent the repetition of similar omissions in the future, the Protector of Citizens determined.