Protector of citizens was hosted in TV Prva show “Jutro”.

Police, judiciary, centers for social work – who is to blame because the father, who kept a girl locked in the apartment as a slave had the custody of the child? How is it possible that the Center for social work said that the father cannot get the custody and the court decided he can? Since the child was born, the family has been in the records of the City center for social work Belgrade. The public asks who is responsible for the girl’s invisibility to the system. The guest in “Jutro” is protector of citizens Zoran Pašalić who initiated the oversight procedure of legality and regularity of operation of six competent authorities and court decision of the First Basic Court in Belgrade. Thank you for being our guest this morning! Mr. Pašalić, could you tell us in the beginning which competent authorities have you sent the request to make the statement and send their findings on this case?

- Initially, I have to correct you – pursuant to the Law on the Protector of Citizens and Constitution of the Republic of Serbia, the Protector of Citizens cannot control the work of courts, we can only by the act on cooperation, which is its official name, to address the competent court to obtain information if there are ongoing or completed proceedings and what is the final outcome of proceedings in terms of acquisition of parental right and deprivation of parental right without the possibility to enter, as it is legally said, into meritum, that is, the court decision and assess it.

Which institutions have you asked for the information on this specific case?

- As for other institutions where we can perform an oversight and where we found out from the media, which are firstly the Ministry of the family care and demography, then the Ministry of Interior, City Center for Social Work which includes two municipalities, that is two departments, and these are Palilula department and Zvezdara department. Then we asked from local self-government, that is Zvezdara municipality. Also, our request refers also to the Health care center of the competent municipality and, as I said, by the act of cooperation we contacted the First Basic Court where the proceedings for granting or depriving parental right was conducted, that is, who will have the custody of the girl.

Even before your request, the Center for Social Work said that after the girl was born the proceedings for deprivation of parental right of both parents was initiated, but the competent court later passed the decision to grant custody of the child to the father.

- That is correct. That was the Center for Social Work Palilla when the girl was born and it was the year of 2015, due to their evaluation that the girl is raised in inadequate conditions and due to the status it was confirmed that both parents were drug addicts. On this occasion it was confirmed, but later the court passed the decision and granted custody to the father of the child, who had the child and therefore the Center for Social Work of Zvezdara municipality assumed the responsibility and assumed the care within its competences.

In the introduction we asked that question and everyone asked how is it possible for the Center for Social Work to pass, that is suggest one way of taking care of the child and the court to pass different decision. Here, the court made a statement to this topic and they say that in a lawsuit of the City Center for Social Work, Palilula department, dated April 5, 2016, it was requested to entirely deprive mother of the parental right and to deprive Uroš Pašajlić partially of the parental right with regards to the child. The First Basic Court in Belgrade in 2018 passed the final verdict in which mother was partially deprived of parental right in terms of the right to keeping, raising, educating, presenting, managing and disposing of the property of the minor child. In the remaining part, in which it was requested to entirely deprive the mother of parental right and to deprive partially the father of the parental right, that request was rejected. Now, we all ask why it was rejected. They respond to this that the decision was made on the basis of the findings and opinion of the Commission of court expert witnesses of the Clinic for psychiatric diseases “Dr Laza Lazarevic” dated May 31, 2017 in which it says that there is no intention of neglecting parental duties with the mother and that the father was estimated as an adequate parent with psychological and material dispositions to assume independent care of the child. What is your comment to this?

- If you are asking for responses, I really cannot comment on the court decision. The court is unviolable here, especially in terms of everything referring to the explanation you partially read, that is, that you read on the basis of which the court verdict was passed. But by this act on cooperation we expect to get information very quickly, even though the deadline period is 15 days and it is whether there are ongoing proceedings and everything with regards to that. Or whether the proceedings are completed, what the outcome is and everything related to the proceedings.

This results in a logical question – why the Clinic for psychiatric diseases “Dr Laza Lazarevic” is not on the list of institutions to whom you sent the request?

- The reasons are because the findings of the clinic were incorporated in the court verdict. The court verdict itself confirms them and we cannot question them because they are in the court verdict. There is another question now – who in this chain of those who had contacts or had to have contact with the girl, failed. And there is a range of obligations which all of the named ones, subject to oversight procedure, had to do to confirm in these eight years, which is the age of the girl, that the girl does not live in adequate or lives in very bad conditions.

Also there is the questions if it is possible for experts from Clinic “Dr Laza Lazarevic” to have failed to notice that something like this could occur when they reviewed this case?

- This is something you have to ask them. I really don’t want to comment on their decision, again, because it is incorporated in the court verdict. The court took into consideration their findings and opinion and based on their findings and opinion it passed the decision it passed.

Yes, it passed the decision that the father, as I said was adequate, that is the parent with psychological and material dispositions for assuming independent care of minor girl. Regardless of that, was the Center for Social Work obliged to control the conditions in which that child lived?

- Absolutely! It was the obligation not just of the center. The child grew and therefore met the conditions to, pursuant to the Law on the fundamentals of the education system, go to preschool institution and then to school. There is also local self-government, which pursuant to the Law I mentioned was obliged to inform territorially competent school by late February for the current year that the certain chuld should start that school. Then, there is no feedback 15 days before the beginning of the school year if the child was registered in that school. Then, whether the child attends the school on which parents are notified if the child is absent from school. Moving on, there is the situation in Health care center whether the child has ever been examined. If it has, whether it was confirmed what had to be confirmed and that is if there are any mental and physical characteristics for its age. We had numerous cases where childen until the age of five still haven’t started speaking, then we went into a deeper analysis of evertything and who failed there. Also, in terms of hygiene, whether the child was adequately treated and wheter there are physical injuries of the child which could be related to domestic violence. And what is also very important is that the child has to be vaccinated in order to, and it is the obligation, attend preschool and school.  

