The Protector of Citizens, Zoran Pašalić, was a guest of Euronews Television.
The Protector of Citizens, Zoran Pašalić, launched a control investigation into the legality and regularity of work of six competent authorities and requested information and court decisions from the First Basic Court in Belgrade. I am talking about the case of abuse of the girl with Zoran Pašalić, the Protector of Citizens. Good day! Thank you for speaking for Euronews. Immediately upon learning about this, you started the procedure of gathering information and determining responsibility. Have you received any response from the competent institutions and what is the deadline for receiving these responses?
- The deadline is up to 15 days, but we expect it sooner since we asked for an urgent response to our questions. There are six bodies involved, and we sent the First Basic Court an act of cooperation, given that we cannot control the work of the courts, to inform us about the circumstances under which the child was assigned to the father for guardianship.
According to the information that is known so far, the decision on guardianship was made in 2018, and the Centre for Social Work in Zvezdara says that they controlled the family for two years after that, i.e. they controlled the conditions in which the child has lived. Why has that control stopped by 2020 and why was no one in communication with that family for three years? Were they obliged to continue that control?
- This is exactly what we want to establish, because the child first lived in the municipality of Palilula. The Municipality of Palilula was informed about the situation in the family, and therefore gave its opinion on the circumstances in which the child was born and lives. The child later passed to the municipality of Zvezdara. This is where the child resides. And while residing in that municipality, the Centre for Social Work of that municipality must take care of her until conditions are created for the child to really live in conditions that can be considered normal, colloquially speaking.
If proceedings have been initiated to deprive both parents of parental rights, this is certainly a sign that this is a high-risk family. That story has also followed the family practically from the maternity ward, since the child was born. How is it possible that a child who has been in the system since birth, becomes completely invisible to the system?
- I would not say invisible, because the child was born, registered in the birth register. But there is one thing we are looking into at the moment, and that is that which is related to children, meaning child care, enrolment in a preschool institution, enrolment in a school institution, whether all that was done according to the law. And if not, and obviously it wasn’t, because the child did not go to school, then who is responsible for that. The procedure is very simple. The local self-government where the child lives, that is, the municipality where the child lives, to put it simply, is obliged to notify the school by the end of February of the current year that the child is starting first grade, that the child must be enrolled. And that same school with territorial jurisdiction, so to speak, is obliged to inform the local self-government within 15 days that the child is not enrolled in the first grade, and then we have the whole procedure if the child is absent, parents, etc. These are very legal, strictly resolved conditions. Not to mention that, if you have any problem in the family, you are obliged to constantly perform supervision.
We are then talking about an omission, it seems, of a number of institutions, or maybe even all of these six against whom you initiated the control investigation. We have healthcare, education, the Centre for Social Work, the police, etc. They all seem to have made a mistake somewhere in this child's case. Is it bad organization of work, overlap of responsibilities, insufficient communication, or bad law? What is it about?
- I still can't say what you said. We will determine if it is as you said.
Yes, but if we say that the child got lost somewhere, you say it was not in the records for school, in the records for pre-school, which is also mandatory in this country, then there are also mandatory vaccines, the Health Care Centre is responsible for that. If you do not vaccinate your child, you cannot enrol him/her in school. There are procedures. How did that happen?
- You see, we're going to determine everyone’s full responsibility in the domain of what that service does. You mentioned health care institutions. Has the child ever been examined in a health care institution? Did the health care institution record what it had to record, which is whether the child's psychophysical development corresponds to his/her age, which means physical and psychological, mental. In our institution, there were cases where children did not speak at the age of five. Then, in what conditions does the child live, in terms of the child's hygiene. Then, the most important thing, did the child suffer any violence according to any injuries that could indicate violence, and finally what you said, vaccinations. What I want to say is, each of these institutions has its own obligation, and we control whether everyone fulfilled their obligation, plus, it is very important whether they communicated with each other, because that communication is the most important. If there is no such communication, then it can happen that in that intermediate space, extremely difficult situations like this occur. As far as the Ministry of Interior is concerned, according to our knowledge, neighbours reported that there was possible violence, noise, screams of a child and that they reported it to the police. The reaction of the police is also very important.
What happened there? The police did not react. The media reported that the Centre for Social Work said that the neighbours should have been more involved in the whole story, to report, etc. However, it turned out that the neighbours did report it.
- I really can't tell you that. We haven't determined that yet.
If nothing happens regarding these reports, if the police does not react, what kind of message does that send to us as citizens then?
- The police must react and the police, not to defend it, but the police almost always react. They go out, as they say, to the scene and ascertain what the matter is, whether it is only a disturbance of public order and peace with noise, whether it is domestic violence, who is being subjected to violence, who is observing that violence, and they record it. In case of violence, it is known to whom it is sent, the competent prosecutor, that is, the basic prosecutor and the Centre for Social Work, who proceed further. But that constant communication must exist. It cannot be fixed for two months, two years, or for some time. Who sets that deadline? As long as there is a problem, that problem must be monitored. They asked me several times why, we will call them conditionally neighbours, do not react, I also ask that about those in the circle of relatives, friends, why don’t they react? Often the reason is fear, people do not want to interfere in some, as they say, private matters. And there are other factors that lead to not reacting adequately. People are simply afraid to report it.
From what you said, it seems the reason is the failure of the entire system and many institutions that were responsible here, as well as poor coordination, that is, their mutual cooperation. Thus, the organization of work. And what kind of law do we have when it comes to preventing violence? You launched an initiative on amendments to the law. What do these amendments refer to?
- They refer to the fact that in the law, a child must be treated as a victim of domestic violence, even though no psychological or physical violence was committed against the child, and the child was only an observer. This was pointed out to us by a number of cases where a child adopts the behaviour model of either a bully or a victim in his secondary family. So, such a system, system is actually not the right expression, such behaviour is transmitted generationally. I have been monitoring this phenomenon since 2003, and I can truly say with a lot of certainty that it is exactly as I said, namely that it is necessary to prevent violence from being transferred from one family to another, etc.
We still do not have an epilogue, that is, you still don't have complete information about what exactly happened and who failed here, whose responsibility it will be. When responsibility is established, when we have responsible persons and they are adequately punished for it, will something change in the system after that, because we all wonder if there are more children like this, whom the system has lost somewhere?
- The entire procedure needs to be carried out, it needs to be determined which body made an oversight, an omission, whether it did not act when it should have acted, whether it worked incorrectly. You should always locate the person in that body who made the mistake. We cannot blame the entire body, or determine collective responsibility and stop there. The person who made a mistake has his/her own name, surname, or there are more people who made a mistake. So, there are many names and surnames. It's the only way for someone, excuse the expression, to come to their senses and do their job the way it should be done.
Thank you very much for talking about this topic for Euronews.