The Protector of Citizens identified shortcomings in the work of the competent authorities, above all the Centre for Social Work Vršac, because they did not treat a two-year-old child, who was choked by his father in his apartment, as a victim of domestic violence, which they were obliged to do by order of the Ministry of Labour, Employment, Veteran and Social Affairs from 2019, as a result of which there was no planning and taking measures to protect the child from domestic violence.
On his own initiative, and based on media information that a father killed his minor child in Vršac and then committed suicide, at the beginning of October 2022, the Protector of Citizens launched an investigation to control the legality and regularity of work of the Provincial Secretariat for Social Policy, Demography and Gender Equality, with with a request to supervise the professional work of the CSW Vršac and the Ministry of Interior.
During the control, the Protector of Citizens determined that after the mother's report of domestic violence, the competent authorities assessed the high risk of recurrence of violence and developed a plan of measures to protect the mother, but that the child, who witnessed domestic violence, was not recognized and treated as a victim of violence. Therefore, the Protector of Citizens requests that the competent authorities undertake activities to amend the Law on the Prevention of Domestic Violence, which would stipulate that a child is a victim of violence whenever he or she witnesses domestic violence against a family member or close person.
In the report submitted to the Protector of Citizens, the Provincial Secretariat for Social Policy, Demography and Gender Equality stated that after the supervision of the work of the CSW Vršac, it was concluded that the centre made several omissions in its work, primarily because it had drawn up a plan for protection against violence for the mother, but not for the child, as a potential victim of violence, as a result of which the risks to the safety and security of the child were not assessed.
The Provincial Secretariat further states that by order of the Ministry of Labour, Employment, Veteran and Social Affairs dated 21 February 2019, given to the directors of centres for social work in the territory of Serbia, specialists of the centres in the work on protection against domestic violence should always and without exception treat children who witness domestic or partner violence as victims of violence, abuse or neglect.
The Provincial Secretariat informed the Protector of Citizens that due to the identified omissions, it has submitted a criminal complaint to the Basic Public Prosecutor's Office in Vršac against the responsible person of CSW Vršac and employees of that body, that in mid-October 2022, it submitted an initiative to the Assembly of the City of Vršac for the dismissal of the acting director of CSW Vršac and that due to the omissions, it asked the director of the centre to determine the responsibilities of the employees.
However, the Protector of Citizens also established that the Provincial Secretariat made an omission because, after identifying deficiencies in the work of the CSW Vršac in relation to ensuring the comprehensive protection of the family, it did not instruct the head of the centre that the professional workers, in their future work, must act according to the order of the line ministry and that children who witnessed family or partner violence are always and without exception treated as victims of violence.
The Protector of Citizens further established from the statement of the MoI that the mother filed a domestic violence report against the father to the Vršac police in April 2022, that on the same day the father was ordered to be removed from the apartment and prohibited from approaching the mother, as well as that two months later, the Basic Court in Vršac issued a verdict banning the father from approaching the mother and further harassing and contacting the mother for one year.
In the recommendations for eliminating omissions, the Protector of Citizens asked the competent authorities to undertake activities to amend the Law on the Prevention of Domestic Violence, which would prescribe special provisions on dealing with cases of violence against children, including provisions that stipulate that a child is a victim of violence whenever he or she witnesses domestic violence against a family member or a close person.
The Protector of Citizens further asked the director of CSW Vršac to take all measures to ensure that professional workers, in their future work, act in accordance with the order of the Ministry of Labour, Employment, Veteran and Social Affairs in Belgrade from 2019, and that children who witness domestic or partner violence are always and without exception treated as victims of violence and that, accordingly, plans and measures are undertaken, aimed at protecting the child.
Also, the Protector of Citizens requested the MoI and the Ministry of Family Welfare and Demography, in cooperation with the Provincial Secretariat, to provide continuous educations for employees who act in cases of domestic violence and who are members of coordination and cooperation groups at basic public prosecutor's offices, in order to acquire knowledge related to assessing the risk of violence, prevention, suppression and protection from domestic violence and especially from abuse and neglect of children as victims of violence.