On the occasion of 1 October - International Day of Older Persons, the Protector of Citizens, Mr. Zoran Pašalić reiterated his appeal to the competent state bodies to establish a more efficient social welfare system in line with the needs of the elderly in Serbia, to provide financially sustainable services and special support services and to take the necessary measures and activities to help the elderly and provide them in both regular and emergency contexts with adequate health care.

"The elderly in Serbia are still the ones mostly facing poverty, illness, discrimination and violence, and a particular problem is the lack of special services. These problems could be mostly seen during the state of emergency introduced due to the Covid-19 epidemic, when the elderly with mental and physical disabilities who need the support of formal and informal caregivers had the most difficulties in meeting fundamental living needs," Mr. Pašalić said.

Mr. Pašalić adds that the elderly in a state of social need also had numerous problems, especially those who needed urgent accommodation during the ban on admission to gerontology centers and nursing homes, the elderly who needed the help of geronto-housewives which was restricted, as well as the elderly homeless persons due to the impossibility of admission to shelters and other social welfare institutions.

Key measures that should be taken for the protection of the elderly in emergency situations are higher social allowances, improving the quality of health care and social welfare services, the possibility of alternative accommodation for the elderly in need of emergency care, providing support services to persons who are not in the social welfare system, hiring more expert workers in social welfare centers and social welfare institutions, Mr. Pašalić stated and he reminded as well that on his initiative during the state of emergency, a procedure for issuing movement permits to all persons who took care of the elderly population had been established.

Mr. Pašalić states that, regarding the improvement of the position of the elderly, he recommended to the Government of Serbia to prepare draft laws introducing the institute of decision-making with support to abolish the possibility of deprivation of legal capacity and to intensify activities in the process of deinstitutionalization together with activities to establish adequate community services, whereas local self-government units were advised to take continuous measures to establish, maintain and develop community services in accordance with the needs of persons with disabilities and the elderly.

International Day of Older Persons is celebrated on 1 October in accordance with the Resolution 45/106 passed by the UN General Assembly in 1990 with the aim of emphasizing the importance of adapting the living environment to the needs and abilities of the elderly.

Further to media reports about the swing carousel breaking apart in Kolut near Sombor when eight children suffered injuries, the Protector of Citizens initiated own-initiative investigation and established that the town of Sombor made an omission harming child rights by not providing in its legal acts for manners of obtaining the approval nor sanctions for setting up amusement parks on private areas.

During the control of work legality and regularity, the Protector of Citizens established that the town of Sombor made an omission harming child rights as the body’s decisions provide for the requirements and procedure for obtaining approval for the installation of facilities on public areas only, paired with sanctions for persons who have not obtained such approval.

The Protector of Citizens determined that the town of Sombor did not designate the powers to the inspection and communal police to control the temporary placement of facilities on another area, which all resulted in insufficiently provided child protection in Kolut on 12 July 2020.

Due to the aforementioned omissions of the town of Sombor, the protection of children is achieved only in cases when amusement parks are set up in a public area, while there was no engagement and care of the competent city authorities for child safety when the mentioned facilities and devices are placed on the surface, whose owner is a natural or legal person, as it happened in Kolut.

Deputy Protector of Citizens for Child Rights and Gender Equality Ms. Jelena Stojanović announced that expert associates from the Sector for Child Rights of this institution will in the future additionally control public and private areas where children are exposed to possible injuries, be them playgrounds, open city parks or places with entertainment facilities.

She urged all citizens of Serbia to point out to the Protector of Citizens all the places that could pose a potential danger of injuring children.

The Protector of Citizens gave the town of Sombor a period of 30 days to rectify the above-mentioned omissions by amending the Rulebook and program on the installation of facilities and devices on the territory of that town by specifying conditions and procedure for obtaining approval for the installation of facilities and gear for entertainment programs, both on public and on other areas.

The town of Sombor should also amend the Decision on the town organization by prescribing appropriate sanctions for persons who have not obtained the approval of the competent authority for the installation of facilities and equipment for entertainment programs on another area, but also to provide for the powers of inspectors and communal police to control the conditions and manner of temporary installation of amusement parks on another area.

In the own-initiative investigation initiated upon the murder of three persons and one child in Leskovac in May 2020, the Protector of Citizens identified numerous omissions in the operation of Social Welfare Centers in Bojnik and Leskovac and the Ministry of Labor, Employment, Veteran and Social Policy in the process of protecting children from the family against violence and abuse as the family was on the Centers’ record.

The Protector of Citizens states that the protection of beneficiaries is not achieved in accordance with the professional regulations and standards in the field of family law and social welfare and that the omissions in the work pose a gross violation of child rights and state's commitment to provide children and families with every possible assistance and protection.

The Protector of Citizens requires the centers in Bojnik and Leskovac to take measures without delay to eliminate the identified omissions so that similar mistakes do not occur in the future, but also to determine the personal accountability of expert employees and managers in those Centers.

