After the information from the media that a privately-owned kindergarten in which a child with developmental difficulties was enrolled cancelled the agreement on his stay in the educational institution, the Protector of Citizens launched an investigation to control work legality and regularity of the Secretariat for Education and Children’s Welfare of Belgrade City Administration.
The Protector of Citizens has learned from the media that the child’s mother approached the education inspection because privately owned kindergarten cancelled the agreement unilaterally “due to the lack of the institution's capacity to continue educational work with the child” and that this is the third kindergarten which excluded this child with developmental difficulties from its activities.
The competent Secretariat has a 15-day deadline to notify the Protector of Citizens on all circumstances and measures undertaken in reference with this case.
Today, the Protector of Citizens submitted to the National Assembly of the Republic of Serbia Regular Annual Report on its activities and state of play regarding human rights in the Republic of Serbia in 2021, which it is bound to do under the Law on the Protector of Citizens.
Regular Annual Report of the Protector of Citizens lays out the challenges that this independent state institution was encountering during 2021 in the protection of human rights amid extraordinary circumstances caused by the pandemic of Covid-19 contagious disease, together with the successes achieved by the Protector of Citizens within its mandate.
In the Regular Annual Report for 2021, the Protector of Citizens, among other things, presented the data on the activities in previous year, shortcomings identified in the work of administrative authorities, recommendations for improving the practice and normative regulations of individual areas, the suggestions for improving the position of citizens in relation to administrative authorities, as well as the data on implementing recommendations and suggestions from previous reports.
According to the Law on the Protector of Citizens, the Protector of Citizens submits regular annual report to the National Assembly no later than 15 March of the current year for previous one and publishes it in the Official Gazette of the Republic of Serbia and on its web page.
Today, the Protector of Citizens of the Republic of Serbia, Mr. Zoran Pašalić, spoke with the Ombudswoman of Ukraine, Ms. Lyudmila Denisova on the concrete assistance to Ukrainian refugees who are located in our country and on preventing potential danger that the refugees, primarily women and children, become the victims of human trafficking.
In the online conversation, organized upon the request of Ms. Denisova, Mr. Pašalić announced that as soon as possible he would visit the citizens of Ukraine who fled to the Republic of Serbia in order to get acquainted with the situation they are in and get informed on the types of assistance they needed, and primarily in order to prevent that the refugees from Ukraine be exposed to danger of human trafficking.
“The Protector of Citizens of the Republic of Serbia has been mandated by the new Law to conduct tasks of the National Rapporteur in the field of Human Trafficking. The team I cooperate with and myself will make efforts to prevent such situation from happening in the Republic of Serbia, said Pašalić.
Mr. Pašalić highlighted that his activities regarding the protection of Ukrainian refugees would take two directions: securing decent living conditions during their stay at the territory of the Republic of Serbia and preventing the possibility that they become victims of human trafficking; and he assured the Ukrainian Ombudswoman that he would speak to the colleagues from the region in order to point out to them the potential danger of refugees becoming the victims of human trafficking.
The Ombudswoman of Ukraine thanked Pašalić for his sympathies and support that he extended towards the refugees from Ukraine and stated that according to the data of her Office 13,000 of Ukrainian citizens have passed through the Republic of Serbia, and about 2,000 of them have stayed in our country.
Ms. Denisova stressed that the talks that Mr. Pašalić intended to hold with Ombudspersons from the region were very important for the position of Ukrainian refugees, particularly in the light of the forthcoming session of European Network of National Human Rights Institutions (ENNHRI) where the member states will be urged to accept the refugees from Ukraine and ensure decent living conditions.
Early this month, Pašalić spoke with Russian Ombudswoman Ms. Tatiana Moskalkova on the situation of refugees from Ukraine and appealed for cooperation of Russian and Ukrainian Ombudswomen regarding the protection of the rights of refugees.
On the grounds of media information on peer violence in Technical School “Buda Davidović” in Obrenovac, the Protector of Citizens launched own-initiative investigation to control work legality and regularity of the Ministry of Education, Science and Technological Development.
