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Serbia commits to fully end placing children under three in institutions by 2015


SOFIA, 21 November 2012 – Eastern European and Central Asian governments are joining forces to boost a growing movement  to support vulnerable families and end placing children under three in institutions.

At least 1.3 million children in the region are separated from their families often because of poverty or their families` inability to cope due to stressful circumstances, reveals the study of Children under the age of three in formal care in Eastern Europe and Central Asia: a rights-based regional situation analysis. It waslaunched today at a two day regional ministerial conference in Bulgaria, attended by delegates from 20 countries, and hosted by Government of Bulgaria under the patronage of the President Rosen Plevneliev in collaboration with UNICEF.

The aim of the conference is to share experiences and promote mutual learning so governments can create and implement policies giving stronger support to families. Countries can work together to prevent the placement of children, particularly the youngest, into institutions.

"The Convention of the Rights of the Child recognizes how important it is to provide support to families so that children can grow up in a family environment. The family is the most nurturing place for a child. Our region has challenges but also useful knowledge on how to overcome them. We aim to create a network of solidarity where countries work together to give children the best start in life," said Marie-Pierre Poirier, UNICEF Regional Director for Central and Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States.

Romania, Serbia and Croatia are the only three countries in the region which have approved laws to prevent infants being sent into institutions. More countries are expected to do so following this conference.

“Serbia had already demonstrated that it was possible to achieve measurable results. Over the past 6 years in Serbia the number of children in residential care has been reduced by 50%, the largest reduction being for children under 3 years of age where there has been a drop of nearly 80%.”, she UNICEF Area Representative Judita Reichenberg, commending Serbia’s achievements. 

“The Government of the Republic of Serbia recognizes that implementation of the new legal framework requires a greater focus on prevention of family separation, particularly when it comes to young children under three. It therefore commits itself to fully end the institutionalization of children under three, and to significantly reduce unnecessary parent-child separation, including preventing baby abandonment”, stated Ms. Brankica Jankovic, State Secretary, Ministry of Labour, Employment and Social Policy of the Republic of Serbia, addressing the conference.

The Regional study underlines that current resources spent on looking after children deprived of parental care can be better invested in multisectoral and tailored family-based services.

It also emphasizes that institutional care should be used only when strictly necessary as an existing body of knowledge shows that for every three months spent within such an institution, a child`s physical development was delayed by one month. Children are also more likely to suffer from an inability to bond with parents and their brains are likely to deteriorate.

The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (2010), and the Guidelines on the Alternative care of Children (2009), have reinforced the obligation of States to develop community-based alternatives to institutionalization. Last year, in the European Parliament, UNICEF and the Office of the High commissioner for Human Rights called on governments in the region to restrict placement of children in institutions.
Governments are urged to:

  • Boost capacity-building and set standards of practice for maternity ward and paediatric hospital staff to support parents of newborns with a disability and parents from most vulnerable groups to prevent family separation;
  • Change legislation to restrict the placement of children under three in institutions, to be used only as a last resort and in the best interest of children.
  • Establish or further develop appropriate family-based responses and services to support to biological or foster care families for children below three years of age;
  • Eliminate all barriers preventing children deprived of parental care to be placed in foster care or other forms of family-based care;
  • Give priority to allocation of resources for appropriate local services allowing alternative solutions for children below three, with special attention to the needs of children with disabilities; This includes advocating for European Commission`s development funds - often used to support institutions - to help countries transition to family-based services.
  • Partnership with media and civil society to promote social inclusion of children deprived of parental care and of children with disabilities.

For further information please contact:

UNICEF Office in Serbia:
Katlin Brasic, Child Protection Specialist, 011 / 3602-136,

Regional UNICEF Office in Geneva:
Lely Djuhari, CEE/CIS Regional Office, + 41 792044482, 



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