At its meeting held on 21 May 2020, the Government of the Republic of Serbia adopted the Strategy for Prevention and Protection of Children from Violence for the period 2020-2023, with the accompanying Action Plan for 2020 and 2021. This document is an important step in the process of strategic improvement of the protection of children from violence in Serbia, especially bearing in mind that the previous National Strategy for Prevention and Protection of Children from Violence covered the period 2009-2015.
The Strategy defines different types of violence and, unlike the previous one, it recognises a larger number of environments in which violence occurs. In that sense, it also indicates that corporal punishment of children in order to correct or control their behaviour is child abuse and that we as a society must have zero tolerance for it. This document also stresses the importance of special protection of children from vulnerable groups who are often exposed to multiple forms of violence, specifying that particularly vulnerable groups of children are, among others, children in street situations, refugee children, migrant children, LGBTI children and Roma children.
Despite the indisputable importance of this strategic document, there are some omissions that occurred in the process of its adoption.
In the process of drafting this strategic document, in late 2017 and 2019, two public hearings were held with representatives of public administration bodies, local self-governments, independent bodies, civil society organisations, experts and other stakeholders. The reason for holding the second public hearing was to align the Strategy and the accompanying action plan with the newly adopted 2018 Law on Planning System of the Republic of Serbia. The newly adopted Strategy does not mention the public hearing held in 2019, but only the previous one, held in 2017. The report on the public hearing held in late 2019 is publicly available and contains all the proposals and suggestions of various stakeholders, but not an explanation why certain proposals were not adopted, although the competent ministry has an obligation to provide such an explanation in accordance with Article 36 of the Law on Planning System.
The representatives of the Child Rights Centre and the DX Club actively participated in both public hearings and gave their suggestions for improving the Strategy. Children’s participation has been recognised as an important part of the mechanism for monitoring measures and reporting in accordance with the principle of participation. Recognising the importance of children’s participation in the process of monitoring and managing the Strategy is certainly a significant step forward in this strategic document. It is clearly stated that in order to implement the principle of participation, it is necessary to develop mechanisms that will ensure the participation of children in managing the Strategy, i.e. in the process of monitoring, reporting and evaluating its implementation. However, the accompanying Action Plan for the period 2020-2021 does not contain clearly and precisely defined steps and activities aimed at developing mechanisms for children’s participation in the managing and monitoring process, nor does the Strategy provide any guidelines for establishing such a mechanism. This brings into question the achievement of efficient children’s participation in practice.
During the public hearing held in 2019, the Child Rights Centre submitted suggestions for improving the Strategy Proposal related to the introduction of measures and activities that should contribute to better defining the mechanism for children’s participation in implementing and monitoring the Strategy and reporting, strengthening the capacity of professionals by introducing special educational programmes in secondary schools and faculties, improvement of the system of supervision in social protection institutions for children with disabilities, improvement of measures to prevent secondary victimisation of children. However, the proposed suggestions were not included in the final text of the Strategy, nor did the authorised proposer explain the reasons why these important strategic solutions had not been included in the draft document.
After the adoption of the Strategy, three representatives of the DX Club, who actively participated in the process of drafting the Strategy, were invited to participate in the promotion of the Strategy for Prevention and Protection of Children from Violence in the Palace of Serbia on 4 June 2020, but a day before this event their participation was cancelled without any explanations, based on the request of the Office of the Prime Minister. Such action indicates that respect for the right to children’s participation is a challenge and that it was necessary to clearly define specific measures and activities in the strategic document to ensure the efficient exercise of the right to children’s participation.
The Strategy is an important strategic document for improving the protection of children from violence and contains significant measures and activities to improve this area. However, the measures, activities and indicators for measuring the results are mainly defined in a very general way, and leave room for wide interpretations, imprecise monitoring of the achieved results and measuring the level of improvement. In the future development of strategic policies, it is important to further improve the way of defining measures and activities in order to make them more specific and to more clearly define concrete steps in the improvement of this area. It is also important that indicators for measuring the results should be developed in a way to be very specific and in better correlation with each of the defined measures, so that they can better measure progress in improving the protection of children from violence.
It is also important to improve cooperation with civil society organisations in the process of drafting strategic documents and to provide feedback on proposed suggestions for improving strategic documents. It is especially important to improve the mechanisms for children’s participation in the process of drafting, adopting and promoting strategic documents, as well as in the process of monitoring their implementation, and to ensure the meaningful participation of children in creating and implementing strategic policies.
In Belgrade, 15 June 2020