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STATEMENT ON THE HELD DIALOGUE: “ACCESS TO JUSTICE FOR CHILDREN EXPOSED TO VIOLENCE”

22.12.2023.

The Child Rights Centre held the third in a series of dialogues on children’s rights in 2023 titled “Access to Justice for Children Exposed to Violence” in Novi Sad on December 14, 2023. The dialogue was dedicated to addressing access to justice for children, with a specific focus on those exposed to violence in various forms and environments. Access to justice represents a fundamental human right and a means to achieve and protect all other human rights as envisioned by the Convention on the Rights of the Child, other international standards, and the national legal framework.

The dialogue was opened by the Chairperson of the CRC Board, Ines Cerović, who also moderated the dialogue, and Jelena Paunović, the Director of the Child Rights Centre. The panel featured discussions by Olivera Pejak Prokeš, a judge from the Court of Appeal in Novi Sad, PhD Dejana Spasojević, a lawyer, Doctor Svetlana Ivanović Kovačević from the Psychiatry Clinic within the Clinical Center of Vojvodina, and Milan Dakić, a representative of the Provincial Ombudsman.

We focused on protecting children in cases of violence, considering how children can report violence in different procedures—criminal and civil—and what practical resources are truly available to them. Children face numerous barriers that hinder their access to justice, such as the complexity of the judicial system, lack of information, support from adults and trained professionals, and some obstacles of a financial nature, including travel costs due to distance from institutions and the absence of a functional system for free legal aid adapted and accessible to children. Children with developmental difficulties often lack adequate access to institution buildings, and those in alternative care systems, children in conflict with the law, children in street situations, minority children, and migrant children are particularly vulnerable. Considering the multidisciplinary nature of the gathering, we concluded that one of the key obstacles is the lack of coordination and insufficient collaboration among various services and institutions in the justice, social welfare, police, education, and healthcare sectors.

The discussion conclusions revolved around improving the accountability of institutions in protecting children when they come into contact with all these sectors, while simultaneously striving to empower children and their parents or guardians to take on the role of active and engaged citizens, fully entitled rights holders. As a result of the dialogue, an advocacy document will be prepared and submitted to relevant institutions with the aim of promoting improvements in access to justice for children exposed to violence.

The dialogue was organized as part of the project “Strengthening the capacities of civil society organisations (CSOs) to contribute to the fulfilment of Serbia’s human dimension commitments in the field of the rights of child”.