Round Table: The best interest of the child - between theory and practice

On March 4, 2016, in the UK Parobrod NGO Atina organised a Round Table entitled “The best interest of the child - between theory and practice” which brought together representatives of the civil sector, state institutions, social welfare centres, representatives of the academic community and other interested citizens gathered around this topic. The Round Table was organised in cooperation with Save the Children and Group 484 within the project “Setting an Agenda for Child Oriented Social Reform”, with the support of European Union, and with the aim of exchanging experiences on the theory and practice of professionals engaged in consideration and implementation of the concept of the best interest of the child, analysis of the work of civil society organisations and government institutions, as well as in provision of direct support to children on the move in our country.

At the Round Table spoke Prof. Dr. Jelena Vranješević from the Faculty of Philosophy, Prof. Dr. Nevenka Žegarac from the Faculty of Political Science, PhD candidate Maša Avramović from the Faculty of Philosophy, Marko Tošić, Director of the Centre for Youth Integration, and Zorana Parezanović, coordinator of the programme of support for the refugees in Preševo, implemented by NGO Atina, and the present professionals from civil society organisations and state institutions.

The topics which the participants of Round Table had the opportunity to discuss were the best interest of the child - between theory and practice from developmental psychology point of view, difficulties in the implementation of the principles of the best interest of the child, children's participation in the assessment of their best interest, the criteria for assessing, the best interest of children involved in life and work on the streets, as well as refugee children. With the current refugee crisis, and an increase in the number of children on the move, especially in the refugee population, as well as growing obstacles for determining their best interest, imposed opening of a wider debate on this topic. In this sense, everyone present agreed that the discussion on the topic of the best interest of the child is a necessary step, and a direction toward further improvement of the position of children on the move in Serbia.

“A child always has the correct answer to their own question”

At the Round Table, it was said that the assessment of the best interest of the child should be a matter of dialogue between professionals, institutions, parents and children, because only the use of multidisciplinary approach and confrontation of different opinions will provide the conclusion what is in the best interest of the child. It is extremely important that we listen to a child, because that is the only way to gain insight into their needs, as well as their developmental opportunities. When a child is involved in this process, we are getting a perspective that is very often not expected, because the question is who is the one who determines whether that someone is uncritical, adult-centric. It was pointed out that a child should be seen as adventurous and proactive, rather than a passive recipient of other people's decisions.

The participants agreed that children refugees, who are travelling unaccompanied, are exposed to additional trauma and at increased risk of sexual exploitation and abuse, child labour, human trafficking and various forms of abuse and violence, which requires urgent and systematic action. The fact that the system does not treat under-aged refugees as children, but looks at them from the perspective of a migrant status, has been pointed out as one of the main faults. The treatment of these children depends on whether they express the intention to seek asylum or not, which should not be allowed to happen. The conclusion is that these children need to be legally treated as children, and that their migration status should be of secondary importance.

Also, when it comes to those children who are determined to be at risk of human trafficking and other forms of violence, it is necessary to follow their cases, even those where there are no indications of human trafficking. In such cases, it is necessary to inform all competent authorities in other countries through which refugees pass, and also the countries of destination so that they can help in the best possible way. Although statistics show that unaccompanied minors, as well as the general population of refugees, do not remain in Serbia, the assessment of the best interest of these children is crucial because even though the child itself believes that it is in his/her best interest to reach the country of destination as soon as possible, and although parents feel the same way, no one knows what awaits that child, and no one can guarantee that the child will not be exploited or harmed.

Participants agreed that the social welfare system plays a crucial role in improving the position of children on the move in Serbia, and that a serious reform of the system is imminent, and should be supported by civil society organisations as well as other state institutions.

“You begin this journey with countless of questions. You constantly have a sense of uncertainty, insecurity and fear. You have a lot of plans which may come true. You imagine what life could be like. And you hope for a better life.” 

I would like for the others to understand our story - why we embarked on this journey and what we went through. That way, they would know how to help us.

Quotes from Maša Avramović’s publication “When we are asked, not questionedconsultations with children on the move


More photos from the event can be found at the following link: