Unacceptable silence of the administration in Serbia

Unacceptable silence of the administration regarding the findings on the systemic abuse of children with disabilities in social protection institutions

June 29, 2021

The Platform of Organizations for Cooperation with UN Human Rights Mechanisms expresses deep concern over the situation in social protection institutions, and evidence of systemic abuse of children with developmental issues and disabilities in these institutions by which the Republic of Serbia violates international obligations as well as its own Constitution and laws that prohibit discrimination on the grounds of disability.

The report Serbia’s Forgotten Children which was published on June 24, 2021, by Disability Rights International and Mental Disability Rights Initiative of Serbia MDRI-S documents that Serbia has failed to address severe human rights violations and abuses in its institutions that constitute inhuman and degrading treatment – and in some cases amount to torture. The position of women and girls in these facilities is particularly alarming, as they are given birth control without their knowledge or consent, which could be a cover for systematic sexual abuse and exploitation going on in some facilities.

The results of the conducted research clearly show that children with disabilities are primarily denied their right to life, and consequently other guaranteed rights as well. The report presents cases of severe neglect and lack of health care that represent a risk for the life and health of the child.

Of particular concern is the still present placement of infants and young children in institutions, despite the general ban on the placement of children under the age of three. It has been proven that accommodation in residential institutions in Serbia, and growing up without love and individual attention within the family, is dangerous for the mental and physical health of the child and inevitably leads to the occurrence and worsening of developmental difficulties.

Despite the fact that the Republic of Serbia is formally committed to a deinstitutionalization process that would put a stop to systemic abuse, a review of the most recent drafts of relevant laws and deinstitutionalization strategies makes it clear that there is no intention to carry out this process in the near future. In practice, Serbia continues to direct the largest investments towards “strengthening human resources [social protection institutions], but also infrastructure, from the construction of new facilities to the reconstruction and adaptation of existing ones”, which is confirmed by Minister Kisić Tepavčević’s statement of June 22, 2021.

Knowing that the authorities are well aware of the violations of rights of children and adults in institutions, the Platform expresses particular concern over the administration's silence and refusal to discuss the findings with civil society organizations, as well as to take responsibility for the current condition.

Given the alarming situation in social protection institutions, the Platform of Organizations for Cooperation with UN Human Rights Mechanisms demands an urgent response from the Government of the Republic of Serbia, including public accountability, as well as an immediate implementation of measures to protect the human rights of children and adults in institutions, which entails:

  • A guaranteed and enforced right to family life for all children consistent with the obligations interpreted by the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in General Comment No. 5 to the Convention. The law in Serbia should guarantee the right of all children to live and grow up with a family, and that services and support are available to families so as to ensure that no family is forced to give up a child due to poverty or disability.
  • Provision of adequate professional and financial support for families to prevent separation and institutionalization, and to protect the right of parents with disabilities to keep their children. Programs should be targeted to help families at the highest risk - including families of children with disabilities, single mothers, and children living in poverty.
  • Ensuring that all children have equal opportunities to live in an extended family, kinship, or foster care when parents are unable to care for the child. The state has an obligation to make available a wide range of support services that will help families and prospective foster parents adequately care for the child.
  • Investments to be directed towards the prevention of institutionalization, not strengthening of institutions. Serbia has an immediate obligation to focus all available resources on family support and community service development, rather than on moving children from larger to smaller institutions. It is necessary to:

○ Amend the Law on Social Welfare so as to prohibit the admission of children into institutions, including children with disabilities;

○ Cancel the plans for the establishment of “small group homes” as they undermine further enforcement of children’s rights;

○ Urgently develop plans for the closure of institutions and allocation of funds for sustainable support services to families in order to ensure adequate protection of children within the community;

  • Ensuring that children with disabilities have access to all services in the community without discrimination, which includes:

○ Access to adequate medical care, unhindered and urgent access to all vital treatments, as well as treatments to reduce pain;

○ Equal access to inclusive education for all children with disabilities throughout the country;

  • Ending torture and other forms of abuse in residential institutions.
  • Protection of girls and women with disabilities from sexual abuse and denial of reproductive rights, and criminalization of forced abortions and sterilization of women in institutions.
  • Protection of children from institutional placement as they become adults and provision of support for their independent living in the community.
  • Lastly, we demand that the Government of the Republic of Serbia provides nongovernmental organizations, and especially organizations of persons with disabilities, permanent access to institutions for the purpose of preventive, unannounced and independent professional monitoring, in accordance with Article 33 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.


On behalf of the Platform, the statement is signed by the following organizations: 

  • Lawyers’ Committee for Human Rights – Yucom
  • A11 – Initiative for Economic and Social Rights
  • Child Rights Centre
  • Astra
  • Mental Disability Rights Initiative of Serbia MDRI-S
  • International Aid Network IAN
  • Network of Organizations for Children of Serbia MODS
  • Yurom Centre
  • Belgrade Centre for Human  Rights
  • FemPlatz
  • NGO Atina
  • SOS Vojvodina
  • Centre for Support of Women