The Protector of Citizens learned from the media that two minor students of that school had a fight on 9 March 2022 in the park near the Gerontology Center in Obrenovac, as well as that one student was referred to Obrenovac Health Center, and the other participant of that fight quit the school.
The Protector of Citizens requested the competent Ministry to notify the Institution within 15 days on all the circumstances related to media allegations as well as on the measures and activities taken in the specific case.
The Deputy Protector of Citizens for Gender Equality Jelena Stojanović pointed out to the difficult position of women from rural areas, primarily because they are not economically independent, and they frequently have difficult access to healthcare, social and other services in the community and called on them to contact the Protector of Citizens for any violation of their rights.
“Women from rural areas rarely own property, they do not always exercise the right to pension, until recently there was no legal ground to rate numerous hours that they spend in doing unpaid house work, looking after other members of the family, household and agricultural farms, “said Stojanović at the forum “Preventing violence against elderly women in the conditions of the pandemic and challenges to accessing services of social welfare and health care” At the event in Topola, Stojanović said that women often have more difficult access to healthcare, social and other services in the community, as well as public transport and called on them to approach the Protector of Citizens in any situation when they believe that their rights were violated or when the competent authorities failed to take measures within their competences in order for women, particularly the elderly, to exercise their rights.
The Deputy Protector of Citizens highlighted that it is necessary to work on raising women’s awareness, particularly the elderly ones, about different forms of domestic violence and on the protection mechanisms that are at their disposal, as well as about the fact that it is very important to empower the women in rural areas to exercise and protect their rights.
The representative of the Volunteers’ Center in Topola, Ms. Svetlana Mladenović stated that the center employed geronto-housewives from the villages: Blaznava, Šatorije, Lipovac and the others who, during the pandemic had continuously delivered food and medication at the beneficiaries’ doorsteps and sanitary material.
The representative of the Association "Snaga prijateljstva-Amity", Nadežda Satarić, pointed out that a third of the volunteers are elderly people who in that way promote active aging, preventing loneliness and enabling them to be of assistance to someone who is in a more difficult situation.
"In that way, physical and mental activity and exchange of positive emotions is achieved between volunteers and those people they help. The competent authorities should create a valid legal basis for improving the position of women in the countryside, and women should not permit that they are not owners of at least part of the property because everyone, including their children, will appreciate them more if they have something of their own", said Satarić.
The gathering was attended by many volunteers from the Volunteers’ Center "Koraci" in Topola, but also from the surrounding villages of Lipovac, Blaznava, Šatorije, Žabar, Vinča, Kićevac, Jablanovac, Natalinac and Kloka, who pointed out that during the pandemic they did not have sufficient access to health care services, especially when health care workers were supposed to go out on the field and help immobile patients.
The forum is part of the project "Promotion of non-discrimination and protection from violence against the elderly women in a pandemic”, supported by the Ministry of Human and Minority Rights and Social Dialogue, within the program "Implementation of anti-discrimination policies in the Republic of Serbia for 2021", financed from the budget of the Republic of Serbia.
Based on the information from the media on possible physical abuse of a beneficiary of a privately-owned care home at the municipality of Voždovac in Belgrade, the Protector of Citizens launched own-initiative investigation to control work legality and regularity of the Ministry of Labor, Employment, Veteran and Social Affairs.
The Protector of Citizens requested the competent ministry to notify the Institution within 15 days about all the circumstances and measures that were taken in this case, whether the private care home is licensed, whether they have received reports over the work of this care home in the past, whether they conducted inspections in this home, whether they have previously identified irregularities in the work and what measures they have taken.
On 15 March 2022, the Protector of Citizens was informed from media reports that the grandson found the beneficiary of the private care home in Belgrade with scratches on her face, contusions on her hands and a lot of bruises. According to media reports, the employees and the owner of the home made contradictory statements regarding the cause of the injuries.