So it means that if the child came for some examinations to Health care center, the doctor is obliged to inform whom, Center for Social Work?

- Correct. If it is noticed that the child has injuries which may be caused in a violent manner, he or she is obliged to inform police.

You asked for information, all that you mentioned, if the child attended preschool, if it went for medical examination and similar. The psychologist and supervisor of the Service of childer of the City Center for Social Work Belgrade said that no one informed that the child didn’t go to these institutions and to medical examinations.

- I will verify that in 15 days.

But it is evident that you will get the same response.

- It doesn’t matter. If we get the same response, we will go further to see why, who is responsible in that case. I quoted to you – this is the law, it is not a fantasy of the Protector of Citizens. This law must be observed, otherwise there is a great responsibility.

And you said up to 15 days.

- Before the beginning of school year there is the information if the child was registered or not to start the first year of primary school.

And who verifies if the child goes to necessary examinations and who verifies if the child was vaccinated? And who should inform the Center for Social Work about that?

- The child goes to certain mandatory examinations and the competent health care institutions takes care about that. They verify that.

They should be controlling that. Do you think that here, let’s say, the entire system failed in several segments?

- Note, the fact is that the girl is in this condition. So, someone in this system, among these six authorities certainly failed to do their job. It is our responsibility to confirm who did, whether everyone or someone in this range and to ask for the responsibility of that person, institution, authority.

But how to solve all this systemically?

- systemically, and I have been saying that for five and a half years. It is the connectedness of the system where everyone informs everyone on their part of the job. And everyone has the image on a specific person. This connectedness is absolutely necessary. If there is no such connectedness, then, to put it figuratively, in these cracks of the system these cases will emerge and there are a lot of them and they are before the Protector of Citizens.

These days, it seems, that is in last couple of days since we found out about this case, all eyes are on the Center for Social Work, which said that this decision on custody was passed in 2017.

- I think it’s 2018.

Yes, 2018. This finding of the Clinic “Dr Laza Lazarevic” is from 2017. So in 2018 the court verdict was passed to grant custody to the father and from the center for social work they said that they controlled for two more years after that the conditions in which the child lived. Why only two years?

- They controlled, that is, should have controlled all the time, especially if there was a doubt that the child didn’t live in adequate conditions. Regardless of the fact the child neglecting is a criminal act pursuant to Article 193 of the Criminal Law, I don’t want to go into the very quote of the criminal act now where the stipulated penalty is up to three years of prison. It can be committed by the parent, guardian, person in charge of keeoing or anyone else. For the same reason there is the obligation to control the situation especially if there is a doubt that the child lived in inadequate conditions or was neglected or, as the law puts it, it was grossly neglected.

What the media reported yesterday, which may not be true, we will take it with cauton, was that neigbors said that they called the police on multiple occasions, that they reported that there was some form of child abuse, that they never saw her leaving the house. What is your comment on that and how the police maybe should have reacted?

- We contacted the Ministry of Interior now. What is evident, I don’t know about this specific case, is that in principle the neighbors, those who could know that in a family living in their proximity or next to them, there is violence or neglecting, do not dare in most of the cases to report that. I urged on numerous occasions and plead our citizens to react in such situations. Not in a legally prescribed manner. There is the obligation of reporting a criminal act, but it is the question whether there is a criminal act or something else. But I think that it is humane to report for the simple reason because frequently the repercussions may have the worst final outcome,which is murder. Here, we start working today on a case of femicide, we will start today, that in the case of a murder or leathal outcome was preceeded for several years by a relation that neighbours knes about, cousins even close friends, but they didn’t report it. Why? Fear, not wanting to cause problems, thinking that it is only their problem, that is, of these in whose family or community it occurred. And then, of course, we have the most tragical result we may have or like this one, which we also consider tragical. Even thought the girl, thank God, survived. 

I wanted to ask you if you have the information what is her condition and what will happen with the girl?

- As for her health condition, we don’t have the information, but we will certainly see what the decision will be. I cannot prejudge the decision if the child will be sent to an institution or foster family or if someone else will start taking care of the child, in terms of relatives or anyone else, but we will certainly monitor that.

You have just mentioned tragical outcomes of such stories. Here fortunately it was not the case. But we all recall Vršac where father strangled his child. You also sent the request then and asked for information from competent authorities. And you asked in fact the information also for the case of the girl from the village near Zaječar who died afterwards…

- Yes, it occurred in previous years. Not to number now all of them. There were really so many cases.

When we look back to these cases, what does your practice say? You also gave them the deadline of 15 days then. Have they replied specifically in the cases of the girls from Vršac and Zaječar?

- They replied, but the moment was that we constantly insisted to punish responsible persons because we don’t have the right to punish, no sanction. We issued this request to competent authorities. And what is more important than the punishment itself…

Аnd what was confirmed, who should be punished?

- You mean in those three cases?


- I cannot recall, don’t be mad. But what is more important is the connectedness of the system. It is what we are constantly talking about. Everyone should inform everyone when it is indicated to a problem in any environment, family, community because it is the only manner to determine responsibility and what is more important is that in such situation you prevent a bad, tragic outcome. This lact of notification, lack of cooperation is practically the cause.

And let’s see the results now, we also asked our viewers who failed, who is to blame. 91% of viewers say the institutiuons and 9% the society, that society is responsible. Thank you for being our guest today and for the discussion to this topic!