The organizers of child begging in Serbia have not been prosecuted over the previous year and a half, and hundreds of children "work" on the central streets of all major cities every day. Individual cases of "begging" have, however, been before the misdemeanor courts but only 1,135 were processed in a year and a half, and with six cases for so-called group begging, the Protector of Citizens, Mr. Zoran Pašalić has pointed out in a statement for Tanjug.
Noting that this is a very small number of cases in relation to reality, Mr. Pašalić emphasized that there were minors among the processed persons, and parents were responsible for children under 16, and it was known exactly in which terms and intervals in the year and in which locations it was done, said Pašalić, noting that these were the places where the largest number of citizens moved.
He believes that in order to solve this problem, and in order to protect child interests, better cooperation between the competent institutions is necessary, and he points out that child rights protection and the protection of children themselves is a priority for the Office of the Protector of Citizens.
Therefore, as he stated, the Office of the Protector of Citizens issued a recommendation to the Ministry of Labor and Social Policy to declare null and void the instruction from 2018, which instructed social welfare centers that children who work on the streets and engage in begging should be taken away from their parents in court proceedings, i.e. referred to home accommodation or foster families.
“We think that this was not the best solution because child interests are not protected there. Begging is not just a misdemeanor, and often children who are engaged in begging come from extremely poor families, which is why each case should be observed individually," Mr. Pašalić said explicitly.
He added that each case should be observed individually and consider whether it was an extremely poor family that had no choice but to beg or for children to beg, or it was something else in question. "I may freely name the latter 'organized crime.' I would not like to start qualifying it as a misdemeanor, a crime of human trafficking or something else. The essence is that child interests are a priority ", the Protector of Citizens emphasized.
Regarding a large number of "street children", the Protector of Citizens was provided an explanation from the Ministry of Labor that they do not have good cooperation with the police and the communal militia on this issue. “If there is a problem in the cooperation, we will seek its improvement. We request that each case of a child who is engaged in begging be viewed separately", said Mr. Pašalić.
Noting that re-occurrence in begging (repetition of the same offense by the same persons) is extremely common, he believes that repeated occurrence would be prevented precisely by observing each of these cases individually in order to determine the causes of why these children are on the street and engaged in street work.
When it comes to social welfare centers, whose actions are often criticized by his Office, the Protector of Citizens stated that they mostly emphasized the understaffing and poor working conditions for the shortcomings in their work. "We do not think that this is the only cause, but we believe that according to the number of cases or such an environment where a larger number of cases is expressed, the Ministry of Labor should provide for a larger number of employees, so that they can cope with persons in need of social welfare", stated Mr. Pašalić.
According to the data of the Ministry of Labor, which were submitted to the Protector of Citizens, based on periodic reports of the social welfare centers, in Serbia in the past period, protection was provided for a total of 96 "street children". Twenty of them were placed in a foster family, 44 children in homes for children without parental care or a reception center, and 28 children were taken away from their parents and court proceedings were initiated to deprive their parents of their parental rights. Also, relocation from the family is planned for four children because interventions in training parents to adequately exercise parental rights did not have a positive outcome.
With 82 families and 11 minors, it is planned and, the process is on track, to set up parental competence, so that children could stay in their family environment, and 67 families are being monitored by the guardianship authorities at the social welfare centers.
Mr. Pašalić says that in addition, he insists on adequate protection of "street children" and draws attention to the need for more efficient prosecution of those who organize the work of those children on the street and their more drastic punishment ", because, as he reminded," in a year and a half no report has been filed against the organizers".
The Law on Public Order and Peace provides for a fine for individual begging of 5,000 to 10,000 dinars or imprisonment for up to 30 days, and in the case of a crime committed in a group of three or more persons, a fine of 10,000 to 30,000 dinars is imposed or imprisonment for up to 30 days.