Today, the Protector of Citizens launched on his own initiative, and in regard to detailed information in the media pointing to the identity of the child from Belgrade who has been sexually abused, the investigations to control regularity and legality of the competent bodies’ work and urged the media not to publish data that could reveal the identity of the child victim when covering these cases.
“The media published parents’ statements and names, an image of the house, and these data may reveal the identity of the child. In this way, the child victim is additionally traumatized and victimized which might impact the recovery process. I urge the media once again not to publish, when covering such sensitive cases, the data that may reveal child victim’s identity”, said the Protector of Citizens, Zoran Pašalić.
The Protector of Citizens launched the investigations to control regularity and legality of the work of the City Center for Social Welfare in Belgrade, Regulatory Authority of Electronic Media (REM) and the Ministry of Culture and Information.
The Protector of Citizens has requested City Center for Social Welfare in Belgrade to notify him within 15 days on the circumstances of the case, while REM and the Ministry of Culture and Information are requested to initiate adequate procedures in order to determine whether such media coverage is compliant with the Law, take related measures within their competence and notify the Protector of Citizens on the matter within 15 days.
The Protector of Citizens determined that the measures of the prohibition of movement, during the state of emergency caused by the pandemic of contagious COVID-19 virus, had negative impact on the exercise of different rights of children and that they had particularly negative impact on the realization of the rights of children with disabilities, but also on their further psychophysical development.
In “Protector of Citizens’ Special Report on the impact of the regulations and measures for curbing the spread of COVID-19 infectious disease on child rights”, which was presented today in Palata Srbija (Palace of Serbia), the right to maintaining personal relations with the parent with whom the child does not live and right to use the service of social protection (day care) were mostly subject of violations during the state of emergency as well as after it terminated.
Due to the impossibility of using the day care service, children with developmental disabilities withdrew into themselves, and according to the parents’ statements, the introduced measures had negative medium-term and long-term impacts on the child: hindering development, lasting negative effect, slow return to routine and deterioration of mental development, shows the Special Report of the Protector of Citizens.
In the Special Report in the Recommendations for rectifying the shortcomings, the Protector of Citizens stated that prior to adopting similar measures, the decision makers should consider potential negative impacts on certain categories of children, and take into account parents’ professional responsibilities and in compliance with that provide adequate support to children with developmental disabilities.
In addition, competent authorities should include, in adopting similar measures, children, parents and employees in social welfare institutions, while the competent Ministry should ensure that employees in day cares make individual plans of support to children in case of re-imposed prohibition of movement and that the work in such circumstances should be organized via online platforms.
Prior to the presentation of the report, Zoran Pašalić, the Protector of Citizens, said that both during the state of emergency and nowadays, the Institution he headed placed the focus of its activities on the protection of the most vulnerable part of population – children, elderly, people with disabilities and poverty-stricken.
"Our Special Report summarizes all activities carried out by the Protector of Citizens during the state of emergency to protect the rights of the child and refers not only to children with special needs but to all children who were endangered in such a situation," said Pašalić.
Pašalić emphasized that emergency situations required emergency response, change of work methods and adjustment to new conditions, and that epidemiological measures had changed during the state of emergency and, accordingly, the problems of citizens, which the Protector of Citizens reacted to, advised and submitted initiatives for changes in regulations.
Before the presentation of the report, UNICEF Director Deyana Kostadinova said that the measures of the Republic of Serbia to prevent the spread of the pandemic had been prompt and decisive, but that they had limited some children's rights and expressed confidence that the competent institutions would implement the recommendations contained in the Special Report in order to avoid possible similar situations.
Deputy Protector of Citizens for Child Rights Jelena Stojanović said while presenting the report that the reasons for restricting children's rights during the state of emergency included complicated procedure for obtaining a movement permit during movement ban, poor coordination of authorities and the inability to transform the day care needed to preserve and develop child's potential into activities that can be carried out remotely.
The Special Report of the Protector of Citizens has been compiled in cooperation with the European Network of Ombudspersons for Children (ENOC) supported by the UNICEF Office in Belgrade.