Opening Doors for Europe’s Children welcomes the EU’s Screening report on Chapter 23 which mentions institutional care of children as a key fundamental rights issue.
The Screening Report on Chapter 23 highlights the importance of this issue stating that “the policy of deinstitutionalisation for children with disabilities remains to be further improved.” This is one of the very few specific issues mentioned in the Rights of the Child section of the report and it follows advocacy work done by MDRI-S and Opening Doors to prioritise deinstitutionalisation (DI) in the enlargement process.
“The EU’s recognition of institutional care as a fundamental rights issue in Serbia is a big step forward for us. The Opening Doors campaign has been raising visibility of how institutional care violates children’s rights. We need this to be a priority in the EU accession negotiations for Serbia and other countries in the Western Balkans”, commented Eurochild’s Secretary General Jana Hainsworth.
Screening Reports are a critical part of the EU’s negotiations with accession countries. Yearly screening reports are issued to assess how much progress a country has made in terms of being ready to join the EU. These inform an Enlargement Strategy Paper which sets the agenda for the ongoing enlargement process in the country.
According to MDRI-S, Serbia is among the countries with the lowest rate of institutionalised children in Europe (0.07% of the overall number of children are placed in residential institutions). Recent national reports show that in 2013 there were 918 children in residential institutions, but while the number of children in institutions has been decreasing, the number of children in formal care has been increasing in recent years. There are 6,042 children separated from their families and placed in formal care (about 85% in family-based care, foster and kinship families, and about 15% in residential institutions).
Although Serbia has made significant progress in deinstitutionalisation, additional effort is needed especially in preventing discrimination against children with disabilities and Roma children.
For MDRI-S the situation of vulnerable children is worrying. A disproportionate number of children in formal care are Roma and children with disabilities are over-represented in institutional care, as they constitute 58.5% of all children in institutions and only 9.1% of those in family-based care. The position of children with disabilities in large-scale residential institutions is of particular concern. Reports of independent institutions, but also a monitoring report of MDRI-S stresses the very poor living conditions in institutions for children with disabilities: including poor and inadequate access to health, lack of access to education, scarce rehabilitation programmes, cases of abuse and neglect and overall lack social interaction.