The Protector of Citizens determined that the Social Welfare Center in Novi Sad, by failing to carry out its competencies during the state of emergency imposed due to COVID-19 pandemic, denied the right to protection against exploitation, violence, abuse and neglect to children whose family was under the Center’s correctional supervision.
In own-initiative investigation of controlling work legality and regularity instigated upon learning from the media that one child was sexually abused at the shipyard, the Protector of Citizens has determined that the SWC in Novi Sad did not carry out its activities, during the state of emergency, although it had been acquainted with the abused children’s family since 2016 and despite of the fact that they suspected of the elder child being abused even before the state of emergency.
By completely suspending the work during the state of emergency, the SWC in Novi Sad did not timely protect the minors’ rights and interests which is why the Protector of Citizens requested that Center’s manager to review the work of the employees who were tasked with protecting them and who did not take a single action from 10 March 2020 to 8 May 2020, despite the confirmed suspicion of child sexual abuse.
The Protector of Citizens determined that the family has been on the Center's records since 2016 when the disappearance of the elder child was reported, that in 2018 a younger child was found on the beach without supervision, that neighbors reported that children were without adequate supervision, that in 2019, the school reported suspicions of physical punishment of the child and that in the same year there was a suspicion of sexual harassment of the elder child, which was confirmed in 2020.
It was also determined that the Novi Sad SWC initiated correctional supervision over the exercise of parental rights, but that from 10 March 2020 until 8 May 2020, none of the activities within that supervision have been carried out.
Using the state of emergency as a reason for failing to act and conduct correctional supervision in such difficult family circumstances is impermissible because child rights cannot and must not be limited, the Protector of Citizens points out adding that the competent public authorities should make a plan of work and manner how to provide services to citizens in emergency circumstances.
The Protector of Citizens asks the Novi Sad SWC to provide immediate and continuous correctional supervision, especially in case of suspicion of sexual abuse of a child, and to set clear priorities in the work in case of emergency and extraordinary circumstances.