The Protector of Citizens requests from the competent ministry to ensure that child's exposure to violence against another family member or any other close person is treated as child abuse and neglect, and to examine personal accountability of the employee in the Ministry as he, for three years, did not take any action regarding the Bojnik Center’s request for professional assistance. The Ministry should inform the Protector of Citizens about the undertaken activities no later than 21 days.

During the control of work legality and regularity, the Protector of Citizens established that the competent Social Welfare Centers did not initiate any investigation to protect them against domestic violence, nor to deprive parents from parental authority during nine year-long work with the family. In the same year, the center drafted a Plan of Services for the family and the child, but all until 2015, there can be seen no traces of the work of the guardianship authorities on the protection of children, nor of domestic violence reported.

Moreover, the center in Bojnik did not take any measures even upon learning that children often leave home, precisely because of the violence they suffer, and based on the data submitted to the Protector of Citizens, it could not be determined why the children were leaving foster families and returning to their biological family.

The Protector of Citizens highlights that the guardianship authority was bound to provide adequate protection to children, to relocate them immediately and to ensure that they do not return to the biological family on their own through appropriate monitoring of foster families and intervening when needed. Also, the Center failed to timely initiate proceedings for deprivation of parental authority.

Bearing in mind that the competent ministry monitored the expert work and determined illegalities and irregularities in the work of the guardianship authority and ordered them to rectify the established illegalities, especially in the light of the fact that no recommendation would change the tragedy that occurred, the Protector of Citizens considers it inexpedient to issue recommendations to guardianship authorities due to identified identical omissions in the work on child protection.

Another omission by the Ministry was the fact that it did not extend promptly the expert assistance the Center had sought, nor imposed measures on the Centre as it did not submit the complete case documentation as obliged.

The Protector of Citizens points out that due to incomplete cooperation of the guardianship authorities, there was no timely and adequate exchange of information on the level of risk for victims of violence, abuse and neglect, as well as deeper investigation of the causes of unwanted behavior of children and parental responsibility.

Regarding the launching of the national event "Children’s Week”, the Protector of Citizens, Mr. Zoran Pašalić, reiterated today that it was necessary to amend the relevant legal and other regulations concerning child rights protection with a view to improving the position of the most vulnerable population category.

The Institution of the Protector of Citizens had been very successful in protecting the rights and best interests of the child since its establishment 13 years ago, and the new Law on the Protector of Citizens will significantly improve child rights protection in every sense, both in terms of prevention and protection, but also in terms of effectiveness of the protection implementation, Mr. Pašalić said.

Deputy Protector of Citizens for Child Rights, Ms. Jelena Stojanović, highlighted that during this year majority of problems in child rights protection had occurred during the state of emergency caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

There had been problems because the competent Ministry of Labor, Employment, Veteran and Social Affairs was not prompt in recognizing the needs of special categories of children, nor had it pointed out to other decision-makers the specific needs of e.g. children with autism; however, further to the urging by the Protector of Citizens, those omissions had been rectified, Ms. Stojanović said.

“We will continue to continuously and very carefully monitor the work of all competent state bodies and institutions tasked with protecting child rights and urgently react to all their omissions in the work in order to provide children with the highest degree of their rights and interests protection”, Ms. Stojanović stated.

On the occasion of "Children’s Week", the Protector of Citizens organized an online survey with the children from the Youth Panel of the Protector of Citizens as participants. The main impressions of the Youth Panel members regarding the state of emergency were the feeling of boundedness, isolation, fear, but also the acceptance of the new way of schooling, while most of the participants in the survey liked distance learning.

“I felt somehow closed, I can’t go anywhere when I would like to meet my friends”, “I felt closed, both physically and mentally, I was bored, I was listless and tired, deprived of freedom", "At the beginning of the state of emergency, I was a little nervous, everything that could be closed (schools, shopping malls, colleges, theaters ...) was closed,” - these were some of the inputs of the young about their experience regarding the state of emergency.

“The advantages are that they put less pressure on us, we may sleep longer, and as for the disadvantages I single out that it is harder to learn school subjects ", “It's an advantage that I don't have to study to get a mark and that we are at home ", "Distance learning can never be as good as in person learning," the representatives of the "Youth Panel" said.

The Protector of Citizens Zoran Pašalić indicated to the competent authorities today that persons with disabilities of any category (mental / intellectual, sensory or physical disabilities) are among the most vulnerable sections of the population amid Covid-19 pandemic, together with the elderly, and that it was therefore essential to include that vulnerable group in the support measures of the Government of the Republic of Serbia.

The Protector of Citizens joined the appeal by the National Organization of Persons with Disabilities (NOOIS) to the authorities, to make additional efforts and not to cut down community support services, such as supported housing, personal assistants, children personal companions and geronto-housewives.

Mr. Pašalić also warned of a serious problem regarding the personal assistance service operation, in particular the arrival of assistants to the homes of persons with disabilities during the movement ban, as well as the provision of necessary support and assistance to immobile or disabled persons by relatives, friends or persons privately engaged during the restriction of movement in a state of emergency.

Mr. Pašalić indicated that in the state of emergency, it was necessary to take additional protection measures and provide assistance to the inhabitants of substandard Roma settlements, primarily in hygiene packages and food packages.

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