Children younger than 3-years old still being placed in institutions in Serbia
Belgrade, 13 July 2022 - Globally, Serbia is one of the countries with the lowest percentage of children in institutions (under 100 children per 100,000 children). In fact, Serbia is an example of good practice in this area. In 2011, the country introduced a legal ban on the placement of children below three years of age in residential care. The law also clearly emphasizes prevention of child/parent separation – when this is in the best interests of the child.
While Serbia has made considerable progress in reducing the overall number of children in residential institutions in the past decade, it is of great concern that children aged 0-3 continue to be placed in shelters and large-scale institutional care for extended periods of time. Moreover, children with disabilities are still overrepresented in institutional care. Their stay has become long-term, and they are often placed together with adults. In fact, children with disabilities continue to make up over 70% of all children in residential care institutions. It is a matter of concern that the COVID-19 pandemic has slowed down the process of de-institutionalization.
Now is the time to recommit and accelerate the process of de-institutionalization. There is an urgent need to accord priority to community-based alternative social services, reduce the number of children aged 0-3 in institutions, keep it in the legally defined timeframe and expedite placement in family-based care. UNICEF stands ready to support this process.
The Strategy for Deinstitutionalization and Development of Community Based Services, which was adopted at the beginning of this year, is a good step in the right direction, especially as it also envisages the ban on the placement of children below 7 years of age in residential care. This will pose a challenge to the system, which needs to be ready and ensure that children and their families have access to quality services in places where they live. This is of crucial importance, as every day spent in institutional care can be detrimental to a child’s development.
All actors in this process need to take immediate steps to accelerate progress on fulfilling the rights of children, especially those most vulnerable, and secure the much-needed financial resources to ensure that children remain in their families whenever possible. And UNICEF is committed to continue and strengthen its support to the Serbian Government’s efforts to take immediate action in this area.
Serbia has already demonstrated that it is possible to achieve measurable results. We are aware of the challenges but are also confident that with strong focus and continued commitment and partnerships we can ensure that every young child, especially under three years of age, starts life in a caring family environment.
UNICEF promotes the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do. Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere.
For more information about UNICEF and its work for children, visit www.unicef.org/serbia