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Child abuse and modern slavery in Bosnian public care home for disabled children

December 18th, 2019
by:Katarina Panić
located in:Bosnia and Herzegovina
tags:Bosnia and Hercegovina, child abuse, slavery, UNICEF

A boy with the bruise on his face is sitting on the floor between two beds. He wears a straitjacket and his leg is tied to a radiator. Another one is sitting on the bed. His legs are free but his hands are tightly tied in front of him with tangled fabrics. One is laying on the bed with hands tied behind his back and his leg tied to the bed. The youngest one is sitting on the bed and crying. He wears a straitjacket and his leg is tied to the bed.

The disturbing photos and videos from a public care home for disabled children in the village Pazarić near Bosnia and Herzegovina capital were publicly shared on November 20th by MP Sabina Ćudić. She said she addressed the media because she had exhausted all the institutional attempts “to end the child abuse” and “modern slavery” unsuccessfully.

"My decision to publish some of the material I received 24 hours prior to their publication is the result of both my and our collective despair, as well as my deep loss of confidence in the system and institutions of Federation” (one of the country’s three semi-autonomous parts), she said.

The very same day MP Čudić asked parliament to discuss the issue, adding that sick children were being treated like prisoners at the facility, and that some young children were being treated with drugs that are illegal for their age. She also said among 149 employees there is only one who is one the night-shift. Only one person to look after 47 children with different disabilities.

“Some children have been tied up to 14 hours per day. Some of them themselves offer their hands to the staff since they are used to be tied”, she claimed a few days after she had visited this place.

The social media networks exploded. The names of 48 MPs voted against ending the abuse were shared by thousands of people via social media. The people gathered in front of institutions to protest against inhuman treatment of children, wearing banners: “Will you bind us too?” The police and the prosecutors entered the site to investigate the allegations of mistreatment. The government dismissed the director, the management and the supervisory board.

The protesters replied the replacement of the management is not enough. They want everyone who is responsible to be prosecuted. The Federation criminal law reads three months to three years in prison for employees who seriously harm or the development of minors. They also demand urgent funds to help renovate the site; permanent supervision of the home and its staff; health workers, parents and NGOs to be appointed to the new supervisory board; more employees to work there.

However, the experts believe those would be ad hoc solutions that would not move the children out.

The Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities also warned Bosnia and Herzegovina against spending all the resources on institutions instead of on support for the families and on community care development.

Dunja Mijatovic, Commissioner for Human Rights in the Council of Europe, called on authorities to “urgently make progress toward the closure of all such institutions and reform of the childcare system in line with human rights standards,” adding that “people segregated in institutions regularly suffer from abandonment and neglect.”

Rownak Khan is the UNICEF Representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina said some 1,600 children are in institutions in this country, among them some 230 with disabilities. She emphasises the UNICEF will work the government to deinstitutionalise these children. “Let us also work together to make a milestone, maybe in a couple of years, that this country should have a zero child in any institution”, she told to local media.

The Ombudsman Institution of Bosnia and Herzegovina said they have been warning the government about the serious situation not only in Pazarić, but in most centres, for ten years. They noticed there is no categorisation in institutions nor classification of proteges based on age and the sort of disability.

“So, we have a person who killed their mother in the same room with the children”, ombudsman Jasminka Džumhur said.

In terms of public money, there were several previous directors of Pazarić convicted of abuse of office and misuse of money. Namely, they have been selling the food donated to this institution, they use the money given by the government for reconstruction to renovate their own houses, cottages, and apartments and they forced their employees, even the proteges to work at their private estates.

This whole case shows phenomena inherent in a long and painful process of transition towards democracy which started thirty years ago and still lasts. The deep divisions, the widely spread corruption, the society trapped in politicking, the leaders prone to manipulation, the media used to take sides; everything has emerged, confirming the community is still far away from matureness.

Some tried to move focus to other questions but the child abuse: who took the photos of the children? Why did MPs publish them right on the World Children's Day? Some gave disproportional space to those who justify medical solutions. Some politicians asked parents of disabled children why they fight for them if Allah wanted them to be just like they are.

On the other side, the case awakened hope among many like Stevandić family from north-west town of Prijedor. Lela (46) has a daughter with Down syndrome.

“Everything is fine as I am alive, till my husband is alive. What is going to be with Lea once we are not here, I simply cannot think about it at all. My brain refuses to do it. If I only think about her to be institutionalised anywhere, it hurts me a lot. It produces real and strong physical pain in my stomach. I live in hope there will be more humanity in this country before I die”, Lela told FairPlanet.

Article written by:
Katarina Panić
Katarina Panić
Author
The disturbing photos and videos from a public care home for disabled children in the village Pazarić near Bosnia and Herzegovina capital were publicly shared on November 20 by MP Sabina Ćudić.
"My decision to publish some of the material I received 24 hours prior to their publication is the result of both my and our collective despair, as well as my deep loss of confidence in the system and institutions of Federation“
“Some children have been tied up to 14 hours per day. Some of them themselves provide hands to the staff since they used to be tied”
children detention us border patrol Children don't belong in cages
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